photo of early stage cancer
Our Vet Said “Your Dog has Cancer”
May 19, 2015
Nissa’s First Week on Chemo
June 21, 2015
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Our Journey with Nissa’s Cancer – Round 2

To learn one of my precious furbabies has cancer was a lot like getting knocked out in Round 1 of a boxing match. I’m not into boxing but I can imagine getting knocked out early in the game is not something that happens all that often. In a way I can’t say that I was all that surprised nor can I say that the possibility Nissa would have cancer never entered my mind because it did. I just wasn’t ready to have the wind knocked out of me which I believe was me battling denial.

I don’t know if her earlier bouts with vomiting and diarrhea (which began in January of this year) were an early symptom because I don’t know and the docs don’t either. I do know that I’ve suspected that something was wrong since January, I just didn’t know what and no matter how many times I took her to the vet none of them ever mentioned cancer so it was easier to shove that scary word to a dark place in my brain. But that didn’t stop it from nagging at me every time she seemed listless, vomited, had some diarrhea or when something just didn’t seem quite right with her.

I’d tell myself I’m imagining things, that she’s 8 years old now so she’s gonna be a little less active, maybe have a touchy tummy now and then or it’s something she ate, right? But I knew better – this is our girl with the iron tummy for 8 years of her life. She could eat anything and just doesn’t vomit and the only time she’d have loose stools was after eating something like liver which because it’s rich blah blah blah can cause a little loosey-goosey. But all our Riley-health issues told me all of that was just excuses and justifications, I knew there was something wrong and we needed to get to the bottom of it. So off to the vet we’d go again and again but with no real answers as a result. Just a “let’s try this” or “let’s try that.” Until the day I took her to the specialist because the thought-to-be perianal fistuala wasn’t getting any better and in fact was getting worse. That was the very first time the word cancer was mentioned but at that point not confirmed.

To this day I really don’t think I really believed my attempts to talk myself out of what I’m pretty sure I already knew. I’d learned some time ago that if you have a German Shepherd this is one of the diseases you are likely to be faced with someday because cancer is high on the list of diseases that German Shepherds get. Silly me put it in my “But it won’t happen to my furkids!” category. Do yourself a favor, if you have such a category – dump it, get over yourself and wake up & smell the roses because categories like that are nothing more than arrogance and wishful thinking.

Not having ever dealt directly with cancer myself it would have been helpful to have a Cancer for Dummies book on hand. I never thought the decision on where to go from here would be so hard but the more I learned about cancer and all that goes with it the scarier it got and you can bet I’m not done learning and being scared.

Round 2: Ding Ding – The Fight is On

I look at Round 1 as being the point in time from the first sign that something not so good was going on in January to her diagnosis 5-6 weeks ago. When the cancer diagnosis was confirmed my initial thoughts went something like this  … “Ok, so no big deal. They cure cancer all the time, right? We’ll just do whatever needs doing to get rid of it, right?”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong again. The tumor they removed from Nissa’s butt is called an anal adenomacarcinoma a type of cancer which is very aggressive with a very high level of recurrence. Oh boy, the news just keeps getting worse. I learned that in people the goal of cancer treatment is to cure it but in dogs it’s nothing more than giving them more time and that’s it. That’s all there is. This doesn’t mean more time to suffer in pain or to keep them going no matter how bad they feel, it means to give them more quality time and when that quality wanes we’ll be faced with the knowledge that it’s time to let her go to Rainbow Bridge.

We however, are not ready for that and so far there’s no sign that neither is she and so I flipped my fight switch and we’re officially in fight-mode. Tonight I called on one of my very favorite movie characters … Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. You could also toss in some Rambo for that matter because in both cases Rocky and Rambo are fighters that don’t give up. The music and memories from Rocky has gotten me through some very rough times and so that’s where I am tonight. If you think that’s corny, guess what? I don’t care. I will use what’s helpful to me to help us and Nissa fight this the very best way we can. The photo for this post is right on for where we are right now, in the ring staring at our opponent cancer and I know the statistics show that it’s probably bigger than all of us.

But What’s the Best Way to Fight?

My head went wicky-whacky-wonky trying to decide the best way for Nissa to fight this. Not for us but for her. You see keeping her around just because we aren’t ready to let go of her is wrong because it all falls on her quality of life and not our heart’s attachment to her. So ok, right now her quality of life is really good so big checkmark for the positive column.

