Lily’s Last Day of Chemotherapy Treatments

March 11, 2020

Australian Shepherd sits next to felt letter board that says lilys last day of chemo

We’re here, it’s here, today is Lily’s last day of chemotherapy treatments! As I write this she is at the oncologist getting her last treatment. This is treatment number 16. It has been a whirlwind journey and it doesn’t end here but this portion does. I wanted to take the time to reflect and document what the last 7 months have been like and, in general, what the experience has been for Lily and me. This obviously differs from dog to dog but below I am going to share our version. This is going to be a long one so bear with me.

The Beginning

Lily’s lymphoma journey all started one day when we were sitting on the couch on a Saturday. I had just taken her out for her morning walk and about an hour later she peed. She peed on the couch right next to me and it went everywhere. I have a microfiber couch so it just soaked it up as did my pajama pants. I was shocked of course, because Lily is way past potty training. She looked at me confused because she was sleeping when it happened, so it was a shock for her too.

The Vet Visits

I called my vet’s office on Monday to see what they thought. I brought her in and they checked for a UTI and other typical things that the symptoms suggested it might be. She was put on some antibiotics in the meantime. She didn’t improve so we moved to some blood work. The blood work came back the next day saying everything was normal except she had a high level of calcium which is what was causing her to drink more and therefore pee more. We then moved on to a more extensive blood test and urinalysis to check for more specific issues. With her symptoms it could have been over 30 different things so we continued to narrow it down.

The more extensive blood work took a week to get results back as it had to be sent to a lab further away. I had called a little under a week later to get her checked out as she was having a hard time breathing and would sometimes cough if she laid on her back. They told me the test results were in, so we could do everything at the same time. I went to the office and they told me everything came back good on the bloodwork and urinalysis except the calcium, of course.

Because of her labored breathing we decided to do an x-ray of her chest to see if we could see anything. This is when the doctor came back and told me he saw a tumor on her thymus. I was crushed, of course, because I wasn’t ready to face cancer in my dog again so soon after losing my first dog, Slash, to cancer at only 5 and a half years old. The next step was to see an oncologist. We made and appointment for two days later. In the meantime we started a regimen of Prednisone.

The First Oncology Visit

The first oncology visit I went to with Lily, my grandma, and my great aunt. They drove down to go with me so I wouldn’t be alone when I got news and also to have a second and third set of ears to understand the information. When we got there, the oncologist met with us to examine Lily and the x-ray he had received from my vet. He said that it could be several things, the most likely being either a thymus tumor that could be removed with surgery or lymphoma in varying stages.

The doctor asked to do an ultrasound guided biopsy. They could do it that day at that location they just needed to lightly sedate her, stick a needle in, and grab some cells to determine what exactly it is. I had to leave her there and was able to pick her up a few hours later. He told me he would call me that night around 6pm with results. My grandma and great aunt drove us back to my apartment and headed home. They convinced me to drive up and spend the night at my grandmas so I wouldn’t be alone when the new results came in.

When the doctor called he told me that it was in fact intermediate to high grade mediastinal lymphoma. He then went over the statistics for remission and was very clear that lymphoma is treatable but not curable. (See my article about some of the statistics Here.)

Dog receiving Chemotherapy treatment for lymphomaThe Treatments

There are a total of 16 treatments for Lily’s protocol. There are 4 rounds, each round has 4 treatments. It includes the drugs cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride (hydroxydaunorubicin), vincristine sulfate (Oncovin), and prednisone. Also called “CHOP.” The protocol usually lasts 6 months. We took a little longer, because in the beginning, you go every week and Lily’s blood cell count was a little too low after the vincristine to be able to treat so we took a week off after each administration of that drug. So the drugs go in a cycle of:

  1. Vincristine
  2. Cyclophosphamide
  3. Vincristine
  4. Doxorubicin

After the first 3 weeks we started tapering down the prednisone and got her completely off that after another week or so. She had lost some weight in the beginning, because of that, and got down to 40 pounds. Lily quickly gained it back and was her normal 45-47 pounds.

The Side Effects

Lily generally did great. She got sick two weekends after the first treatment. Usually if they are going to have any GI issues it will be within 3-5 days of treatment. I think she just got into something and because her immune system was down she got a little sick. She bounced back quick though. Lily wasn’t sick after any other treatment until treatment number 13. She stopped eating for the first time and was having issues with throwing up and diarrhea. I put her on some meds that the oncology team had given me and gave them a call. They put her on Cerenia for the vomiting, metronidazole for the diarrhea, and reglan to help regulate her digestion.

She improved a bit but still wasn’t eating so I took her to her regular vet to get a CBC done. Her blood cell count was low enough for us to start her on some antibiotics. She got a dose injected at the vet then started pills at home for the next week. He also started her on Entyce which is an appetite supplement. I could tell she felt better pretty quickly and started eating again the next day. We were able to continue treatments on the normal schedule.

The next time she got sick was actually this past Sunday which was 4 days before her last treatment. I was out of town for a night and my boyfriend was watching her. She got really sick from both ends, lethargic, and wouldn’t eat. Scared us both very much. I had never seen her like that before. I gave her the Cerenia, Metronidazole, and Reglan and kept an eye on her. By the end of the day you would think she was a completely different dog. It was so strange but in a good way. She stopped vomiting right away, started playing that evening, got back to normal eating the next morning, and normal poops the day after that.

Dog wearing bandana that says kicking cancers tailLast Day

So this brings us to today. Today is the last treatment so what’s next? First off, she was given a very cute bandana to wear home that says “Kicking Cancer’s Tail” which is super cute. Then the next step is to come back in 4 weeks for a checkup and to get a baseline for her levels of blood and calcium. After that it is check ups at her regular vet every 6 weeks or so and watching out for signs of the lymphoma returning.

I will need to watch her for signs of drinking and urinating more often as that is a sign that her calcium is high and the cancer could be back. If/when it returns we will treat with more chemotherapy if that makes sense at that time. The protocol would be a little different and she would go every 3 weeks for a certain amount of time. Until then, we are going to enjoy a healthy beautiful little pup and go on all the adventures. Make sure to follow us on my instagram to get the most up to date info and to follow us on this journey!

 

Live, love, and pet all the dogs!

Love,

Jess & Lily

Girl standing in a field holding up an Australian shepherd in her arms

 

 

 

 

 

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