Fearless, A Source of Inspiration and Joy
Fearless first came to see us in January of 2014 at 12 years of age. Over the prior 2 weeks, she had developed a large and very sensitive mass on the face above the nose that was pushing the left eye and also invading into the mouth causing a mass around the canine tooth. A CT scan was performed and showed a highly invasive mass that invaded around the left eye and through the bone at the back of the nasal cavity, into the brain. Despite this mass, to say that Fearless had a big personality would be understatement. Even though cats with nasal tumors of such an advanced stage have a guarded prognosis, Fearless’s owner was committed to doing our best to treat it.
Fearless underwent 16 treatments of radiation therapy prescribed by Dr. Gordon. Because Fearless’s owner could not travel with her each day, Fearless was transported by a local pet hotel each day and became a fixture in the clinic for several weeks, endearing herself to us all. Impressively, within 1-2 weeks of starting therapy, the visible mass shrank dramatically and the eye and mouth returned to normal. After being a picky eater during the first few days of treatment, Fearless turned that around as well.
Fearless was thrilled to receive a visitor about half-way through treatment when her owner came to visit. That day, she sent the following note:
“I was so pleased to see Fearless yesterday and to see how happy she is while she is at the clinic. I was so tickled when Fearless sat upright in my lap, right after your technician left the room, and stared hard at the closed door as if to say "Where did my friend go??" I know that Fearless is not your only patient (even though I imagine she thinks otherwise)…thank you to everyone for the excellent care that Fearless is receiving!”
Fearless did well over the next 6 months but then a new challenge arose. Fearless’s owner had become sick and would not be able to care for her. She did not know if she could find a good home for a 13 year old cat with cancer. After a heavy lobbying effort, we agreed that because Fearless seemed to love being in the clinic so much, we would offer her a home as our “hospital cat”. This turned into a perfect arrangement as Fearless loved being in charge of the clinic and she was a constant source of joy and pride for the hospital. She developed a white patch of fur over her radiation site and become something of a radiation spokesmodel. A repeat CT scan showed essentially a complete regression of her nasal tumor and she continued to do amazingly well.
Around March of 2015, we received the fantastic news that Fearless’s owner’s health had dramatically improved. Although we had not expected to be sending Fearless back home and it broke our hearts to do so, we were thrilled to reunite the family. Fearless remained happy and healthy so we sent her on her way. We would see Fearless for rechecks every few months and continue to admire her remarkable response and progress. This continued through June of 2016 as we continued to be in awe.
Sadly, in July of 2016, Fearless began to develop new complications related to the tumor which quickly progressed. We had to put Fearless to sleep on August 1, 2016, 30 months after she initially came into our lives. She was now a 15 year old cat that was able to live the last 2.5 years to the fullest and to bring joy to all those who knew her.
This is a tremendous loss to us all and a reminder of the very best as well as the hardest parts of being in this profession. We all miss you and love you Fearless; you were an inspiration and a source of so much joy to so many people.
Shadow, Hero Dog
This is the story of Shadow, an 8 year old male Labrador Retriever, who was living the good life in a rural area outside of Charlottesville, VA. He had 2 human parents who love him, a pond to swim in, and lots of good smells to hunt down. In October of 2014, the owners noticed that Shadow had a small lump on his left muzzle. It grew slowly through the early winter, and then seemed to grow very quickly. Shadow remained happy and energetic, and went to visit Dr. Hamilton at Virginia Veterinary Surgical Specialists, in February 2015. Dr. Hamilton was concerned at the rate at which the mass was growing and its appearance. He ordered an MRI of the head and performed a biopsy.
Unfortunately, the MRI showed that Shadow had a very large and invasive mass of the left muzzle and nasal cavity, which had grown to the size of a softball. The biopsy was not encouraging, with the diagnosis of a fibrosarcoma, which is a very invasive tumor of the connective tissue. Unfortunately it was too large to remove surgically.
The owners were devastated at the news. They went to see Dr. Waite at the Dogwood TOS office, who explained the possible options for treatment, including radiation therapy. The owners were quickly on the road north, to Springfield, VA to see Dr. Gordon, our Radiation Oncologist at the TOS RVRC location. Shadow’s owners decided that they would not give up without a fight, and a plan was devised with Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Gordon, and Dr. Waite to give Shadow the best chance of survival. A CT was done for radiation treatment planning, and Shadow checked in to “Radiation Camp” for 18 daily radiation treatments at RVRC. Shadow was a wonderful patient, he sent pictures and notes home from camp to his owners every day of his stay. Finally home on March 20th, 2015, he waited with the owners through the skin side effects and then went for surgery in May 2015. Throughout the many days of anesthesia and radiation treatments, surgery and recovery, Shadow retained his loving spirit.
