Red’s Canine Lymphoma Diagnosis – Day 1

As promised, I will talk about Red’s diagnosis with this beast we’ve come to know as Lymphoma. Let me tell you a little something about Lymphoma…it’s a jerk. We hate it. And we want to kick it in the nuts.

That being said, I’m taking these notes for all my friends out there who might be going through the same thing we are. We had no idea Red was sick. One day he was running and playing and totally (seemingly) fine. And then the next, he wasn’t. It came that fast.

It was Sunday, last week. September 22, 2013. We were in Jersey with our friends apple picking. Red enjoyed the “fresh” Jersey air ::heheheh:: and a big, grassy yard to run around in with his little sister, Bebop. We arrived home that evening close to 11pm. The next morning, Red didn’t want to get up. He didn’t want food (which for our VERY food oriented gentle giant, usually is a red flag). He didn’t want to go on his morning walk. He just wanted to lay down and be alone.

We assumed he had just eaten some bad grass. All creatures get sick now and then. So we kept an eye on him all day and allowed him the rest he needed. By dinner time, he was a bit better. Finally interested in eating and going for his walk again. We happily assumed that whatever bug he had had passed.

Two hours after, about nine or ten pm, we noticed that under Red’s jaw had swelled up to a monstrous size. It wasn’t like a little bit swollen–we could barely get his collar on him. Each lymph node was the size of a tangerine. And Red looked miserable.

We rushed him to the veterinary ER where they did an aspiration biopsy. The main fear for the night was that if the lymph nodes continued to swell, they could press against his trachea or even entirely cut off his air supply. Between the two of us (Sean and me), I am the night owl and the light sleeper. Therefore, I stayed up as long as I could–until about 3:30am with Red making sure his breathing was okay. When I did go to bed, Sean moved to the couch and Red rested in Sean’s spot so that I could keep a hand on his chest to ensure each breath.

Every move–every twitch Red made would spiral me into an awake frenzy. Was this it? Was he not able to breathe? The moments between each breath were the worst. I’d hold my breath with him, a knot lumping in my throat, until he would finally inhale once more.

By the morning, Red’s breathing was still relatively steady. But the lymph nodes were just as large as the night before. Sean and I were desperately clinging to the hope that maybe he just had an infection. Something that a quick amoxicylin would take care of. Or maybe he was bitten by a mosquito? But that morning, after a quick trip to our vet, and several blood tests, it was confirmed. Red has lymphoma.

Our vet choked up as she examined Red. He’s always been one of their favorites (no offense to Bebop). And as good as it felt to have a dog that so many people fell in love with, it made the news that much harder as well. Luckily, other than the swollen lymph nodes, Red was back to his regular self (almost). He was happy and his tail wagged with each treat we gave him. He danced and pranced around the waiting room as the various women and vet technicians fawned over him (he is such a ladies man!).

That same day, we saw the veterinary oncologist who outlined the various options for Red. If we did nothing, he would have about 2-8 weeks. But with treatments, many dogs live an extra year to two years.

Sean and I were overwhelmed, as any pet parent would be. And while we thought about our choices, we went ahead with a prescription for prednisone to reduce the swelling as well as a treatment of Elspar–an enzyme treatment used to reduce the size of cancer cells. It would at least buy us a little time to decide which path to take.

Both of these medicines improved Red’s situation within hours. The swelling went down and the Elspar had little to no side effects. The prednisone made Red much more thirsty and hungry and he panted a lot. He also had to be taken out much more frequently for walks (every 3-5 hours). All of which is a small price to pay for his health and happiness.

We are  and were on the road to emotional and physical recovery.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a bumpy journey, but I’m more convinced than ever that we’ll all be a closer family because of this.

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