Trixie was on my Monday morning schedule at 10 am. I had operated on Trixie three times in the past year to remove numerous skin lumps. I was hoping she was here to see me for another reason as I opened the door to the exam room and greeted Trixie, a bouncing, happy, tail-wagging black Labrador Retriever. Each time we had sent off the lumps to the veterinary lab and had received the same news: a malignant tumor called Mast Cell Tumor. These were medium grade tumors: a slight risk of metastasis to internal organs, but best treated with surgery. So that is what we had done to treat the previous 9 lumps.
I was greeted with plenty of black hair and excited licks from Trixie, one of those dogs who likes going anywhere, even to the vet. Mrs. Lockhart asked me how my wife Suzy was (having 5 kids I get asked that question a lot) and said “these two lumps have come up real fast, and seem to be growing every day.” I knelt down and examined Trixie, found a lump on her ear and one on her front leg. Both lumps were about the size of a dime, slightly raised above the skin and pink in color. “These are definitely mast cell tumors”, I said, “let’s get them taken off tomorrow.”
“Dr. Vince, isn’t there anything else we can do?” Mrs. Lockhart asked, noticeably upset with tears in her eyes.
“I think we need to try chemotherapy after surgery”, I said, somewhat hesitantly since I knew people hate that word. “The good news is, the drugs we will use probably won’t make her sick at all”, I explained. I went on to discuss our treatment plan: pills at home, an injection every 3 weeks for 6 treatments. No guarantee, but we had to try to avoid surgery every 3 months. Mrs. Lockhart agreed and we scheduled Trixie for surgery the next day.
Trixie arrived for surgery the next day at 9 am. Mrs. Lockhart had followed instructions: Trixie was not allowed to eat breakfast, which is usually the worst news any Labradors can hear. She was used to being with us, and always seemed to enjoy the attention. Outside of the operating room, she gave me her paw and I gave her an injection of an anesthetic drug which made her sleepy, then we passed a tube into her airway and kept her anesthetized with oxygen and a gas anesthetic. Surgery took about 90 minutes and went very smoothly. Both lumps were easily removed, and I sutured her with dissolving sutures under the skin and blue colored nylon sutures placed in the skin. These would be removed in 2 weeks. She work up shortly after we finished and her tail started wagging immediately, as she looked forward to going home and eating dinner.
Two weeks later, I opened the door to exam room number four and was greeted by bouncing Trixie. Mrs Lockhart was smiling and said “she’s healed great Dr. Vince. And I can’t find any new lumps. Do you think we really need to start chemotherapy?”
“I think we should”, I said, “if she doesn’t handle it well we will stop. I’m very worried about these tumors she keeps getting. Trixie is a strong and happy dog, I really believe she will do great.”
18 weeks later, we finished up her last round of chemotherapy medication. Trixie had not become sick a single time and never skipped a meal. However, the prednisone she had been taking caused her to drink a lot of water and she gained about 8 pounds. “This is great Mrs. Lockhart”, I exclaimed, “now we have to watch closely for any more lumps. If you find anything I want to see her right away.” “Trixie”, I said, “it’s time to go on a diet!”. No Labrador likes to hear those words.
Sometimes luck is just as important as skill. Trixie has been very lucky. Last week I examined her during her annual check up. No lumps found! It’s been 3 years since her last surgery and chemotherapy and we think we have this beat. Trixie, as always, lives every day as if it is her last, happy and with a tail that never stops wagging. I think surgery was large part of her cure as was the medication we gave her. However, I believe her happy and positive attitude contributed just as much to her beating cancer.
Dr. Vince writes the column “Tales from the Vet” for “This Week in Peachtree City” newspaper which is available online at www.fayettedailynews.com.
Dr. Vince Obsitnik
The Animal Medical Clinic
405 Highway 74 N.
Peachtree City, GA 30269