10 Year Old GSD with Leukemia

10 Year Old GSD with Leukemia

by David
(Uckfield, Sussex, UK)


Completely out of the blue I was told 2 days ago that my beautiful, healthy 10-year-old German Shepherd dog, Spike, had chronic leukemia.

We'd only popped him to the vet because he had an upset stomach and had been slightly off his food for a couple of weeks - not unusual for him as he's always been a fussy eater and we'd put it down to the exceptionally hot weather in the UK.

The vet was great, examined him, took a blood sample there and then (this was on Sunday afternoon) and made the initial diagnosis within 30 minutes. We made an appointment for the following day (yesterday) to discuss treatment plans, following further analysis of the blood sample.

I didn't sleep Sunday night, had to go home from work on Monday morning because I was too upset to meet people, but seeing Spike, bright and cheery on Monday afternoon, perked me up. He's now starting eating well again (albeit all the treats - roast chicken, minced beef etc). I convinced myself that we were going to get a great treatment regime in place and he'd be with us for many more months.

We went back to the vet last night, only for the news to get worse - it's not chronic, it's acute. More blood has been taken to try to pin the exact nature of the cancer down further so we can review the treatment plan, but the vet has prepared us for the worse. I didn't sleep again last night, just listened to his breathing all night.

I'm trying to be strong for him and for my wife, but vary from a sobbing wreck to someone who's completely rational and planning the coming weeks. I'm sitting at my desk at work right now (I'm lucky enough to have my own office) with tears streaming down my face.

Like most Shepherds, he has formed a bond with one person since we collected him at 8 weeks old - that's me. He's never more than 6 feet away from me (if I shower he lies outside the door) and he sleeps on our bed at night. He's been my constant companion, my friend and our guardian for 10 years. I'm being selfish, but I don't know who I am without him at my side and in my life.

I know we must (and will) do the best for him and this is only going to end one way. It will be at home with my wife and I with him, and with our words in his ears.

But how do you go on beyond this? I really can't see how at this point despite every other good thing in my life.

(Submitted Tuesday, August 06, 2013)

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Sep 16, 2013
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Update on 16 September
by: David

Hello,

I said on 9 August that I would try to update in 4 - 6 weeks, hence this post.

It's still hard to believe that Spike is gone. We have cried a lot, I look at photos of him all the time and we talk about him constantly. But, in all honesty, the pain is manageable most of the time, which is not something I really thought I'd be able to say.

I don't want to dwell on the last day, but the end for my boy, Spike, was extremely stress free and he really didn't know what was going on - it was just another visit to the vet, he didn't need to even get out of the car and we were with him all the way through. I really gain strength and comfort from knowing that he did not feel pain or severe discomfort at any point. It's a fine balance, but I feel we got it just right.

We won't be bringing another dog into our family for a while yet - another year or so perhaps, because now I'd only be seeking to recreate Spike, which would never happen. Instead we're looking at volunteering to do some voluntary work with a local German Shepherd rescue trust - it may be illogical, but now that we have more time and 'freedom' (wrong use of the word, but hopefully readers will understand) it seems right to put that to good use, in Spike's memory.

It is so sad (and unfair!) that we have different lifespans to such close companions, friends and family members. My message, for what it's worth, to others who are facing this awful situation is that pain does subside, slowly, but love and positive memories remain.

I'm in no position to give advice, but as I've said previously, my own experience, which stood me in good stead, was to get the best professional advice available and act decisively on that advice, with the prime consideration always being what was best for my boy.

I won't update this blog any further - but thanks to everyone who sent messages of support. They were, and are, a great comfort.

Thanks and best wishes to all,

David.

Aug 09, 2013
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Spike
by: Hazel, Site Editor

Hi, David,

I am so sorry about Spike. Acute leukemia is notorious for its aggressiveness and most dogs succumb to it shortly after diagnosis.

I don't know what to say to comfort you and your wife. I can only say that it's OK to grieve and feel sad, and it will get better with time. Treasure your memories with Spike and know that he will always be with you - in your heart.

Remember, you are not alone. We are all here to give you emotional support if you need it. There are a lot of visitors to this Forum who have gone through what you are going through now, and they are extremely kind and supportive. Please come back, share your feelings, and ask for support.

Will be thinking of you and Spike.

Take care.

Aug 09, 2013
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Update on Friday 9 August
by: David

Hello, just thought I'd update on the latest position. It's not good news. We want to a canine oncologist yesterday. The visit was very worthwhile, and he was extremely knowledgeable, supportive but also pragmatic. We were offered a treatment plan of injected chemo, 3 times a week, with blood tests in between. But the plan would need to flex and change on a daily basis, depending on Spike's response to each treatment and we were warned that there may be adverse effects of the chemo. Taking everything into account - the invasiveness of the treatment, Spike's dislike of being 'messed with', the risk of side effects and the relatively short time gain (up to 3 months) we have decided not to pursue that option. Whilst not trying to influence us in any way, the oncologist said if Spike were his dog then he would be unlikely to pursue treatment. We then discussed the alternative and he was very clear that while Spike will almost certainly be pain free, loss of ability to do what he normally does, extreme lethargy and - later - possible infections, bleeding etc. all constitute suffering. So we resolved not to let him go on beyond the point where he has his dignity and the last vestiges of enjoyment in life.

