I wasn't allowed to have a dog growing up. I wanted one my whole life. As soon as I graduated from college I adopted Callie from a local shelter.
Callie had severe anxiety and at first it was difficult to keep her calm long enough to go outside to go to the bathroom. She frantically tried to pull and claw her way back to the house -- or even under a parked car or into a bush. Even a plastic bag fluttering down the street a block away could send her into a panic. Although I'd done a lot of research before adopting a dog I knew I needed help. I found a local behaviorist who introduced me to clicker training and positive reinforcement. Callie was one of the most fearful dogs she'd encountered. However, Callie and I worked together and slowly but surely she became less anxious.
Callie had a persistent case of demodectic mange when I adopted her. Several years ago she was diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (but has not had any recent episodes). Overall, though, Callie has been extremely healthy. Her blood work months ago was "perfection." Several months ago we noted that she seemed to be panting more than usual. We took her to the vet and her blood pressure was deemed a bit high. She was put on medication and soon the extra panting seemed to subside. A few weeks later we noticed a tiny puddle of pee on the hardwood floor. It was a very small amount of urine and she had no other symptoms, but we took her to the vet for a urine test. The vet didn't find anything, but noted that her urine was a bit diffuse, so she suggested a urine culture. We did that, too, and it came back without any problems indicated.
A week later we woke up around 3:30 am to the sound of Callie making a coughing/retching sound every few minutes. We knew right away something was wrong. Immediately I worried about bloat. My stepmother's dog died of bloat and had exhibited similar symptoms. We rushed Callie to the emergency vet where she was taken in for abdominal x-rays. The abdominal x-rays showed that Callie did not have bloat. I was relieved to hear she did not have bloat -- until the vet noted that something looked off about Callie's lungs. She did chest x-rays and saw that Callie's chest was filled with fluid. They drained 1.5 liters of fluid from her chest. They did an ultrasound. Later they drained another half a liter from Callie's chest. They tested the fluid. They told us that Callie had cancer. They thought it was likely mesothelioma. I asked if chemotherapy was an option. The vet said she'd already spoken to the oncologist and he'd said there wasn't anything he would do.
During all of this Callie developed an arrhythmia. They put her on medication to try to control that. It didn't work and they admitted Callie overnight to keep trying to control the arrhythmia. I was not allowed to stay overnight in the kennel with her. (Yes, I asked.) We were allowed to visit with her (after a vet-recommended trip to the nearby supermarket to buy rotisserie chicken to offer Callie). Several times it was suggested that euthanizing Callie was a reasonable option. However, she was not in pain. After 14+ hours at the emergency vet we needed to head home to eat, sleep, grab/take our own medications, and care for our cat and other small pets.
Leaving Callie at the emergency vet and going home for the night without her was one of the worst experiences of my life. I sobbed hysterically the entire way home. I cried myself to sleep and then woke up, remembered, and cried again. Getting up to go to the bathroom and not having to step over her beside the bed was heartbreaking. As soon as we got up in the morning we headed back to the emergency vet. Callie looked like a tiny curled up little fawn in the back corner of her kennel. She looked defeated and weak and overwhelmed. She barely raised her head or wagged her tail when we entered the kennel to sit with her. She had no interest in the fresh hamburger meat we brought her. The vet explained that they had been unable to get Callie's arrhythmia under control. Her lungs were already filling up with liquid again, faster than they'd anticipated overnight. Again the vet suggested that it would not be unreasonable to say goodbye to her there. However, the vet said she was not in pain. We asked if we could take Callie home with us and the vet said yes, but warned us that she thought "this" would go fast now.
I went out to warm up the car and pull it around to the front of the building. When I walked inside they'd already brought Callie into the lobby. She was standing up next to my wife. She already looked better. She was even wagging her tail. She walked out of the emergency vet hospital on her own. I put her in the back of the car and we headed home. When we got home Callie slept and slept. She was a bit wobbly going up and down the stairs but seemed otherwise ok. When we went outside so she could go to the bathroom she headed for the car and stood next to it, ready to go for a ride. We took her to the beach. That night I fell asleep on the floor next to Callie.
The next day Callie was still acting like she felt normal. My family came to visit her to say goodbye just in case. We took another beach trip. That afternoon Callie's regular vet called, shocked at what had happened. She seemed a bit surprised that Callie was doing so well. She wanted to see Callie for an EKG in a few days if she was still doing well. Later in the week we took her for the EKG. Results showed no arrhythmia, either because it went away on its own or because the medication had taken effect. In the meantime I'd done some research on mesothelioma and asked if what I'd read -- that it can only be diagnosed with a biopsy, not a cytology -- was true. She confirmed that this is true. I'd also researched possible surgeries and chemotherapy that might be options for Callie. Callie's vet said she would talk with the vets at the emergency hospital and get back to me.
Today Callie's vet called again. She had consulted with a veterinary oncologist near us. The veterinary oncologist thinks that a biopsy is not necessary. The cancer is either carcinoma or mesothelioma. Learning which one of the two wouldn't change the treatment she would recommend. Both cancers are non-curable, so treatments would just be palliative. She said that if the treatments work they might give Callie another several months. We are going to meet with the oncologist to learn more about the treatments (intracavitary chemo) and possible side effects and make a decision about what is best for Callie. Although cost is not the main consideration, we do need to take it into account. I do not make much money and we've already accumulated thousands of dollars of vet bills.
In the meantime my heart is broken. I have not been back to work -- in part because I worry about Callie having another breathing episode while I am away and in part because I don't want to be away from her for one moment more than I need to when I know my time with her is so limited. The vets are not able to say how long they think she might have, because 1) her cancer is so rare, 2) we don't know how long the fluid had been building up in her chest, and 3) she is a unique case and is doing better than anyone thought she would at this point.
Listen to your dog.
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