Canine Melanoma is a Terrible and Aggressive Disease
(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
It's wonderful to be able to share our story here to people who understand the close bond that develops with a pet and why we go to such lengths and expense to do what we can for them.
Our dog Haley is a mixed breed - Bernese Mountain dog mother and possibly German Sheperd or Collie father. She is now 11 years old.
When she was about 9 years old we noticed that there was a section of her gums that was redder than the rest. We brought her to the vet who said it was probably just an irritation due to chewing. Unfortunately several months later (about 15 months ago) the red section started to thicken into a growth which was removed and diagnosed as melanoma
We were referred to an oncologist who recommended we try the vaccine which in Canada was very very expensive. He said without the vaccine Haley would have 6-9 months to live and the vaccine could either cure her or give her about 15 months more. Haley is a terrific dog - very affectionate and although we get upset with her when she barks too much she is definitely one of the family members. So we gave her the vaccine with high hopes. Several months later the oral tumor grew back and it was removed a second time.
Unfortunately several months later, she developed a growth in her neck which meant that it spread to the next lymph nodes. Haley had her third operation to remove the tumor. That was a more difficult recovery because that involved draining the wound which leaked fluid for about a week. We still had high hopes which were shattered when the tumor reappeared not too long after. The oncologist suggested trying chemotherapy. Haley took one dose and we waited a few weeks to see if the tumor would shrink. It didn't and the tumor grew quickly developing several bumps. I think it was a mistake to wait because of the aggressive nature of this cancer. Haley had his fourth and last operation on May 14. The vet said it was a very nasty tumor and the operation took 3 hours to unravel the blood vessels and also remove another little growth that had reappeared in her mouth.
Haley came home quite weak but this time with no fluid leaking. She bounced back quickly and seemed like our happy dog again - enjoying herself in the country, running up and down the hills, swimming in the lake and barking at every dog that passed her by.
To our extreme disappointment, however, within a month the tumors started growing again with a vengeance in her neck and into the prescapular lymph node, which means it is making its way to the lungs. Up to now the vets have been recommending surgery but even the oncologist at this stage says it would not be advisable. We also feel that we can't put Haley through another operation only to gain 1-2 months since this cancer is so aggressive.
At this point we would say that Haley is in pallative care. The tumors in her neck are affecting her tongue so that she is having difficulty eating and drinking - her tongue goes off to the side. She has a hard time getting the food or water to actually get to the back of her throat to swallow. We're feeding her soft food and the tantalizing odour is keeping her appetite up although it is heartbreaking to watch her have such difficulty with this basic function. She still enjoys running around in the country and going for her walks but in the house she tends to just lie around. The drooling caused by the removal of the last oral tumor is difficult to deal with both for her and us and needs frequent wiping. She gets more tired when we go for a walk but she's still keen on her outings.
The vet says that we'll know when it's time - she'll have no appetite and she won't want to get up for her walks. We're dreading that day but in the mean time enjoying her and making her life as happy as possible. It's terrible to see the life go out of a being that had endless energy and always willing to play. It will be a very sad day when we lose this wonderful, lovable and loyal friend and member of our family.
We wish anyone with a pet with melanoma the best of luck - hopefully better luck than we have had. Site Editor's Note:
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