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From the top… How I found my dog’s cancer

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BearOk, so to take it from the top, this is how Barret (who I usually call “Bear” (unless he is in trouble), this confuses people.. so Barret and Bear are the same dog. Glad I cleared that up) and I got here. Fair Warning: This is a MOUTHFUL. There’s a lot I want to get off of my chest.

I found a lump on Bear’s armpit in the fall. I’m not going to tell that whole story because I already have here: A Lump In The Night: Should You See the Vet? Essentially, they couldn’t get any fluid during the needle aspiration, and I was told it was probably just a fatty lump and to ‘wait and see’.

Wait, I did. And now I’m kicking myself for this next part: Barret has very short hair and gets really cold over the winter. He pretty much lives all winter long in his hoodie. I didn’t do the “see” part of wait and see. The next time I did get a good look at his lump it had definitely grown, probably at least doubling in size. I’m still kicking myself for this part too: I still waited until his annual appointment a month later to have the vet check it out. After all, it’s a fatty lump and as long as it isn’t hindering him there’s no reason to remove it, right? Oh the things we can rationalize to ourselves.

BearNeedless to say the vet was kind of shocked it was as big as it was. He still thought it was probably benign but said surgery needed to happen before it got too much bigger. I scheduled surgery for three weeks later.

By that time (though I couldn’t tell because I examined it daily) the gosh-darned lump had grown AGAIN. I was a mess on surgery day, but I tried to be strong for Barret. I went to work after dropping him off. I was scared it was cancer and this wouldn’t be the end of our journey. My husband and coworkers thought I was overreacting. After all, if it was cancer what would we do.. chemotherapy? I wrote about my struggle with those ideas here (I know so much more now): How much is too much – What is the real cost of extending our pets’ lives?

BearOk, back to surgery day: I was fully expecting to hear by lunch that he was in recovery and doing great and I could get him at 5. I didn’t hear anything by 12:15 so I called in. He was still in surgery. At 2:30 my phone rings and it is my vet. His exact words to me were “Barret is just waking up now, but I’m worried.. Really worried”. My heart hit the floor. Talk about a crash landing! I had an embarrassing meltdown in the storage area at work. All I remember is really needing a tissue, but there weren’t any. I was too embarrassed to go back to my office.  I think I was in there for a good hour before I could sneak back to my desk.

Essentially, since the thing had grown so large and invaded so much tissue, surgery was really complex. A lot of the tissue itself was necrotic (apparently it was outgrowing its own blood supply and dying off). Barret had to spend the night because he had lots of leakage and swelling. The night he spent at the vet’s office was the night I bought “The Dog Cancer Survival Guide” on Amazon.

The next night I picked him up and my vet talked with me and unintentionally gave me some false hope, saying he still thought it looked like a fatty tumor gone bad. I really, really like my vet but I don’t want false hope.

BearBear had a rough week of recovery. He had a pressure bandage and a huge, seeping stapled chunk of flesh in a place that is tough to heal.. the armpit. He was pretty miserable and it wasn’t just the Tramadol. On May 15th my vet called me at the end of his shift. I missed the call. His message said he was just checking in, but my gut said he had bad news and didn’t want to leave on a message. I had to wait until noon on the 16th to call back.

“It’s cancer”. That’s pretty much all I heard. I scribbled a couple of notes on an envelope and asked him to spell the type of cancer. Here is what I wrote down: Hemangiopericytoma, persistent, will come back, amputation 1-3 weeks, strongly recommended” I didn’t even write down “good prognosis”.

I was still calm at this point. I’d been steeling myself for this. I called my husband and relayed the news. “WHAT?!” he nearly screamed in my ear. I tried to calmly explain the same things the vet had just told me, though I had a better handle of how cancer worked because I had finished the first few chapters of the survival guide. Knowledge really is your best weapon.

I lost it when, not minutes later, the vet’s office popped up in my caller ID. The techs were calling to schedule Barret’s surgery for the following Wednesday, the 22nd. His staples weren’t even out from the first surgery! Disbelievingly, I scheduled it.