So, do we go with chemo? With supplements? With chemo and supplements? Below is a list of things I took into consideration before making my decision but I remind everyone that you must make your own decision based on your dog and your own situation if you ever have to deal with cancer in your dog. Unfortunately, even after making a list and checking it multiple times there is absolutely no one list item that swayed me either way. Even more unfortunately for me, my husband left this decision solely in my hands. He is not liking the idea of chemo at all, but he also knows and trusts that I don’t make decisions for our furkids without research and feedback from other knowledgeable and trusted German Shepherd people who have been there and done that + my own digging.

  1. Her cancer is very aggressive with a high level of recurrence (the oncologist stressed the very aggressive);
  2. They removed her tumor completely without any invasive tactics but there was a very high mitototic (cancer-bad) cell count in the margins which proved to be smaller margins than they’d hoped for due to where the tumor was located. This meant there’s likely “spillage” of these mitototic cells outside the margins under her skin with no way to know if they got all those cells which would then re-invade. Our oncologist was very concerned about the “spill” of cells which could be outside the margins mostly because of the type of cancer we’re dealing with;
  3. Radiation is out of the question due to the location of the original tumor;
  4. Her age – she’s just over 8 years old. We don’t consider 8 old or a senior but that’s us and goes against the statistics or whatever you call them. She doesn’t look or act like an old dog but being realistic she’s not a spring chicken either;
  5. Her otherwise overall health which is excellent;
  6. Do we just wait, watch and see if it recurs?
  7. There’s two kinds of chemo for dogs, high-dose in-clinic injectionable followed by low-dose at home prescription drugs and strictly low-dose at home;
  8. Her high stress level when at the vet’s office even for a simple checkup. If we went with high-dose injectable chemo she’d be in the clinic 4-8 hours every 3 weeks for 5 injectionable visits. Stress can promote cancer spread;
  9. There’s no evidence of spread a month or so later so she’s currently what they call “NED” (No Evidence of Disease);
  10. Statistics show that most dogs (not all!) do ok on chemo – much better than humans handle it. The percentage of dogs handling it well is way way higher (like 85%) than those that don’t (15%) but dogs are individuals just like people so we shouldn’t count on her handling it ok and must be prepared for the worst. Our oncologist said the most common side effects are vomiting and diarrhea about 3 days after treatment is started. And in case you’re wondering – dog’s don’t lose their hair like humans do. There may be some but they don’t go bald, the worst our oncologist has seen is some small bald patches on a poodle.

And the Decision is …

There are a number of supplements currently being studied that are being found to have pretty phenomenal cancer-fighting properties but no actual final “For sure this works!” stamp. Our oncologist says none have yet to be approved by the FDA but the FDA is not one of my favorite people either. Sometimes I think they don’t have a clue what they’re doing and they have been known to ignore very important information when making approval decisions. But I couldn’t get to the point where I felt comfortable that supplements alone would be enough to fight an aggressive cancer. If she had a less aggressive version and currently being NED … I feel strongly that at 8 years old, healthy except for cancer and with regular oncology monitoring, x-rays, ultrasounds, blood and urine testing we would have taken this road.

Originally deciding on five sessions of high-dose in-clinic three weeks apart to 4-6 months of low-dose at home I ultimately realized that I was thinking more about me than her so I nixed the in-clinic injection chemo before it began. I have to admit the more I thought about it the high-dose was pretty damn scary, too. The big kick to the switch was when I learned that there is no evidence whatsoever that one way works better than the other it was a no-brainer to make the decision to go with strictly low-dose at home so as to not unnecessarily stress her and which we started on Saturday June 13. Trust me, it was not easy to put that first pill in her. Both hubby and I took a deep breath and held it for a moment before I inserted it in her throat and we both began watching her like a hawk stalks a mouse in a field.

I’ll quit here for now and keep you posted on what happens next …




  1. Des says:

    I don’t know if you have read this (see below)…I saw it on Raw Necessities Facebook page and copied it. They are located in South Africa, where I live. We buy all our raw meaty bones from them. We have 5 dogs of which 4 are mixed breed rescues. Toby, our GSD was bought from a breeder. He is our first male GSD. We had 3 GSD females before him. GSDs truly are magnificent, sentient beings and until our rescues, were the only breed I’d ever wanted to own.

