- 3 years ago
- Wedding: November 2016
About 5 weeks ago now, I shared with you all that my sweet boy Boomer had gained his angel wings. I now want to share with you my personal experience with canine cancer, chemotherapy and in-home euthanasia. I’m hoping that our story may be helpful for some of you.
So back in September 2015, when Boomer was just over 10 years old, he was diagnosed with mast cell cancer. This was especially hard because we had just booked our wedding venue the month prior for November 2016, and of course, Boomer was going to be in it. We scheduled to have the mast cell tumor (MCT) removed ASAP, and while he was under, they found another bump that looked suspicious. Of course, I had them remove that bump as well. A week later the results came back, and both bumps were low Grade II MCTs with clean margins, meaning the bumps were slightly aggressive, but were most likely completely excised.
After this, we continued living our lives and loving on Boomer, knowing that each day is a blessing. Our wedding was getting close, and Boomer seemed to be doing great! During the summer of 2016, he started to get kind of funny about his food. He wanted to eat on paper plates, and he wouldn’t always finish his meals. Of course, I took him to the vert very regularly, and everything turned out okay. One time when we were there, the vet noticed that it seemed Boomer had some edema on the right side of his chest. She said it could just be his old man body (Boomer was 11 by this time and 75 lbs), but to be sure, she put him on Benadryl to see if it changed it. The reason she did this is because MCTs can cause edema and inflammation, and if he had one internally, it could have been the reason for the edema. Well, the Benadryl didn’t change anything, so we concluded that it was just his old man body.
At the end of August 2016, we noticed a new bump on his neck, and I just knew it was a MCT. I took him in right away, they aspirated it, and sure enough it was MCT. We scheduled for it to be removed the next, and the surgery went well. However, he wasn’t recovering after surgery as well this time. He was very groggy and had no appetite for about a day. He even fell while walking, which had never happened before. When he finally felt good enough to eat, I noticed that he had a huge mass in his right armpit area. It was hard as a rock, but didn’t seem to bother him. It literally popped up overnight, so I was hoping that it was just a knot from when he fell the day before. Of course, I took him in and the doctor had the pathology results from the neck tumor. This time, the MCT came back as high Grade II, meaning it was very aggressive and oncology was recommended. I brought him to oncology the next day, and here is where our 8 month journey began.
The oncologist told me that with this type of cancer, the median survival rate is 2 months, and with him already 11 years old, his prognosis was poor. By this time, (early September) our wedding was 2.5 months away, and I could not accept that he was not going to be there. He had to be there. The huge mass in his armpit came back as cancer (they weren’t even sure what kind by the aspiration, but the
cells were very abnormal and aggressive), and surgery was not an option due to the size and location. So we started him on chemotherapy immediately, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The chemo is called Palladia, and it is specific for MCTs. It was pill form, and I gave it to him at home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After 2 doses, the mass in his armpit started to shrink and soften, and after about 2 weeks, the mass had pretty much disappeared. It was amazing. Boomer had refused to eat his dog food (I fed him half kibble, half raw), but at this time he was happily eating human food. He had some diarrhea from the chemo, but other than that, he was so happy and just loving life. I really thought we were going to be able to beat this.
Our wedding day came, and it was the happiest day of all of our lives. Boomer was feeling great, he looked great, and he stole the show at the ceremony. I felt so blessed that we had made it to that point when…statistically speaking, the odds were against Boomer. I like to think that Boomer knew he had to be there for our wedding, so he made it happen. He was just so proud that day, and I am so grateful for all of those precious memories. Soon after the wedding, Boomer started to not feel so good. He was slowly losing weight, and just not his vibrant self. This went on for about two months…he was stable in a sense, but losing weight and getting weaker. However, he would still give me kisses and was so very happy to see me, so I knew that he wasn’t ready to leave just yet.
