Monday, August 24, 2009

The diagnosis that changed our lives

July brought the most expensive and tragic trip to the vet. Over the course of about 6 mos, Dixie had developed a larger tumor on her front left leg. The doctor advised us to remove it sooner than later. She was afraid the longer we waited, the more difficult it would be remove.

July 9, 2009
Dixie went in for surgery to remove the leg tumor and a small growth under her tail. We opted to not have a biopsy of either tumor, since we knew we couldn't afford chemo or radiation if they were cancer. Halfway through the surgery, I received a call from the vet's office. Dixie was doing well, but they wanted to let me know the surgery was taking longer than expected. I knew this was not good.

After the surgery was over, I received a call from the doctor herself. She said the tumor was embedded among the tendons and veins more than expected. She did her best, but could not remove all of it. She highly recommended we biopsy the tumor. I agreed.

Finally at 5pm, I was allowed to take Dixie home. She was not well. Confused and crying. Pretty much until bedtime, she was whiny and wouldn't let me leave her side. This was unusual since Dixie had always recovered easily and quickly from surgeries.

The next few weeks were interesting. Thankfully, Dixie was her normal self the next day. I counted about 34 stitches on her leg. The leg had a lot of fluid and drainage. (see below) After many visits to the vet for draining, cut up socks to cover the wound/catch the fluid and lots of touch up cleaning on the carpet, she was finally cleared to get her stitches out.

We found out about 3 days after the surgery that the big leg tumor was indeed cancer—a grade I soft-tissue sarcoma (only 5-10% chance of metastisizing). I don't know why, but from the moment I dropped her off for surgery, I had amputation in mind. Of course I didn't even know she had cancer. I guess it was like a premonition of what was to come.

The vet recommended we amputate the leg to “increase her chances of a disease-free life;” and the sooner the better. Either that, or let it be. It would grow back, and no-one knows how fast. I expect it would quickly, since it grew fast the first time. When she starts having pain, we would maintain it with meds. I just couldn't imagine that. She's an active dog. Dixie LOVES running, hiking, camping—being in the wilderness. I would hate to cut that short by having her all doped up on drugs.

hiking in Fossil Spring Wilderness Area

But I also wondered, If we amputate, are we being too aggressive? Besides a barely noticeable limp, Dixie was getting around great, running and jumping. I never noticed a change her in behavior. The cancer has such a low chance of spreading. Since Dixie uses her left leg with no problem, I'm concerned she'll have a harder time recovering.

After some debate, Adam and I have decided to amputate. Through all this, I'm proud of myself and Adam for not being super emotional or worrying about her being "handicapped." My biggest fear, personally though, is her recovery. I know she's strong, both in will and physically. I just don't want her to get frustrated. I want her to be happy.

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