Shadow healed remarkably well, and got back to the business of running the household. All remained great, and Shadow bore the grey muzzle of radiation therapy with distinction. All was well, until Feb. 2016, when the owners noticed a very small swelling returning on the left muzzle. Fibrosarcoma had returned, but was very slowly growing. Shadow wore an Elizabethan collar, but was still able to paddle in his pond, and keep his happy-go-lucky attitude.
At a recent party at his home, several dogs came to visit with their owners, and Shadow’s favorite little human friend came also, a 4 year old relative who was excited to catch her first fish in the pond. For some unknown reason, one of the canine partygoers, a German Shepherd, attacked the child, biting her in the face and knocking her to the ground. Before any human could react, Shadow rushed in and put himself between the attacking dog and his little girl, saving her from additional trauma. When we received this information from the owners, we all thought about if Shadow had not been there. He is a hero dog in every way!
Dr. Gordon wrote to the owners, “I continue to be in awe of Shadow's story and heroism. I think it is an incredibly moving example that underscores the importance of our pets and the care we provide them with.”
Meet Chappie, One Resilient Dog
Written by Chappie's mom, Alice
On the morning of June 25, 2014; the day before his 11th birthday, Chappie came inside from the backyard holding up his right hind leg. This continued into the next day and my intuition told me it was bad. Instead of swimming on his birthday, Chappie was at the vet having x-rays taken. Much to my devastation, the x-rays confirmed osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Still reeling from the sudden loss of my 6 year old yellow lab 1 year prior, the thought of now losing Chappie is news I did not take well.
On July 2, Chappie underwent FHO surgery (Femoral Head Osteotomy) which unfortunately did not provide the pain relief or elimination of cancer we had hoped for. At the advice of a friend, I sought a second opinion from Board Certified Surgeon, Dr. Mathieu Glassman at Friendship Animal Hospital. During our first consultation on July 14, we discussed Chappie’s limited options; possible amputation, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for pain relief. Due to severe arthritis in Chappie’s left hind leg (his ‘good’ leg), amputation was not a great option. Asking a weak leg to support nearly 80lbs of weight was risky. I soon learned, the nature of osteosarcoma is to spread to the lungs. Taking this into consideration, along with Chappie’s age and the state of his weak ‘good’ leg; it was ultimately decided the best course of action was radiation for pain relief. Given our scenario, estimated life expectancy was anywhere from 4-6 months (from time of diagnosis). Based on how he was doing in July, a shorter time frame was expected.
Our first radiation treatment at TOS in Leesburg, VA was on July 17, 2014. At this point, Chappie alternated between limping and/or holding his leg up entirely. He was in a great deal of pain. For obvious reasons, I could not keep from crying when I met with Dr. Gordon. Dr. Gordon is lovely, kind, empathic, soft spoken, very thorough and honest. He sat on the floor with us while reviewing Chappie’s unfortunate diagnosis. Luckily, Chappie was a good candidate for radiation treatment and Dr. Gordon was confident he would experience pain relief but similar to our previous assessment, we were likely only looking at a few months together. Like anyone with a beloved pet, I will take every single day I can get with my sweet boy! We also discussed the potential anti-inflammatory benefits of low-dose radiation for Chappie’s arthritis in his other leg. Radiation was done on both legs. I really did not know what to expect and miraculously, 1 week later, Chappie was weight bearing; running in the yard, barking at dogs and neighbors; visibly much happier and far more comfortable. It was then that I became a believer in radiation treatment to improve quality of life and reduce pain!! I would recommend this treatment by Dr. Ira Gordon without reservation!
