By Dr. Emily Durbin of South Ridge Veterinary Clinic (part of the CK Vets family)
I was just about to leave for lunch one day in September when something held me back. Chichi had an appointment booked later in the afternoon, but his owner was worried that he was getting worse and couldn’t wait.
Chichi met me in the exam room with kisses, but his tail wag didn’t have its normal enthusiasm. After noting his pale gums and weak pulses, my heart sank when I discovered a basketball size mass in his belly. He winced as I carefully examined his abdomen, and I knew for a stoic boy like him this was evidence of intense pain. Chichi is a not only a tough guy, but also a lap dog and his owner’s best friend.
An X-ray confirmed that the mass occupied most of his belly and was most likely associated with his spleen. Splenic tumors are common in dogs, generally carry a poor prognosis, and are high risk for rupture causing life-threatening bleeding.
The next few hours that unfolded were very emotional. The treatment choices I presented to Chichi’s owners were not pleasant: a high risk surgery that may prolong his life for a few months, medication to manage the pain at home until he lost his battle with the tumor, or saying goodbye.
Chichi’s owner believed it was not his time. And even though it was against the odds, opted for surgery.
Chichi was admitted to the hospital and began a series of treatments and tests to prepare him for surgery the next day, including his first blood transfusion. In his hospital cage the next morning I found a somewhat perkier Chichi with his very worried owner by his side. I prepped his owner for a very invasive surgery, and one Chichi may not survive. His owner requested to stay with him during the surgery; reassuring me he would be able to tolerate the goriness. I knew it may be the last time he saw his dog and I agreed.
Surgery quickly confirmed several suspicions. A giant fragile tumor of the spleen occupied his belly. It ensnared several other abdominal organs, including the pancreas and omentum (fatty net within abdomen that the intestines reside in). Removing the monster tumor was laborious and tedious. Some blood vessels were the diameter of my finger!
Chichi was going to need another transfusion. However, the extra dog blood we had collected was not useable for Chichi. Tawnya, the surgery technician who had been assisting in Chichi’s surgery volunteered her dog to be used as a blood donor. Thanks to Tawnya and her dog Diesel, Chichi received the blood he desperately needed.
After an hour of surgery the tumor was finally able to be lifted and removed from the abdomen. It was a beast weighing 8 pounds!
I quickly finished surgery and got Chichi to recovery. His recovery was touch and go for 48 hours. His intestinal tract did not function well due to trauma, medications and weakness. As he bravely fought his way back we received surprising news from the lab. Chichi’s tumor was not what we had expected. Although it was still cancer that would likely be terminal, it was not the super aggressive form that is most common. Chichi began a form of low intensity chemo and herbal therapy and his recovery improved in leaps and bounds!
The last couple months I have enjoyed frequent picture updates of Chichi enjoying the beautiful fall weather and activities he hadn’t done in years! Like wriggling around on the leaves on his back, feet in the air!
Making a choice for high risk surgery isn’t the right decision for every pet or family. But I feel blessed to be part of this journey with Chichi.
P.S. Shortly after Christmas Chichi’s health began to fail. It was confirmed that his cancer had returned. Not wanting his best friend to suffer Chichi’s owner made the very difficult decision to say goodbye. He held Chichi’s head in his lap while he quietly passed away…