Then at the end of February, we thought we were going to lose him. He started to refuse all food, even fast food, and he had the most horrible diarrhea. Something was telling me it still wans’t his time, so after talking to his doctor, we took him off the chemo for about a week and a half. Immediately he started to feel better and get stronger. The oncologist said that sometimes they need a “chemo holiday” to give their systems a break. Sadly, during that short week and a half break, tumors started to pop up all over his body, some big, some small. The one in his armpit that we thought had disappeared came back with a vengeance and caused his entire right front left leg to swell. He couldn’t even walk normally because of the huge mass in his armpit. He was still so happy and not bothered or in distress/pain, so we put him back on the chemo. The swelling in his leg went away immediately, and the armpit mass shrunk significantly; however, it never went completely away. Once he was back on chemo, he actually felt great. March was a fantastic month, and I am so happy with my decision to put him back on the chemo. Every day in March he would want to go outside and roam around the yard for like 45 minutes at a time, and he was genuinely happy and enjoying life. I will always be thankful for March.
Then things started to go downhill in mid-April. The tumors on his skin were multiplying and getting worse, even though he was on chemo. His cancer had become chemo-resistant after just being off of chemo for 1.5 weeks during his chemo-holiday. His hind end started to get very weak and he would collapse. He started to have a lot of trouble getting up and walking. I thought his arthritis was acting up, so we started him on a new NSAID for inflammation. His diarrhea came back, even though he was on 3 medications to prevent diarrhea. My mom had stayed home with Boomer all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (April 17th-19th) because I was worried about him trying to get up and falling. I was hoping for a miracle by this point..I was hoping the arthritis medication would work, and the chemo would start to shrink his tumors like it did before.
On Wednesday, April 19th, I came home from work, and he didn’t even attempt to get up to greet me. He was on his bed for about 3 hours, when finally he started squirming like he wanted to get up. He needed help, so I helped him and he went to drink water. While drinking, his back end slowly collapsed and he fell. He didn’t seem alarmed or anything…it was just a graceful, slow slide. I picked him up, and then we went outside. He peed, then did the same fall into his urine. This time, I couldn’t get him up on my own, so I yelled for my husband and together we picked him up. Once he was up, he seemed very unsteady on his legs. He tried to get him to lay down, but he wouldn’t. Then, even with us supporting his body, he completely toppled over on his side, and his body went rigid. He looked so confused and afraid, and I honestly thought we were going to lose him right then and there. We were both crying and telling him it’s okay to let go and that we love him, but he soon snapped out of it. I always thought that I would never be able to make “the decision” for my baby, and honestly, I think that traumatic episode was Boomer’s way of making the decision for me. In that moment, I promised him he would never be alone or afraid again, and I kept my promise.
We went inside and helped Boomer lay on his bed. I called his doctor and explained to her what had happened, and she told me that she thought that Boomer was in that sweet place in time where it wasn’t too early and it wasn’t too late; however, the window was closing and soon it would be too late; he would start to feel distress and pain; he would go in and out of consciousness. I decided for the doctor to come to the house the following evening to put my baby to rest. I never wanted my baby to be in pain or afraid, and I knew he wasn’t going to get any better. The next day we had friends and family come to the house all day long to see Boomer one last time. He got so excited for each person who came, and he showered everyone with kisses. Naturally, we started to question if he were jumping the gun because he seemed so happy. However, as soon as any doubt trickled into our minds, something would happen that would let us know it was his time. He could not get up or walk at all, his breathing was becoming more rapid and labored as the day went on, even though he wasn’t doing anything physical. He even refused french fries and chicken nuggets. And the worst part was the diarrhea that was coming out of him. It wasn’t normal diarrhea, but rather it was like jelly. Pure bright orange jelly was coming out of him, and he didn’t even care, which was not like Boomer at all. He was losing his dignity. As the day went on, he stopped drinking water and just wanted to rest. I was holding his paw the entire day. I never wanted him to wake up and not see me by his side. Eventually, the doctor arrived at the house, and I wanted to scoop Boomer up and run away. But I knew it was his time…he was only going to get worse as time went on. We did everything we could for him, and sadly, it wasn’t enough. He greeted the doctor and nurse with kisses, as he did for everyone. He was laying on his bed, and my husband, mother and myself were surrounding him. The doctor gave him a tranquilizer that was supposed to make him very sleepy before she gave him the final medicine. Right before Boomer laid his head down for the last time, the most amazing thing happened. He reached up to my husband, looked him in the eye, and gave him a final kiss on the lips. He then turned to me (I was I between my husband and my mom), looked me right in the eyes, and kissed me on the lips. He did the same for my mom before laying his head down and moving on from this world. This memory is seriously the most precious memory I could ever have asked for. Boomer made sure his last gesture on this Earth was to give the 3 most important people in his life a final kiss goodbye.