Chappie’s cancerous leg continued to deteriorate and while the initial pain relief was a dream come true, it was short lived. We returned to Dr. Gordon for a second round of treatment on September 11, at which time Chappie was holding up his leg 99% of the time (i.e. he was basically 3-legged!). I was hopeful for another positive result; however, I also realized this would be our last treatment. We were about to take our annual beach trip to the Outer Banks and I just wanted Chappie to enjoy himself as much as possible. Chappie has always LOVED the beach and even more, swimming in the ocean. While he did not swim, he did come alive out in the sand and despite worsening pain, he smiled all week long! Once home, I knew the end was near. I emailed Dr. Gordon with an update. As I mentioned, the decision had been made not to move forward with amputation surgery so that door was closed in my mind. It was Dr. Gordon who emailed me back and suggested that I give amputation consideration once more; after all, he pointed out, Chappie was getting along, seemingly ok, on 3 legs. He consulted with Dr. Glassman and persuaded him and me to consider this as out last option. Chappie underwent amputation and hemi-pelvectomy (the cancer extended into his pelvis) surgery on October 8. Surgery itself went well. Unfortunately, an infection developed which made recovery long. We were at Friendship multiple times each week until December 24th when the infection was officially pronounced ‘healed’. Numerous times between October and December, as we were dealing with the infection, I questioned my surgical decision. Had I done too much? Would Chappie ever regain his quality of life? I trust the physicians at Friendship and TOS implicitly. From day one, they have been open and candid with me. Even during the recovery period, when I was near giving up, Dr. Glassman insisted Chappie had better days ahead; we simply needed to get over the infection….On December 29, Chappie started chemotherapy treatment which he is tolerating beautifully and like Dr. Glassman and Dr. Gordon, the TOS medical oncology team at Friendship has been wonderful.
On June 26, 2015, Chappie Boy turned 12yo! Never did I think we would see that glorious day! And, Chappie is not just ‘getting by’. He is happy and thriving and pain free! He plays with and even runs a bit with his younger yellow lab sister Cora and he continues to bark at and protect me from all who pass by our house! I drive to parks where Chappie can walk/run as much as he wants and when he is tired, he simply lays down and we drive back home. Everyday, he wears his ‘Cancer Survivor’ collar charm given to him by Dr. Gordon.
If it weren’t for Dr. Gordon, who urged me to reconsider amputation, Chappie would not have made it through October. I credit Dr. Gordon and Dr. Glassman specifically along with the entire oncology team for saving and extending Chappie’s life and for giving us the gift of the last year (and hopefully longer!!) together. Chappie inspires ME! I wish I had his spirit and resiliency. If you are reading this and in a position similar to ours, I hope Chappie’s story inspires you as well.
Meet Layla, the Chocolate Wonder Cat
Layla is an 11 year old Havanna Brown cat who originally came to Springfield Emergency Hospital at The Regional Veterinary Referral Center because she had been losing weight and not eating well. It was quickly apparent that she was having difficulty breathing especially while attempting to eat. She was sedated and an examination of her mouth revealed a large mass in the larynx. The tumor could not be removed so a biopsy of the tumor was obtained. Because she was struggling so much to breath, an emergency tracheostomy was performed by Dr. Mullally of the critical care service. The biopsy of the tumor revealed it to be a plasma cell tumor. This is a very rare diagnosis in a cat, particulary at this location so the biopsy was sent to the University of California for a second opinion and special stains by a leading pathologist in this area and the diagnosis was confirmed. Since Layla could not breathe on her own, the tracheostomy tube remained in place, and a feeding tube was placed to give her nutrition.
Despite the rare nature of this tumor, we believed that radiation therapy gave us the best chance to shrink the tumor and Dr. Gordon and the TOS radiation therapy team gave her a 3-week course of daily radiation treatments. The results were quite dramatic, as by day 4 the tumor had shrunk to the point where the tracheostomy tube could be removed, and by day 5 Layla was able to breath comfortably and eat on her own. The tumor continued to shrink as treatment continued, and Layla was able to go home and return on a daily basis during the last week of her radiation treatments.
Layla continues to thrive at home. She has regained several pounds on her chocolate frame, and purrs loudly when returning for follow up visits! Layla’s doctors are are continuing to monitor her progress closely and will likely be reporting her case in a veterinary journal.
Meet Deano, an 11 year old mixed breed with a brain tumor
During December of 2013 Deano’s family noticed vision problems on his left side. Fortunately for Deano, his owners were very observant and quickly noticed that he would not track or catch toys on his left side and he would avoid routes where he had to turn left. This prompted Deano’s family to have him seen by primary care veterinarian who was immediately concerned and referred Deano for to an eye and neurologic specialist. His neurologist performed an MRI and found that Deano had a brain tumor impacting the nerves that come from the eyes.
After the brain tumor was diagnosed on the MRI, Deano was referred to Dr. Gordon and the Radiation Oncology Department for radiotherapy. Deano’s mass was not a candidate for surgery and so he underwent radiation therapy. Deano remained extremely happy throughout his treatment course and his vision fully returned. He did so well that his owners joked that they believed the radiation was giving Deano superhero powers.
Deano finished treatment in February 2014. Since then he has been very healthy and active with no adverse side effects from therapy and he remains fully visual. With a pack at Lake Anna and boat rides with Mom and Dad, Deano is leading a very happy and active life. Deano and the Radiation Therapy staff look forward to his biyearly rechecks and the smiles he brings with him.