If you’ve spent any time around my little blog here, then you know we have corgis. Our oldest boy, Dexter, turned 12 this past October. He’s been a remarkably healthy boy throughout his life, but in the last few months we noticed him slowing down a little and being more reluctant to go upstairs. Other than that, he was fine. We put it down to his old man bones starting to ache in his advancing age and didn’t think much of it. Then last Friday I found him in the upstairs hallway lying down and looking pained. His breathing was shallow and he wouldn’t get up to come to me. Matt carried him downstairs and set him outside and he walked to the grass to go potty, though he was moving slowly.
The next morning we took him to our vet thinking there was something going wrong with his hips and/or back, since corgis are prone to such problems. The doctor said that his hips and back felt fantastic for a boy of his age, but then she felt of his abdomen and found it hard and distended. She ordered X-rays, which showed an absolutely *massive* tumor in his abdomen that is pressing on his intestines, bladder, and some nerves, making him quite uncomfortable. She took a guess that it had originated from his spleen, relatively common in aging dogs, and referred us to a local specialist hospital to find out exactly what this hunk of junk is that is growing inside of our Dexter.
We had to wait 4 days for our appointment, where Dexter ended up having an ultrasound and two fine needle biopsies. His original X-ray had shown some “fluid” floating around the tumor so the specialist wanted to take a sample of the mass itself as well as a sample of the fluid. The ultrasound was successful in that the doctor was able to see everything that he needed to. He was able to identify Dexter’s tumor as originating from his spleen and, the best news, limited to his spleen. The doctor got a visual on all of his other organs and said they looked completely normal. Additional chest radiographs were taken to see if anything had spread to his heart or lungs – they were clear.
They analyzed the fine needle aspirates in the office and told us that the fluid around the tumor was blood-tinged. One of the many dangers of these tumors is the risk of rupture and internal bleeding, resulting in a sudden or quick death. So the blood in the fluid told us that either Dexter’s tumor is bleeding slowly, or it had a small bleed that had healed itself. The other aspirate was the sample of the mass itself, which was inconclusive. We were told that there is a big “grey area” with the fine needle biopsies of these masses and that there’s no way to tell for sure if it’s cancer (or what type) without a full-on surgery. From what he could see on the spot, he thinks it’s likely some kind of a sarcoma, but the fact that it has reached such a massive size with no visible metastases to other locations makes him think there is also a chance that the mass could be either benign or a low grade sarcoma, meaning the surgery *might* be curative.
Immediate surgery was recommended. He gave me the rundown of possible prognoses. If the mass is benign, then the surgery will be curative. However, the surgery itself is very risky… there are bleeding and arrhythmia risks during the surgery and there’s a risk of complications and/or infections during the recovery. If the mass is a low grade sarcoma, the surgery could be curative or could possibly not recur for long enough to give Dexter some good time left. Worst case is an aggressive sarcoma, in which case the average survival time is a matter of weeks or months, but in some cases dogs live over a year. The anecdotes are all over the map.
The nurse brought in some information which had an itemized estimate of what the surgery and post-op care would cost. I was floored. I have never seen such a large number attached to a veterinary bill and it really set me back on my heels. I couldn’t believe it. Heartbroken, I realized that there was no way we could justify spending so much money on a small chance that Dexter would get any significant and quality extension of his life in return. I spent a little while texting with my husband (who was out of town on a business trip) and we made the agonizing decision to forego the surgery and bring Dex home. I cried the whole way.
We decided, tortuously, to spoil the heck out of Dexter for his remaining happy days and when it became apparent that he was going downhill or in significant pain, we would euthanize him. A heavy, crushing guilt settled on my shoulders thinking that we were, in effect, ‘letting him die’ even though I knew that the surgery held absolutely no guarantee of a significant recovery and would in itself be tough on him. Just knowing that there was a chance of recovery that existed kept eating away at me and I felt shame whenever hugging his neck or looking into his big brown eyes.
The next day, hours after I posted on Facebook about what was going on, I received a call from our regular vet’s office. She had just gotten off the phone from a lengthy conversation with the specialist who did Dex’s ultrasound and biopsy. She said that because the tumor was not attached to anything other than the spleen, had not spread anywhere else, and because Dexter was in good health otherwise, she would be willing to attempt the splenectomy in their office… to the tune of a whole heck of a lot less money than the specialist hospital was charging. So I cried on the phone with her telling her how grateful we were that she gave us another option and another chance to maybe save his life. She went through all of the possible complications and outcomes again, and we set a surgery date for Wednesday, March 6th.
Now I feel both terrified and relieved. I am not getting my hopes up at all about the outcome of this surgery. We are being very careful with keeping Dex quiet and his movement restricted, but there’s a chance his mass could rupture before Wednesday and he won’t even make it to surgery. There’s also a chance he won’t make it through the surgery. Then there’s the risk of post-op complications (bleeding, blood clots, infection). And then, of course, the pathology results of the mass itself, which will determine, somewhat, how much time he’ll have left.
The crushing guilt we were feeling has been relieved. Though we know everything about this is risky, it’s his only chance, and we feel comforted knowing that we are at least giving him that. Our vet told us that, surprisingly, dogs that get past those crucial first days after this surgery bounce back and recover remarkably well and that Dexter will feel a lot better and be a lot more comfortable than he is right now. So even if the long term prognosis looks grim, we know that he’ll have a lot more comfortable and happy days ahead of him than he would if we didn’t risk the surgery.
In the meantime, we are showering him with kisses, keeping him close by us or resting, letting him relieve himself frequently to help with the pressure on his little system, and just waiting for Wednesday. We have already prepared ourselves for the worst and are keeping our optimism closely guarded. When we drop him off on Wednesday morning we will feel at peace with any outcome, knowing that we at least tried.
Hang in there, buddy.
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