After, the doctor took him with her, which was the worst thing I have gone through. Boomer never left the house without me before, and to watch him get carried out of the front door completely broke me. It was the most visceral pain I had ever felt, and I felt like an empty shell afterwards. Soon after, my husband and I decided to go outside because the house was just too quiet. I was expecting to sob relentlessly out in the backyard, but right when I walked outside, I noticed a single bloom on my gardenia bush, which we have had since Boomer was a puppy and he loved to walk and lay behind (we bought my parents’ house when they moved 4 years ago so that Boomer never had to leave his house). When I saw that bloom, I knew that that was a sign from Boomer. It was the first bloom of the season, and for all I know, it bloomed the moment Boomer passed). And as I’m crying while looking at that bloom, a red cardinal swoops down right in front of the bloom and lands on our fence, just staring at us. We have NEVER had red cardinals in our area before, and this one came to our yard 30 minutes after Boomer passed, and stayed with us for about 15 minutes. I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with the significance of red cardinals, but I always grew up hearing “If a red cardinal appears, a loved one is near”, and that red cardinals are messengers from loved ones in Heaven. Seeing that gardenia bloom and red cardinal brought us so much peace, and I honestly feel like it was Boomer letting us know that he is okay.
On the Monday after he passed, we had a viewing ceremony for him which I HIGHLY recommend. We always wanted to have Boomer cremated, and the facility that did it also offered a viewing ceremony. So what happened was we were brought to a room, and they brought him in on a table with a white blanket draped over his body. He looked so peaceful…more peaceful than he had looked in a long time. We were able to spend about 2 hours with him, and in that time we kissed him, I sang “You are my sunshine” to him (I sang this to him every morning since he was diagnosed) and we took ink prints of his paw and nose. They then brought him to the cremation machine, which we could witness from the room through a window. I didn’t watch, but it helped ensure sure that the cremations we received really are Boomer. I ordered a necklace pendant that had his paw print on it, and my husband ordered a dog tag that has his nose print on it. We both wear them every day.
In summary, I am so happy that we decided to try the chemo, even with Boomer’s poor prognosis. I know that if we hadn’t, he would have never made the wedding…the cancer was just too aggressive. What we think wound up happening is the cancer spread to his brain and/or spinal cord, which is why he was falling and unable to walk/get up. He might have had a stroke the night before he went to Heaven, when we thought we were going to lose him. The cancer was most likely throughout his body, which would explain the diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss and labored breathing. He probably would not have made it through the night. My baby fought it for as long as he could. Eventually I had to take his fight away from him…it was no longer fair for him to fight to live. His passing could not have been more perfect. He deserved the most peaceful transition from this world to the next, and I truly believe that is what God gave him. He wasn’t in pain, alone or afraid. Afterwards, the doctor said she had never seen a dog give a single farewell kiss like that before, especially to 3 people like Boomer did. She said that she knew that was Boomer’s way of saying “Thank you for everything, and I love you”. That moment will stay in my heart forever.
We are still taking it day by day. Boomer’s birthday (at least what we think is his bday) was May 20th, meaning he passed away at 11 years 11 months old. This is especially crazy since for the last like 6 years I would always make 11:11 wishes for my baby to live the longest, happiest life he can possibly live. While I wish he could have lived longer, I know that no amount of time would have ever been enough for me. I do know that he lived the happiest life he possibly could have lived, and we are blessed with so many memories of my baby boy. Until we see each other again.