By Jean Shirkoff
On December 8, 2004, I had an appointment with the vet to see why Senga was infrequently seeming to have some pain in her left front wrist. She would walk and run fine and then out of the blue she would hold it up. The vet looked at her leg and took x-rays and said that she had a little minor swelling in her shoulder probably from being slammed by her daughter, Siobhan. I left the vet’s office relieved because a week before this Senga’s mother was put down because she had osteosarcoma. Several of Senga’s siblings also have been afflicted.
Two weeks later I was still concerned and again the doctor took x-rays and this time he found a small lump that told us the worst. Senga had bone cancer. I was prepared (not emotionally but pragmatically) because I had had a feeling that this would be the news and had already done my homework and decided to go ahead and amputate and to do chemotherapy if we got this diagnosis. The surgeon came in and said he could do the surgery the next day. The oncologist said we would start chemotherapy in two weeks assuming everything went well.
Lyn Robb (who is the wonderful deerhound breeder I got Senga from and who is my close friend) got me in touch with Mary Ann Rose who got me Greg Ogilvie’s chapter on osteosarcoma and everything my vet recommended was consistent with what Greg outlined in his book.
On December 23, Senga went in for surgery and she came through it just fine. She has always been very strong physically and she had recovered from parvo as a puppy so she has a very strong immune system. I never expected she would have to deal with cancer because I always hoped that having recovered from parvo as a pup meant she would be able to fend off cancer.
December 24, Senga came home. The vet said he would walk me out to the van and help her get settled in the vehicle. She got in and was put on the beds we had put right inside the door of the van but Senga jumped into the back seat and looked at us seeming to say “What? Did you think I was disabled in some way?”
When we got home she said hello to our other two deerhounds and our Ibizan hound and then she went out the doggie door and checked out the yard for new smells. I was amazed that she was so confident and adapting so well.
Senga was very out of it the next two days but after that got right back to her old self. She goes up and down stairs and she plays with the other deerhounds and our Ibizan hound as if nothing ever happened. She has been affected some by her chemotherapy treatments in that she gets tired more easily for about a week after a treatment. One of my closest friends, Denny (who also has deerhounds) is an acupuncturist and does a treatment on her after chemotherapy. The chemotherapy makes her anxious and the acupuncture relaxes her so she has some deep sleep and then feels refreshed. Senga loves walking every day in the neighborhood with our other dogs and she would howl the whole time I was gone if she was left behind so I have dealt with that first by having a Smith and Hawkins garden cart so she could get in and be pushed when she was tired. More recently we have gotten a toddler stroller/ bike trailer and that works even better. Senga is so smart that she knew right away why we had the cart and she just stopped and let me know that she was tired and then I let her in the cart and she would ride until she felt like walking again. The stroller is more lightweight than the cart and has an adjustable handle for pushing it so it’s much easier to use. In fact when we were on vacation at the Oregon coast recently we had the stroller with us and used it easily on the beach. Senga was even a little bratty on the beach as she decided her disability gave her license to race up to other dogs and make friends. She chased our new 4 1/2 old deerhound puppy; Rhiannon and when Senga got too rough Rhiannon would jump in the cart herself and gain some space from Senga. She even went in the water. I have to help her to not overdo it because she is fearless and boisterous.
I am hopeful that Senga will be one of the lucky ones who are cured of the cancer because we found it so soon and she has continued to do so well even with the chemotherapy treatments. I worry about her whenever she doesn’t want to eat (which has always been often for her) or when she is more tired but so far I am so grateful that I have had her for the past seven months that I can live with those worries.
Emotionally for me it has been more difficult than I think it is for her. She has adapted and she lives each day fully, but I am human and I look to the future and worry about whether there will be one for us. I do cherish each day with Senga and I do believe that her quality of life is excellent. Yes, she is a running dog but that hasn’t been a problem for her since she lost her leg. It may be a problem for many humans but Senga can keep up without any problems. In fact the people at the veterinary office where we go are amazed at how strong she is and how hard they have to work to keep up with her. She is a joy and a blessing and I cherish every minute of her life.