Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oral Melanoma: Cheating the Reaper

Sasha always attracted admirers, but didn't like to be petted by them. He was handsome and fluffy, but I heard he bit someone who put his hand over the fence. He was more cat than dog, but ended up with a common canine disease: oral melanoma, a cancer of the mouth.

My vet, Dr. McCarthy, said he'd live three months if I let nature take its course, and referred me to a veterinary oncologist.

The oncologist was taken with Sasha; Sasha let her look in his mouth. After discussing our options (chemotherapy, expensive radiation, ghastly partial jaw removal), we decided on chemotherapy.

A few days on chemo put Sasha at death's door: he wouldn't eat and had become incontinent. I took him to Dr. McCarthy with the intention of putting him down. But she recommended Zantac and a diet of chicken breast and white rice, and no more chemo. She looked at Sasha as if she'd never see him again.

About that time, I consulted a holistic veterinarian who recommended a grain-free diet. I had also gotten a book on herbal cancer treatments and another on Eastern medicine for dogs and cats (Four Paws, Five Directions). I decided to give Sasha a combination of herbs like garlic, astragulus, reishi mushrooms and ginseng, along with grain-free dog food. Dr. McCarthy was skeptical and reminded me that natural doesn't necessarily mean harmless, and some treatments are of questionable efficacy. True--but Sasha and I had nothing to lose.

He bounced back from his chemo experience. The cancer was still there, of course, but tumors were slow in returning. Sasha had tumors removed once or twice, was eating well, and seemed to be enjoying life. Several months later, the vet prescribed a daily pain pill for an inoperable tumor that might have been causing him some discomfort. Still, the dog seemed like his old self.

Almost a year passed--not long before Sasha was ready to go--and Dr. McCarthy said she'd been telling people about this amazing dog who'd lived for a year with oral melanoma.

After Sasha passed, I talked with someone else whose dog had lived a long time with oral melanoma, and she said she, too, gave her dog grain-free dog food. (Need I say this is what my current dog, Molly, eats?)

No comments: