Like a cop with arms sternly crossed over chest, the sign stands guard over the first space in the parking lot. It displays a red “P” in a circle with stroke through it and declares, “Police Dog Services”. Decals are in each corner of the sign: Toronto Police Service emblem in the top two; “Canine Unit” with a photo of a German Shepherd in the bottom two. Immediately you know you’ve come to a very special place. This is the “Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital” – TVEH. And it’s here that Misty’s osteosarcoma has undergone various expert ministrations.
It seems a very long time ago (although it was only March) that Dr. Debbie Reynolds explained the surgical treatment she was recommending for Misty’s cancer – the same type of bone cancer that Terry Fox had battled. Dr. Reynolds was clear: an amputation of Misty’s affected leg would be needed, provided her chest xrays didn’t reveal any spread of the cancer to her lungs. Her chest was clear.
“You should be aware,” Dr. Reynolds explained softly, “that the surgery is purely palliative – for pain control only. It’s not going to cure her cancer.”
“It’s a very, very bad cancer that she has.”
Already, Misty was significantly hobbled with pain from that traitorous leg. There were two stark options – and the choice was obvious: within a week of Misty’s very successful amputation, she was managing well on three legs and chasing her ball, albeit a bit more wobbly.
A few days later we met Dr. Vladimir Stojanovic to discuss chemotherapy.
“It’s a very serious cancer that Misty has.” Another soft and compassionate delivery of news we’d heard before – but nonetheless it was still heartbreaking.
“If we give her chemo, it won’t cure her cancer.”
“Post amputation without chemo, her prognosis would be 6 weeks to 3 months. With chemo, her prognosis is 8 months, give or take.”
Well... 8 months in a dog’s life is like a few years in a human life. Again, the choice was obvious.
“We’ll give her four courses of chemo, one every three weeks.”
That fourth course of chemotherapy was administered to Misty on Thursday, May 29th... Graduation Day...We met Dr. Hans Gelens, subbing for Dr. Stojanovic, to discuss what to expect now that her chemo treatments were complete.
“She has a terrible form of cancer.”
It was odd to realize how much I’d been clinging to even the faintest hope of a new study with promising data – the remotest chance of new therapy... but wait... what was he saying?
“Metronomic... like pulsed treatment. Pulsed because you would give her oral anti-cancer medication (cyclophosphamide and meloxicam) every day for the rest of her life.”
The Caveat: there’s no data on this approach for osteosarcoma.
“There are some promising results for other tumour types but we just don’t know about its effect on osteosarcoma.”
“It’s a terrible tumour.”
Yeah. That part I understand... When I imagined hearing the news that Misty had relapsed, I didn’t want to be thinking, “If only I would’ve taken the metronomic therapy.” Again, the choice was clear. Wonderful Vet Tech Karen explained how I’d have to use gloves to administer this medication to Misty once a day -- and off we went – hopefully only having to return in two months for a follow-up chest xray. Not that TVEH is a disagreeable place – quite the opposite: from the time we walk through the doors to the time we leave, Misty and I are treated by everyone we encounter with warmth and concern.
But there’s more.
Dr. Candace Chiu at the East York Animal Clinic remains very much a part of Misty’s recovery as Misty’s veterinarian administering integrative therapy... it’s in the realm of naturopathic and homeopathic remedies to help Misty detoxify the chemo, to boost her immune system, and actively fight cancer. Many people express pleasant surprise when they see how vigorous and happy Misty appears even though she is undergoing chemotherapy. As a firm believer in the contributions of integrative therapy, Misty and I are very thankful to Dr. Chiu and the other vets and wonderful staff at East York.
Wait. There’s more.
At our family vet clinic, the Clarington Animal Hospital, Misty receives the usual, ongoing exceptional care from Drs. Jackie Bosak, Ursula Kuc and Bill Mingram and all the staff, as Misty goes through her post-chemo bloodwork and has the other, more routine, needs met.
Here’s where the rehabilitation emerges.
Misty has proven that she’s her own worst problem because of her unbridled passion for chasing that damned tennis ball. Her remaining rear leg has been stressed and painful to the point where she can’t stand after protracted ball retrieving -- but she's always bugging to just throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the ball. This problem required a three-pronged approach: resume pain killers for a time; hide every ball, toy and fun thingey that can be retrieved; and order a dog wheelchair – also known as a “cart” -- to help support her body while keeping it in motion.
This is how I came to order a custom-made cart from Eddie’s Wheels in Massachusetts. The video at the top of this post tells the story of how I didn’t get the correct measurement of Misty’s rear leg – which is how we met Molly Barber of Canadian Animal Rehab Services in Mount Albert. Molly (also pictured top) deals with Eddie’s Wheels (and TVEH). She cast an expert eye over the “saddle” -- the fixture that supports, but pinches Misty’s remaining rear leg. Mollie is collaborating with Eddie's to install a new saddle in Misty’s cart so hopefully, hopefully... Misty can resume chasing that blasted ball without re-injuring herself.
The list of people to thank doesn’t stop even here: there’s Janet Kirby, Misty’s gentle groomer, who kneels on a blanket to finish Misty’s grooming; my most wise Financial Advisor, Deborah Thomson, of Scotiabank, who has walked me through financial uh—adjustments – so that Misty can receive these necessary treatments; many kindnesses and urgings to “eat, please eat” from my Pet Nanny, Sandi, and neighbour, Carol Ann – two loving presences who fuss over Misty on the days when she sniffs, but does not eat her food (luckily, those days have not been frequent)... and all the folks who have sent Misty dog treats, cards, and well wishes... how can we possibly thank you all for these many acts of compassion and concern?
About three weeks from now, Misty will have her blood checked yet again, to ascertain whether her bone marrow has recovered from the chemo treatments. If her blood counts are normal, she can once again don her red Therapeutic Paws of Canada vest and resume visiting on Oshawa’s Palliative Care Unit... minus a leg, still missing hair from the surgical site but flashing her Happy Girl face. In the meantime, each day I look out the window and observe Misty, wearing her sunblock and teeshirt, sniffing the breeze for a sign that the Great Dane the next street over is outside, watching the insolent little squirrels run up and down the trees in the yard, being covered in garden mulch. Each day is precious and I am blessed to have her sweet face looking up at me, smiling.