    As a Fur Mom dedicated to the well-being of our pack, I occasionally have to field off thoughtless, and sometimes heartless, comments made by those who do not have any idea of the depth of understanding that a dog possesses. They enrich our lives in countless ways and deserve the best care we can provide until their time comes. What you are doing for your dogs is noble and selfless and heartwarming! And by sharing your journey with them, the hard and difficult parts along with the good ones, is commendable! You have made me aware of things that can go wrong and what to be on the lookout for, and for that I am most grateful.

    One of our two rescued females, Coco, tore her cruciate ligament in October last year. We opted for a full knee replacement and had 6 months of recovery to manage. She had an episioplasty 3 weeks ago to correct a perivulvar problem that caused her urine to collect in the folds of skin, where it would irritate and burn and she would develop painful blisters. Our local vets had her on antibiotics and steroids and told us surgery wasn’t an option. We researched it, and approached the surgeon who had done her knee. Voila! She is no longer experiencing any discomfort and is thankfully off all meds! Sadly, she has a newly diagnosed problem with her eyes. They don’t produce adequate tears and she has the beginnings of a protein layer forming on the corneas, which left unchecked, would eventually cause blindness. We have to administer eye drops twice daily, for the remainder of her life. She is 4 years old.

    Our oldest rescue, Heathcliff, is 10.5 years of age. We adopted him as a puppy when our last two female GSDs were still alive. They adored him! And taught him everything they knew. He developed a coordination problem with his hind legs more than a year ago. We had him checked repeatedly, but our local vets couldn’t diagnose the cause. They suspected arthritis and had him on various drug concoctions, none of which made much difference. The flailing problem was worsening, and we were getting more and more concerned, determined to get to the bottom of it. He recently had a full physical and an MRI scan with a specialist. Thankfully, there are no dread diseases and he is healthy in every way. The problem is neurological (degenerative myelopathy), however, no cure or surgical intervention options available. But we are now consulting with a holistic vet. He is receiving weekly acupuncture and is taking a Chinese herbal concoction. He loves swimming, so we will keep that up as soon as summer returns. He has difficulty going up and down steps and this requires us to carry him many times a day, which we do because we love him and because it’s necessary. He can still run fast once he gets going, and thoroughly enjoys life. He is full of life in every way! I do believe the raw diet has benefitted him immensely.

    I did not know about raw diets when our GSD girls were alive. How I wish I had known then! Toby (he turned 5 in March) began with the classic GSD skin allergies by the time he was a year old. Raw spots, unpleasant coat door no matter how often I bathed him. He was on Preds, which one of our girls had been on for most of her life! I hated that! I began researching alternative diets in earnest and started him and the rest of our pack on raw, but still substituting with some home cooked meals and kibble…to be safe!…about 2.5 years ago. I still had to give him Preds at times, although the allergies were much improved. They are all now fully on raw (Tom Lonsdale’s diet)and have been for the last couple of months. Toby’s allergies are now almost non-existent, and he is so much more contented.

    Just a dog
    “From time to time people tell me, “Lighten up, it’s just a dog,” or “That’s a lot of money for just a dog.”
    They don’t understand the distance traveled, time spent, or costs involved for “Just a dog.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with “Just a dog.” Many hours have passed with my only company being “Just a dog,” and not once have I felt slighted. Some of my saddest moments were brought about by “Just a dog.” In those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “Just a dog” provided comfort and purpose to overcome the day.
    If you, too, think it’s “Just a dog,” you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.” “Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy. “Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person. Because of “Just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.
    For me and folks like me, it’s not “Just a dog.” It’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. “Just a dog”brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.
    I hope that someday people can understand it’s not “Just the dog.” It’s the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “Just a man” or “Just a woman.”
    So the next time you hear the phrase “Just a dog,” smile, because they “just don’t understand.”
    -Author Unknown

  2. Des says:

    I am so sorry to hear of what Nissa and you are having to face. I am not able to offer anything other than a gentle hug, as I have not had to confront the situation you are dealing with. I applaud you for all you are doing for your fur baby, having to make all the really, really hard decisions in accordance with what’s best for her, and taking a leap of faith. I truly hope that she will pull through this with minimal intrusion on her quality of life, which you are guarding so carefully. She is a very fortunate girl having such amazing parents who are doing their very, very best for her.

    • Mom says:

      Hi Des,

      Thank you so much for your caring words and support! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your feelings and thoughts on this. I’m hoping this is one of the times where being what some people consider a paranoid Fur Mom will pay off so Nissa can be with us for several more years. Your feedback means a lot, thank you.


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