Monday, January 27, 2014

The Dreaded C Word

Three weeks ago, we went on a family hike. It wasn't super strenuous--after all, I was able to walk with the baby without too much trouble. Nick, Gus, and Waldo have done this hike several times before. In other words, this wasn't an unusual activity.

Over the last several months, Gus has gotten slower and slower, especially at the end of walks. I attributed it to him being 7.5 years old. He's just getting older. His face is much more gray than it used to be, too.

Well, after that Sunday afternoon walk, two days later, Gus couldn't get up. He wasn't interested in going outside, or playing. I really knew something was wrong when he wasn't interested in eating. Gus LOVES his food, and he wouldn't even get up from his bed.  I went to check on him, and after giving him a rub down, I noticed a very large swelling in his back leg. When he was laying down, you didn't notice it, because it is on the inside--but it was extremely swollen. The worst part is that it was really hard. I'd say the swelling was about the size of my fist away from where his leg normally is.

We gave him some NSAIDs, and brought his bed out into the living room for the day, hoping that by staying still the swelling would go down, and we would know if it was just swollen from our walk, or if he had gotten stung or something.  He wouldn't walk on it, or put pressure on it at all.

The next day, he wasn't any better. His leg was still swollen, and he still wasn't interested in eating.

So, we took him to the vet, and she did X-rays. She didn't think it was a bite or a strain, because the mass was SO large, and SO hard. She expected the worst, unfortunately. She loves Gus, and she noticed immediately how uncomfortable and in pain he was.

After the X-rays, she broke it down for me: Gus doesn't only have one problem, he has two.

The first problem is that he has hip dysplasia. This is a genetic disorder (common in Goldens and German Shepherds) that is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that can eventually cause lameness and painful arthritis (credit: wikipedia).  Here is a picture of normal dog hips (on top), and Gus' hips (on bottom) for comparison:

The other problem was the large mass (you can see it in the left side--that cloudier area is the mass--and you can tell how swollen his leg is in comparison to the one on the right). The vet did a biopsy on it, to try to get a more definitive answer, but her professional opinion is that it is a tumor of some kind.

A closer look at the cloudy mass in Gus' leg:

To make a long story short, though the biopsy was inconclusive, after an ultrasound, the vet is pretty convinced it is a tumor of some kind. We aren't sure where or why it originated, but it is there, and it won't go away without major surgery or amputation. And, because of his hip dysplasia, it isn't a good idea to do amputation because he'll be left on a hip that isn't really strong enough to support him.

So, what have we decided to do?

Basically, we're going to make Gus as comfortable and happy as possible. Between his two different vet visits, he was put on some pain meds, and he was immediately back to his old self, happy and tail-wagging and "people, please, i love people!" mode. Although the mass shrunk in size about 30%, it is still there, and will probably only get bigger. But, because he is able to be a happy dog, we're just going to pain-manage for a while.

I'm not a cruel person. I will know when it is time to let Gus go. I mean, it's not like this is my first experience with the whole cancer thing--I'm not going to be letting him suffer needlessly because I can't let go. After all, he is a dog. And though I love him, and he was our "first baby" and all, I also recognize that our priorities have shifted a bit, and the perspective has changed. We're not ready to let him go yet (and he's not ready to go yet), but when that time comes, we will be ready.

We're not sure how much longer he has. It could be 3 weeks, it could be 3 months, it could be 3 years. The tumor is kind of mysterious, and because the swelling shrunk, we're not sure how quickly it is growing. But we're going to help Gus have good quality of life for as long as we can, and then we'll help him cross that Rainbow Bridge when the time is right.  The vet said she feels like this is a good choice for Gus at this time--she thinks he'll still be able to have good quality of life for a while. So though we're not doing surgery, or chemotherapy, or orthoscopic biopsies (all suggested treatments), we do feel comfortable keeping him on pain medication for a little while, since that makes him feel normal.

All this to say, snuggle up to your puppies a little closer tonight. Dogs are with us such a short time anyway. They give us all the love that they can give, and don't expect much in return.