First I researched everything I could on the type of cancer. Once my vet’s recommendations were confirmed, I found Tripawds and made my first post on the forums.

Let me say that this community has been my most valuable resource and my strongest support system. The couple people who’ve replied on my forum posts already know the rest, but for new readers here it goes:

BearThe staples came out on Saturday May 19th. My vet had an honest conversation with us and didn’t feel confident enough to perform the surgery the way it needed to be done: aggressively with wide margins. Surgery for Wednesday was cancelled and I was referred to a surgeon in the area.

As it stands today, the consultation AND the surgery are scheduled for June 11th. I have a list of questions for the surgeon that I’m trying to get answered before the 11th via a phone consult, and 1% of me is still holding on for hope that the surgeon will review his file and tell us to wait until it comes back or that my regular vet had wide enough margins during surgery #1.

Barret, as of this morning, is still having some discomfort as his surgery site, but if he’d just CALM DOWN and stop bouncing off the walls, the sofa, everything, he’d be fine. All he seems to know is that mom has her head stuck in a book/ebook and he is getting a lot of extra attention and treats and fetches. Oh and his brother and sister are very jealous.

And that’s where we are now.

 As marketing professional in the pet supplies trade for over 6 years and an pawrent of 3 dogs and 2 cats, I’ve gained a plethora of pet-related experience ripe for the picking, though I am new to tripawd pawrenting. My goal is to share my story and the knowledge I’ve gained with the pet pawrents everywhere. You can also find me on That Pet Blog or .

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~ by BarretsMomHeather on May 24, 2013 . Tagged: ,

6 Responses to “From the top… How I found my dog’s cancer”

  1.   benny55 Says:

    Yes indeed hi ‘be been following BEAR”s progress and, it IS progress!! You are headed towards asolution that will seliminate the pain and, when recovery takes hold, will give you more joyous and living moments with Barrett than you could ever imagine:-) 🙂 Ever omagine:-) 🙂

    Maybe the “delay” is really the Universe giving Barret more recovery time…..although it sounds like his energy level is off the charts!!

    Barret is a beautiful boy…..adorable face and lovely coat. Oh and those eyes, what a sweet lovely soul you see when you look I to those eyes!!

    Keep the posts AND photos coming……he’s adorable!!

    Your hanging in there very, very well!! Good job mom!!

    Sally a d Happy Hannah

  2.   Michelle Says:

    I have been following Bear also. I am glad you are getting a consult if your vet didn’t feel comfortable with doing the surgery. Its a lot easier for a puppy to recover than an older dog, the hardest part though is keeping him quiet like you said. I think you are doing a wonderful job researching and holding it together though.
    He is very beautiful. Thanks for the updates.

    Michelle & Sassy

  3.   blackdogcompanion Says:

    I have been out of touch the last few days but I have been following Bear’s story too. I know your head is spinning. I am glad that he gets a break between the two surgeries.

    I know you read about Cora. I’m not sure if I talked about the fact she had minor surgery to repair her stump after it was injured. She isn’t as manic as Barret but she didn’t exactly stay calm and first ripped out the drain and then ripped out the sutures. Part of this was because of the the fact all this was on her stump and she’s a blind dog and can’t help but stumble sometimes. So, she went from badly injured stump, to surgery, to stump injury getting worse and then to amputation. It was a really ruff month but she’s doing so well now. So try to hang in there.

  4.   Dakota Dawg Says:

    I know this is really hard. If the surgeon agrees with your vet that amputation is what Bear needs to live a happy life, there will be some more hard. But it has an ending point. That’s the best part. He will heal and get on with living.

    Make sure to start writing down your questions to ask the surgeon. The advantage to having that appointment in the future is you get the opportunity to think of all the things you want to know and write them down. Then let us know how that appointment goes. Good luck!


  5.   jerry Says:

    Awww Bear. You are really showing your mommy with all of your spunk that this is nothing to be worried about. After the surgery is over, life will be back to normal only you will be a superstar Tripawd ambassador and showing people everywhere how life on three legs can be great!

    Hang in there, it’s a tough ride but we’ll be there for all of you.

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