Today we celebrate the courageous osteosarcoma battle of Chuck the Saint. This 175-pound puppy is a giant-breed boy who wasn’t a candidate for amputation, but his people knew wasn’t ready to give up on life either. They embarked on a palliative care cancer routine to help Chuck stay strong and pain-free. Over three months later, he’s still going strong and loving life!
If you’re considering a palliative treatment care for your dog or cat, read on to learn what’s working for Chuck and join us in celebrating the strength of his amazing pack!
Tell us about Chuck: age, size, when diagnosed
Chuck is a 5 year old 175 lb Saint Bernard. He was diagnosed June 29th, 2013
When you learned he has cancer, what went through your mind?
Considering his breed, I had heard of osteosarcoma, and knew there was always that possibility. When I first noticed that slight limp, my mind started racing, and of course osteo was at the top of my thoughts, but honestly nothing prepared me to hear that it was true. It took me several days to wrap my head around the diagnosis. It was especially hard because it was the first time meeting the vet. Ours had retired without notice a few months before Chuck got sick so we were scrambling to find a new one in general and had to make a quick decision on where to go based on recommendations. It was hard hearing that news from someone I didn’t know and didn’t know my dogs history.
What was your vet’s recommendation as far as treating it?
Chuck’s new vet really would not recommend any specific route in our case. She explained the different treatment possibilities and referred us to several specialists.
I contacted several of them, ranging from Universities close to me (U of Illinois and U of Madison Wisconsin), to local oncologists in my immediate area.
Each also gave me the general recommendations in regards to current treatment protocols. Everyone I talked to basically told me the same thing. The gold standard would be amputation plus chemo. Another option would be limb sparing surgery but he would have to be evaluated to see if he were a good candidate. Other options were palliative care ranging for using radiation therapy, or oral pain medicines.
The biggest issue that I ran into regarding trying to decide on a treatment that was best for Chuck was that several doctors that I talked to had reservations about amputating on Chuck, partially due to his size, and partially due to his medical history. Mainly, because he has had issues with his spine in the past, along with with a history of bloating. One doctor flat out told me he would not amputate Chuck. The most frustrating part in the whole process is that I had not one single doctor who really knew Chuck. I might have felt better if his original vet who took care of him through his entire life, through his spinal problems last year, were involved because I know I would have had an easier time choosing a specific path.
I decided to have Chuck treated by an oncologist in my area because he was the only one that was honest with me in regards to all forms of treatment, but he told he he was willing to try anything. I figured, what I needed was someone who was honest with me, and gave me his opinions regarding chuck, but was also open minded.
That first appointment went well. He examined Chuck, said that he was in great shape, but explained that he made no guarantees when it came to amputating him. He thoroughly explained each method of treatment, his reservations with each, and also went into a treatment plan that one of the other doctors I talked to mentioned. It involved IV chemotherapy, oral bisphosphonates, and metronomic chemotherapy, all at the same time. He said that a colleague of his had been using the therapy and was having success with it.
How have you treated it so far? What has been successful, what hasn’t?
We decided to go with the more aggressive, palliative, newer route that the doctor mentioned. Our thoughts: we could always stop and amputate later. Having several doctors tell us that there was a chance Chuck would never walk again, scared us. We weren’t ready to take a chance yet. Again, maybe our choices would have been different if we were guided by his original vet. Not having someone know him made such an impact on our decisions. It was easier for us to choose the wait and see approach than to jump in head first and hope for the best.
The treatment included the following:
- 5 IV doxorubicin treatments given in three week intervals.
- Oral cytoxan, daily (metronomics)
- Oral palladia, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (metronomics)
- Oral fosomax, daily (biphosphonate)
- Oral NSAID, Deramaxx, daily
- Oral painkiller, Tramadol, daily
That first month we started treatment was such a mixture of good and bad. And extreme examples of each. The tumor, which had grown exponentially in just the one week we waited to start treatment, had shrunk to the point where it was no longer visible to the naked eye.
Finally, toward the end of that month, chuck was off all treatment, except the Tramadol. With the help of an appetite stimulant, and a special smoothie that I would make him daily, he started eating again. Slowly.
We waited one week to resume IV chemo, and in that week the tumor grew back. Just as fast as it had done the first time. We decided to resume everything except the Palladia, as blood tests were indicative that Chuck was not physically handling it well. For that point on, Chuck has handled treatment quite well. No diarrhea, he’s eating, playing, and most of all the tumor has remained stable. It is still there. It shrunk a little, but it hasn’t grown. We are into our third month of treatment, and though he moves slower, we feel like we are at a point where we can enjoy each other.
When it comes to amputation, I’m still very open to it, with reservation. As time has progressed, and as Chuck bears weight differently, I have seen his back legs stiffen. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go through with amputation, but I feel that this wait and see approach is giving us a visual of how strong he really is. In so many ways, he’s very strong still, but those glimpses of weakness are always at the back of my mind. I’ve said that if there comes a day that our vet says let’s amputate, I’m all for it. My husband is less convinced that he wants to amputate, which is funny because it was the other way around when he was first diagnosed. I am of the feeling that MOST dogs do well. My doctor knows that, and when and if he feels that Chuck belongs in that MOST dogs category, I would have no reservations. Honestly, I wish our choices were more cut and dry. I would amputate if he were a different dog.
Do I regret anything? Not at all. I feel like I made an informed decision based on what both my oncologist and I felt was right at that time. There is always room to switch gears. There is still room to amputate. Sure there have been bumps in the road, but this path has given us some great time with him, which is all we wanted.
What has it been like to be here at Tripawds as the pawrent of an “honorary” Tripawd?
This site has been such a blessing to me. It has been such a wonderful resource on so many levels. I have never been a part of such a SUPPORTIVE community. I have never once felt out of place because we haven’t amputated. In fact, I’ve felt embraced by the whole community.
How is Chuck doing now? if he could talk about what’s happened, what would he say?
Chuck has been quite playful lately, is eating, and just enjoying snuggling as we do that more than ever now. If he could talk, I’d hope he’d tell us he was happy. He SEEMS it. I know he misses his long walks. We are so careful now because we want to avoid fracture if at all possible, so walks are no longer part of our routine. In replace of his walks we shower him with more love than ever. He’s such a big lover, and I know he’s happy if we are.
What would your recommendations/suggestions/advice be for other giant breed dog pawrents who find themselves in your situation?
Trust your instincts. If you feel your dog would do well as an amputee, by all means I believe that would be the best approach, but if he/she is a case where it’s not so clear, be as informed as possible.
Get many opinions. Go to someone who is willing to think outside the box and is willing to change course if the one you are on isn’t working. Go to someone who consults with others in their field.
Know all your risks, but don’t let them scare you.
Live without regrets. Know that your choices are made out of love and what you feel is best for your dog, even if there are glitches. Don’t give up, even when those glitches are rough, things CAN turn around.
And most of all, keep fighting strong. A positive, determined attitude is worth more than any drug.
How to Get Featured on Tripawd Tuesday
Each Tuesday, Tripawds from around the world can enter for a chance to be “Tripawd of the Week.” Just share your Tripawd’s story and you’re entered to win!
- In a few short paragraphs, describe your three-legged hero’s story.
- Include a photo or video.
- Include a link to your Trpawds Facebook page, Forum topic and/or Tripawds blog (if applicable)
All entries must be received by Sunday at 11:59 pm. One Tripawd story will be selected at random to be featured the following Tuesday.