Though there are more and more white hairs on her snout and a slower pace on our runs, Berlin is the same healthy dog I adopted almost eight years ago, or so it seemed until a Friday last December.
This is the month we get her her annual physical. Since this includes a full blood panel that until this point only confirmed that everything looks good from her heart to her kidneys, I scheduled the visit for a few hours before an event I needed to host that evening. There were some other things I wanted to ask the vet about during the visit including a new small bump on her lower back. This wasn’t her first suspicious bump. In fact she has a fairly large one on the underside of her tail near her anus and some others that dissipated after being aspirated (drawing out some of the cells of fluid of the bump/lump with a needle for testing). Like those I had wanted this one checked out. Admittingly felt a false sense of ease that, like those, the results would be clear. The doctor felt the bump and thought it was nothing to worry about it .. that he would aspirate and, as he put it, a cream cheese like substance would come out. So, like a zit. Cool, I can handle that.
I waited in the lobby, filling the time turning the pages in the People magazine I had selected from their table. “This is actually quite a few more pages than I normally get through”, I thought. “Huh? I wonder if Berlin is giving them a fuss?”, I thought. The vet tech and doctor came from the back with Berlin and we re-entered the private room. They let me know that when they aspirated the bump, instead of puss, blood came out. Lots of blood. If that alone wasn’t worrisome, their stoic faces communicated their disappointment of the bump contents.
The vet suggested a biopsy. Of course, how could I say no? Berlin is my best friend. I would do anything for her.
Unfortunately this meant I had to send her to the back with them and they would perform the biopsy at the end of the day. This was luckily in a matter of 15 minutes or so, but that meant I had to help them put her in a kennel so she would be safe and secure in the mean time. Having come from the shelter, I promised her long ago that I would never put her in such a kennel so this was heartbreaking. Not only did I have to walk out and a anxiously wait to pick her up as I attempted to hold back tears, but I broke my promise.
I headed to the pet store to pick up a more comfortable cone and coordinate with my husband as he would have to come home early from work since I still had to head to my event. The vet called fairly quickly saying that they were done and I could pick up Berlin. The timing was so tight that I had to drop her off at home where my husband had just arrived, change, and leave. I told just one friend of the situation at the event. To add to the difficulty of being there and not with my girl, my husband is typically at this reoccurring event with me, so I was repeatedly fielding the question, “Where’s Matt?”
The drive home felt so long and I was so happy to cuddle with Berlin as I feel asleep hoping for the best. It should go without saying that it was a long weekend. With the holidays approaching, the results could take up to seven days. Luckily Berlin was not interested in bothering with her stitches so we left the cone off during the day when supervised and only put it on at night. I’m quite sure she didn’t sleep well but it was for her safety.
We were on our evening walk the following Tuesday when the vet called. I waited with baited breath. Really, it’s just like the movies. You only hear the word cancer and all other words just seem to bounce off your ears. But, the vet continued to repeat that we were lucky, it was 99% good news (for it actually in fact being cancer). It was mast cell cancer but stage one. He had never seen a stage one and had only read about it in his textbooks. By the time he sees and tests most bumps that end up being (mast cell) cancer, they are stage two.
So what did this mean for Berlin? Well, our vet had already sent over the results to his colleugue who specializes in oncology, who agreed that the margins were good (meaning there were enough healthy cells surrounded the removed cancerous ones that it appears the biopsy was enough). He said, perhaps another millimeter could be taken (so a really teeny tiny amount), but if it were his dog, he wouldn’t do it. This wasn’t sinking in yet. That there was nothing else that needed to be done. That we had dodged a bullet. That for now, our girl was ok.
I immediately called Matt. It was surreal. We were so sad that it was happening but so happy at the results. Of course Berlin continued on with the walk as usual, but I may have left her sniff a few extra trees and bushes here and there.
Berlin still had her stitches in for another week, and as I expected, that is when she started to fuss with the area more since it was starting to scab over. Needless to say, she was thrilled when it was all healed and she didn’t have to wear the cone anymore.
We will continue to be diligent looking and feeling her for other bumps. Conveniently this is disguised as petting, which she thoroughly enjoys. That being said, we’ve done our research on mast cell cancer, particularly where it most commonly shows up and other signs and symptoms.
Our girl is ten years old now, but we’re not throwing in the towel or taking anything for granted. She’s strong, healthy, and loving life. We hope, and are working to promote, many more years together.
To find out more about mast cell cancer, visit https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cancer/c_dg_mast_cell_tumor