Cancer in Dogs – A Retrospective of our Beloved Samoyed Ramius’s Battle with Cancer
In This Entry – Radiation Begins
Thank you for reading our continuing series about cancer in dogs, and Ramius’s long journey with the disease, which started in the summer of 2014 and lasted until he passed away in January, 2016.
When we last left you in Part III, my wife and I had just finished our “4th of July Summit,” where we thoroughly discussed the best course of action for Ramius. And after that long weekend and much deliberation, we decided to go with 5 radiation treatments, instead of 20.
Our next step was to take Ramius back to MedVet Chicago and meet with our radiologist, Dr. Jayme Looper to talk through the process and schedule his appointments.
Meeting with Dr. Looper
Up to this point, all of our consultations at MedVet Chicago had been with Dr. Smith. So this would be our first time meeting with Dr. Looper. We were immediately impressed with how friendly and knowledgeable she was, and how much she already knew about Ramius’s case. Even though this was her first time meeting Ramius.
We told Dr. Looper about the summit and how we reached our decision, and that we felt confident about the choice we had made. We expected her to say, that’s great, sounds reasonable, here’s how we get started,…or something along those lines.
Huh? Did we do something wrong here? Clearly Dr. Looper had a different opinion about how to treat Ramius. Eager to hear her point of view, we asked her to elaborate.
In a nutshell, basically what it came down to for her, is that she wanted us to go for the cure. And if we only do 5 treatments, it’s highly unlikely we’d cure Ramius’s cancer. We explained our reasoning, and his age, and diabetes, and so forth. We conveyed that while sure, 5 radiation treatments obviously wouldn’t be as aggressive as 20, but 5 was still good right? We had at least a fighting chance for a cure don’t we?
Well in a word she said, no.
Understanding the Differences Between 20 and 5 Radiation Treatments
Now before I elaborate, let me just point out the obvious. I’m not a veterinarian or a doctor. I have absolutely zero medical experience or background. And I’m doing my best to recall a conversation from memory that happened in July, 2014, well over 2 years ago. So please take everything I say with a grain of salt. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation with a dog that has cancer, be sure to talk thoroughly with your veterinary specialist. Your dog’s case could be vastly different than Ramius’s was.
My sole intent here is to provide information for you that will arm you to ask your veterinarian good questions. And to let you know that there is hope for your dog, no matter how severe his cancer may be.
Okay, with disclaimer over, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Dr. Looper shared with us her concern of us doing only 5 treatments instead of the full 20 treatment course. She said the problem with doing 5 is that while it’s certainly better than doing nothing, it’s not really all that much better. And whereas as thought doing 5 treatments would give us something like a 25% – 35% chance of success, Dr. Looper shared that it was much less than that.
She explained that it isn’t until you get until about 15 or 16 treatments that the benefits of radiation REALLY take effect. They kind of go in a straight line until that point and then go up exponentially. We had a bit of trouble comprehending this so finally, Dr. Looper took out a piece of paper and hand drew a little chart for us to illustrate what she meant.
This is my crude drawing trying to recreate that chart. But it made the point. If we want to go for the cure, 5 isn’t going to cut it. We’ve got to go with the 20. Well, we asked, what if we started with 5 and then decided to keep going all the way up to 20? Would that work?
Dr. Looper explained that no it wouldn’t, and that we have to make the choice upfront. Because if we go the 5 treatment route, that’s basically one radiation treatment per week for 5 weeks. Whereas if we go with 20 treatments, those have to happen every single day, which you’ll recall if you’ve been reading this series. 20 treatments, means a treatment every single day of the week (except the weekends) for 4 weeks straight. So you can see why the choice of going with 5 or 20 has to be made upfront.
Change of Plans
Okay, so now we have more complete information, what do we do? We discussed Ramius’s specific case with Dr. Looper a lot more, and asked a lot of questions about the radiation process. How does it work? How long do they take? What affect will they have on Ramius? What are the side effects? What are the costs? Although since we have Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, the cost question was the least of our worries.
But all of the other factors are real ones. So what we do now? We just had the big summit! We were feeling so good about our decision, and now everything just got upended! How’d that happen?
Well, it happened because we met with Dr. Looper, listened to what she had to say, kept an open mind, and ultimately, were guided by what was best for Ramius. And we were convinced that going with 20 treatments instead of 5 was the best course for his treatement. As Dr. Looper explained, if we do 20 that means we’re going for the cure. And if we’re not going to go for the cure, then really, what are we doing?
That logic resonated strongly with us.
So, like often happens in these situations, you think you’ve made a decision to do one thing, and you end up doing another. I want you to know that’s fine. That happens. It’s a normal part of the process because as you learn more about your options, sometimes you feel the need to call an audible.
Well with that decision made (finally this time!) we got our appointments scheduled and steeled ourselves for what was to come. Ramius’s experience with radiation therapy will be the subject of Part V of our series is NOW ONLINE! If you’ve been enjoying our series, please share it with any pet owners you know.
And if you have or have had a dog with cancer and you’d like to share your experiences, please leave us a comment. You’re not alone. We’ll be sure to get back to you.