Spike had a good meal last night, but his tummy is very very upset and has been for 2 full days and he is now withdrawing into himself (very tired, doesn't want to eat today, unable to get into a comfortable position). I stayed up with him most of the night. This morning we had a very slow walk, he carried his stick as ever and even encouraged me to throw it a couple of times for him. He had a swim too, which he loves. He was a shadow of himself though. We came home, he's been toweled dry and now he's sleeping on the sofa beside me.

We are going to the vets at 3 this afternoon for the last time. Despite me saying this was going to happen at home, Spike has such a guarding instinct that we'd spend 10 minutes convincing him to let the vet in if he came here! So, we are driving down, Spike will be on his bed in the back of car and the vet will come and see him there. The boot is big enough for all of us to fit in, so he'll have my wife and I either side of him as he goes to sleep.

This has all happened so quickly - from diagnosis to now is just 5 days. He was clearly getting sick before but his spirit is so strong that he carried on regardless.

For others who are battling through this, please don't take Spike's outcome as the norm or give up hope - he had the most aggressive form of this disease: if he had the chronic strain then he could have been with us for much much longer.

I'm going to sign off now. This is the worst day of my life. I hope that I (we) can find the strength to go on, positively, and when the hurt fades a little to continuously celebrate the privilege of enjoying 10 years love, laughs and companionship with a truly magnificent and amazing creature.

I will try to update in maybe 4 or 6 weeks.

Best wishes,

David.

Aug 07, 2013
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Re: Spike
by: Elaine Derbyshire

Hi David

So sorry to read that Spike's future is bleak. I wish I had some words that could give you hope. My best advice is to take each day as it comes and make the most of every day. Glad you have made a plan for when the day comes. Take lots of photos - that's what I did. Trust me you will know Spike will let you know when it's time.

I do however hope and pray that you are blessed with more days with Spike. Ask the specialist about diet - they will be able to give you advice on a cancer diet.

God bless you and keep us updated when you can. Remember you are not alone - we are all here for you to help support you. Will be thinking of you and your Spike as you face this difficult journey.

Elaine Hazyflight

Aug 07, 2013
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Spike
by: Ann

Dear David

So sorry to hear about Spike. I lost my beautiful dog 18 months ago through lung cancer and haven't been quite the same since. There is no easy way to get through it all but I wish you well and the courage when that fateful day comes. But I also hope you get to have some more time with him.

God bless you and Spike. Take care.

Aug 07, 2013
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Update on Wednesday 7 August
by: David

So the results of Monday's blood tests are back and it's AML, very advanced according to the cell count.

The vet tells me the outlook is very bleak and there is definitely only one outcome, but we are going to see a specialist canine oncologist tomorrow morning. Spike has barely eaten today, although brightened up a little when I took him out (wanted to play frisbee as usual despite being low on energy!) It broke my heart inside when a pair of passersby remarked on what a beautiful dog he is!

Now he's sleeping near me fitfully. And I'm in tears again, despite being strong most of the day.

This must be all about him, not me, and I'm really grappling with the balance between not letting him go too early and keeping him beyond the point where it's right for him to go. I've done the rational things, like set out the main criteria that need to be applied to make the decision. Today is not the day to let him go, I am very afraid it may be soon. But will see what tomorrow brings.

Thank you for the kind comments. They do help, although the emotional pain is intense.

Aug 07, 2013
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Re: Spike
by: Elaine Derbyshire

Dear David

So sorry you and dear Spike are facing the big C.

I have had several dogs with different cancer. Last year my dog also called Spike underwent treatment for thyroid cancer; he was almost ten and was given a good survival time. Although nine months later and only four weeks ago, he died due to severe spinal issues unrelated to cancer.

I went to a referral centre and if you can and you have not yet been referred I recommend it.

I wish you and your dear Spike many more happy days together.

Elaine and Hazyflight

Aug 07, 2013
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Cindy my Lhaso Apso
by: Heather

Dear David,

I have just read the very sad news about your darling dog Spike. I know just how you are feeling.

18 months ago my little 10 year old Lhaso Apso became very poorly and after several blood test I was told she had leukemia. I was absolutely devastated and, like you, I couldn't sleep or concentrate on anything apart from my darling little Cindy. The Vet suggested chemotherapy, which he started straight away together with steroids and antibiotics for the first week after the chemo. She started to improve but she did lose a lot of her beautiful coat. She has chemo every five weeks now and the Vet is really delighted with her progress; her coat has grown back and she is enjoying life again but how long this will last I don't know. I am just so happy that we are still together.

David, I really feel your pain and don't give up. Give Spike a big hug from me.

Best regards.

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