Risa is my teacher dog. I have learned many things through her. She taught me about fearful dogs, dog reactivity, positive reinforcement-based training, rally, canine freestyle, and the clicker. I have learned more about poop than I could have ever needed to know with her history of gastrointestinal troubles. I now know about various GI diseases, flea allergies, acupuncture, chiropractic care, arthritis, and traditional Chinese medicine. I also learned about raw feeding and, later, homecooked diets for dogs. In the process, I learned more about balancing my own diet and keeping my patience. It seems she’s still not done teaching me. Now I have to learn about cancer.
She’d had a lump on her teat for years. It was always small and unassuming. I had brought it to the attention of several vets and they all advised me to just keep an eye on it. I did. It barely changed or grew. A few months ago, it appeared to have grown a bit so I decided maybe it was time to find out its true nature. It was now 1.5 cm in diameter. The last time it had been measured it was 1 cm across. We started with a fine needle aspirate to try and avoid a surgical excision. The results were inconclusive. All that was somewhat concerning about the cells was that some of them were dead meaning the mass was growing faster than the blood supply could keep up with. The only way to find out what was going on was to remove the mass and biopsy it. Risa had to go in for surgery.
I was nervous about it. Anesthesia is not without risk and, due to her low body fat, it’s harder for her to break down some of the anesthetic agents. I also did not want to leave her at the vet’s office all day. She’s incredibly nervous and afraid when she has to go. I was worried she’d be a stressed out wreck if she had to stay all day. Fortunately, my worry was for nothing. She made it through the procedure just fine and was more than happy to come home when I was finally able to pick her up. She did have to stay longer than I’d originally hoped but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
The poor Muttski was so out of it when I got her. She didn’t even acknowledge me; she just wanted outta there. When I got her home, I put her in the x-pen which I had set up as a recovery room for her with plenty of blankets. As soon as I was out of sight, she whined for me. She was not happy to be penned up so I eventually opened the door to the pen so she could come and go as she pleased. Her belly was bruised from the procedure and I felt so bad for her. But I knew I had done what I had to do. This was the only way to know what was going on.
By the next day, she was almost back to her usual self. She bounced back quickly from the surgery and, even though I had to keep her quiet, was ready and raring to go for anything. While she was feeling better, I was getting more nervous while awaiting the biopsy results. Were we in the clear or was I about to have a bomb dropped on my life?
Unfortunately, the mass came back cancerous. Mammary carcinoma. I knew Risa was at a higher risk for mammary cancer due to her late spay (she was spayed at 2.5 years old). I also knew the odds were not in our favor: almost 50% of mammary masses come back cancerous. The doctor does not believe there was any blood vessel involvement which means it is less likely it has spread. The size of the mass and its slow-growing nature also works in our favor. But there is no way to know for sure whether it has spread without further testing. And, even those results come back clear, it doesn’t mean the mass won’t come back.
As horrible as this sounds, it is not a death sentence. Risa, bless her heart, is not acting like an old dog. She is just as vivacious and crazy as ever. On top of that, she has no idea anything is amiss. I envy her that. I am sure she will continue to defy the odds just as she always has. Certainly this dog was never a proper candidate for dog sports and yet she has excelled. I hope that she will battle on. I’m not ready for her to leave me yet (nor will I ever be). I’m hopeful that she has plenty more years of knowledge to share.