Our Journey with Cancer and Chemotherapy

by Rene Harrer

In July 2012 my 7 year old Golden mix named Honeybear was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma.  It all began when I noticed a small lump by her jaw while petting her. Within 3 days it was the size of a small egg.  We were able to get her in right away and Dr. Stromberg suspected lymphoma; she then preformed a biopsy and it was confirmed - stage 4. The next step was to get her in for some blood work to see if it was in her other organs.  Luckily it was not.   Lymphoma is a very aggressive fast moving cancer - from them first getting it (which is not the same as first diagnosed) to the end of life is only 30-60 days without treatment.  Honeybear had been on prednisone, which keeps the swelling of the lymph nodes down, for her allergies so we did not know how long she actually had it.  Dr. Stromberg wanted to start chemotherapy the following week if that was the route we wanted to take, but we had to make a decision by Friday so it could be ordered.   We have pet insurance so with all the infomation we could gather we decided to go with the most aggressive approach - the Wisconsin Protocol. (This also is the most costly - about $5000).

Honeybear responded wonderfully;  she was considered in remission after 1 month.  We completed all her rounds of her chemotherapy treatments (25 weeks total) and we were hoping to get at least another 6-12 months with her. Of course we spoiled her.  We were very lucky and got 18 months, so a total of almost 2-1/2 years until her remission ended and she was again diagnosed with lymphoma. 

For the past 2 years it was always on my mind what I would do when it came back. In all the research I did most people said they would not do a second round of chemotherapy because remission only last half the length as the first and most of it was during their treatments. 

Dr. Stromberg pointed out that with Honeybear she still acted like a puppy and that she responded so well and we had 2 years before the return. 

She also pointed out that we didn’t have to do the full course of the Wisconsin protocol if cost was an issue and that there were a couple other treatment options less expensive that would give us more time. Again we decided to go with the same treatment plan since we still had the pet insurance and we had such wonderful luck the first time.

This can be such a painful decision because of the cost involved, since not everyone has pet insurance.  As pet owners, we don’t want to have to end their life but if the cost of treatment cannot be done we feel there is no other choice.  Please discuss everything with your veterinarian. There are many different ways that chemotherapy can be done, from making them comfortable to treating with less aggressive and less expensive ways that will also give you more time with them. Dr Stromberg said to me once, we treat the patient first the disease second so try to remember that when deciding which type of treatment to proceed with.

Our journey with Honeybear is still continuing and we have been blessed with a good response again -  she will be 10 years old soon.  When we started this we never imagined that we would see her reach the age she is and are looking forward to spending another summer up north where she loves to run.

Rene Harrer