No words can describe the horror my wife and I felt when our beautiful, healthy, athletic Australian Shepherd, Blue (a once-in-a-lifetime dog) collapsed just before Labor Day 2016. He nearly died three times that afternoon and evening, and it was only through the amazing skill of multiple vets and techs at our family vet and the emergency hospital that he lived to see another day.
Looking back, it is remarkable to realize how the stars aligned in his favor. We got him to our vet in time. The mobile ultrasound tech happened to stop in to say hi to the vet while we were there. Pressed into service, he was able to quickly reveal what happened: a tumor on Blue’s spleen had ruptured and he was bleeding internally. One of the options our vet gave us was to euthanize him “while he’s on the table.” What?!? Instead, they arranged for us to take him to an emergency hospital that had the blood products on hand he would need for an immediate splenectomy.
We rushed Blue there, and they rushed him into surgery. Hours later, they gave us the grim report. The spleen was removed, but they weren’t able to look for other masses — saving his life was the priority. But the diagnosis was almost guaranteed to be hemangiosarcoma, a merciless cancer we had never heard of. Later, we found out that one of the techs brought their dog in to donate blood to Blue. And we found a penny — evidently a lucky charm — taped to his collar, which is still there today.
Three days later he was home, we were devastated, and I didn’t know what we were going to do. And then another star aligned. On the recommendation of the dear friend from whom we got Blue, I looked up Penn Vet. What I was searching for on their website was hope. What I found was a clinical immunotherapy trial with Drs. Mason and MaloneyHuss.
It wasn’t an easy decision to apply for the trial. We were scared and didn’t know what to do. What if it backfired? What about the side effects? With this particular trial, the anti-VEGF immunotherapy trial, there was no turning back. It was one injection and couldn’t be reversed. What if it made Blue worse?
We talked to our friend. We talked to our vet. The prognosis was not in Blue’s favor. With no treatment, he probably wouldn’t live three months. With chemotherapy, maybe three to six at most. Standard-of-care chemotherapy was part of the clinical trial, so Blue would be getting the treatment we’d be giving him regardless, plus a chance of greater longevity and better quality of life. We decided to apply for the trial.
We haven’t regretted that decision for a minute. The care at Penn Vet is thorough, professional, and compassionate. Blue and I enjoyed our field trips from Baltimore to Philly once a week for the first months, then every other week, then once a month, then every other month. Every other month! We didn’t even know if there was going to be an every other month.
Once Blue got past the chemo, he’s been pretty much back to normal — barking at the world, running in the yard, enjoying long walks every day. His quality of life is outstanding. No one who meets him could ever guess he has cancer.
At the time I’m writing this, it has been over 14 months since that fateful afternoon. On September 9th, we celebrated his 8th birthday. I don’t think any of his caregivers or us expected to reach these milestones. He’s now under the care of Dr. Mason for his bi-monthly checkups. She just smiles from ear-to-ear and shakes her head when she sees him. He is truly our miracle boy in every way.
Natalie and I are convinced, of course, that Blue received the vector and not the placebo. (I don’t think we are the only ones with that theory.) Miracle is the only word I can use. Every single day, I am explicitly grateful for one more day with Blue; I’ve learned a lot about gratitude over this past year, and to appreciate every minute of life.
I don’t think Blue could have received better care than he has from Dr. Mason, Dr. MaloneyHuss, and the whole Penn Vet team. They clearly are masters of their medicine. And they bring an abundance of caring and compassion to Blue and to us, which makes all the difference.
We are thrilled that Blue may be paving the way for a treatment for this disease that I know has been so devastating to so many dog families. Perhaps there will even be benefits for humans from this research. It has given us hope and many joy-filled days. We hope it will soon make a difference for others who find themselves faced with such a traumatic diagnosis.
Thank you Penn Vet! We’re loving our Blue every day, one day at a time. He gives you two enthusiastic paws up!