In Memoriam: CJ and Mike’s fight against canine cancer

//In Memoriam: CJ and Mike’s fight against canine cancer

In Memoriam: CJ and Mike’s fight against canine cancer

Mike and CJ have been long-term client and patient of ours and we we grieve with Mike at the passing of CJ, his beloved Rottweiler. Cancer is a terrible disease but Hemangiosarcoma is a terrible canine and feline cancer in a class all its own. It’s a circulatory cancer that affects the blood vessels which in turn allows it to affect many different parts of the body although tumors most often form in the spleen, liver, heart and skin. “This cancer can rapidly spread diffusely throughout the body — often before we can detect the presence of the tumor,” says Vetstreet.com.

A pet can look perfectly normal until a blood vessel in the tumor breaks and spreads the cancer far and wide throughout the body. A pet will collapse shortly after and potentially life-saving surgery can be performed. A visit with a pet oncologist will help determine the follow-up care for a pet. Depending on the severity and progression of the disease treatment measures can be taken but because of the nature of the illness, diagnosis is often late-stage and survival rates at that point aren’t great.

Mike recently lost his beloved CJ to hemangiosarcoma, and his story is below. You can find a link to Mike’s Facebook fundraising page here.

CJ, 2/21/06 – 8/15/17. CJ is a Rottweiler who came into my home as a rescue in 2009. From the start, he was a one-in-a-million dog. He overcame heartworm disease from the shelter not long after coming home. He was an absolute joy to train and work with, and was my teammate throughout his life. He earned dozens of championship titles in agility and rally obedience. He was a canine good citizen and a registered therapy dog who excelled at working with children because of his gentle, calm nature. He enjoyed nothing more than making people smile and laugh.

About a week before I lost him, I had noticed he was seeming to be a little stiff/painful in his hind end. Sitting or squatting both seemed to be a little difficult. He’d been a performance dog (agility) his whole life with me and at his age, occasional stiffness or muscle soreness was not out of the ordinary. I gave him a low dose of anti-inflammatories for a couple days to see if that would help him out, which usually takes care of it. I had been out of town for the weekend judging an agility trial. When I came back home late Sunday night, he still seemed like he was sluggish, stiff. These symptoms were very mild… I would have given him a score of about 90% of normal so I still was not worried. Monday morning I decided, still thinking that we were dealing with a joint or soft tissue injury, that we would call our rehab vet, Dr. Mary Cardeccia at the Animal Rehabilitation Facility, Dexter. We were fortunate enough to squeeze into a last minute cancellation time slot later in the afternoon. In the meantime, I took C.J. and his sister out for a late morning walk. I intentionally kept it very short – only about a half mile, a fraction of our usual distance. By the end of the walk, C.J. was trailing behind us. This was completely unusual. Even at his age, he was always leader of the pack, no matter how far we walked.

When we got to ARF to see Dr. Cardeccia, she began examining him, looking for the sore spots along his back, his joints, etc. She said she wasn’t finding much physical going on, a few maladjustments on his spine which she corrected, but nothing that would account for his recent behavior. She did notice, however, that his abdomen seemed a little distended and that his mouth seemed pale. She was hoping that she was being totally paranoid, but she suggested we come in to A2AH to get some x-rays just to be safe.

Dr. Franklin was out that day, but we were happy that Dr. Figarra (who we like to see as she’s another agility competitor) was available. They took him back for x-rays and that’s when the dominoes really started to fall. Clear on the film were pockets of fluid in his chest, some obstructing his lungs. While there was no way to tell from an x-ray what the fluid was, Dr. Figarra feared it was blood. A chest tap relieved the pressure and confirmed the presence of large amounts of blood in his chest. After the chest tap, C.J. was never the same again. He became extremely weak, barely able to stand or walk on his own. Hours before, he walked in on his own, jumped in and out of the car on his own. No more. Dr. Figarra suspected that it could be a tumor, but that something was clearly bleeding within his chest. She recommended we come in the next day for a cardiac ultrasound with Veterinary Cardiology Consultants.

I advocated hard to let C.J. come home with me that Monday night. It was heartbreaking, but a decision I will never regret. I had to carry him (at more than 80 pounds) in and out of the car. I lay him down on the tile entryway – his favorite place because it was nice and cool.  For the rest of the night, he was largely motionless. Every now and then, he would try to sit up, but as soon as he did you could almost see his blood pressure drop and he just slid back down onto the floor.  I spent the entire night curled up beside him. He would not eat (and C.J. LIVED for food), and I gave him water through a syringe.

Early Tuesday morning, he awoke and decided he needed to go outside. To my amazement, he stood and stumbled almost as if he were intoxicated to the back door, went out to relieve himself, but had to be carried back inside. He finally did drink water on his own if I brought it to him, and after searching for anything that would entice his appetite, he finally consented to eating a meal of raw fish if I hand fed him every morsel. My brother came over early in the afternoon to help me transport him. We made a brief stop on the way back to A2AH at a Wendy’s and got C.J. a small vanilla Frosty, one of his all-time favorite treats. He was interested, took several licks, but certainly did not devour it like he might normally.

When we got to A2AH, he was brought inside on a stretcher. Dr. Christian Weder from Veterinary Cardiology Consultants examined him, performed the ultrasound, and delivered the terrible diagnosis that I knew, deep down, was coming. It was indeed a tumor, and it was indeed bleeding. The fluid that had been drained from his chest was already back. Without a biopsy, it’s impossible to know for sure if it was hemangiosarcoma, but given its behavior that seemed the likely culprit. Going up to MSU for surgery and going after the tumor aggressively was an option, but given his extremely weakened state, his age, the riskiness of any surgical intervention, and the likelihood that even if the surgery were successful, only a limited amount of time would be gained. I could not put him through that. He had given me his whole life. And I could not put him through all of that just because I needed him here.

Dr. Weder and his amazing technician helped load C.J. back into my car. We went to Lillie Park, C.J.’s favorite place on the planet. I carried him into the park, and lay him with him on the grass for about an hour, just letting him enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. We loaded him back into the car one last time, and drove home. I spent a few hours just talking to him, showing him pictures, telling him stories about all the adventures we had together. I finally found a treat that he was interested in eating, and I let him eat as much as he wanted. A couple of friends came over, people C.J. knew and loved. And then at about 7:30pm, Dr. Cardeccia came and put him to sleep as I held him. It was the single hardest thing I have ever had to do.

So in all, he went from being about 90% of his usual, silly, energetic, hungry, smiling self to being gone in just about 30 hours. This was both a nightmare and a blessing. His suffering was brief, and he got to live his life full of joy and excitement.

One week later to the day, another agility friend’s dog was diagnosed with hemangio as well. He passed two days after diagnosis. It was then that I decided to make something meaningful out of C.J.’s death a one week fundraising campaign in his honor.  At its conclusion, his memory brought in $6,500 toward canine cancer research.

If you would like to make a donation to the National Canine Cancer Foundation fund please follow this link. We wish Mike much love and consolation. Rest in peace, CJ.

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