chemotherapy for dogs

January 2018 Patient of the Month

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Scarlett Jane's Story

Like so many of the very best things, Miss Scarlett Jane (a 7-year-old Great Dane) burst into my life quite unexpectedly. In June of 2015, a little over a month after my dog of 9 years had passed away, my sister called me up saying that I needed to get on Facebook immediately to check out a dog that had just come up for adoption. I told her no thanks, I just wasn’t ready. I was still grieving and was in no shape to adopt another dog so soon after losing my boy. After a few more minutes of her insisting that I just needed “to look”, I hung up, convinced I wasn’t interested.

That lack of interest lasted only moments, before curiosity got the best of me. Within seconds of hanging up the phone I jumped on Facebook, saw Scarlett’s face, and fell in love. And within minutes, I’d sent a private message to the humane society where she was being held, expressing my extreme interest.

Scarlett had been surrendered from a family with other dogs and young children, and was listed as a “special case”. Her new owner would need to meet certain requirements before being considered as a feasible adoptive option. As luck would have it, I had previous experience with Great Danes and since I was living in a country home free of children and other pets, I knew Scarlett and I would be a perfect fit. The next day the shelter was open, I scheduled a meeting during my lunch hour to introduce myself to Miss Scarlett. I could tell this beautiful girl was nervous and disoriented by the chaos of the shelter surroundings, but after just a few minutes she was leaning into me with all her heart, and I was a goner. The volunteer on hand didn’t even need to ask, we went straight into the office and filled out the paperwork that afternoon. And for the next year and a half we lived happily ever after…

Flash forward to February of last year, when the happy little bubble Scarlett and I were living in, burst around us. One fateful morning as I was wiping her down from the messiness of our snowy/muddy morning walk, I came across a terrifyingly large mass that had all but appeared out of nowhere on her belly. I put a call out to her vet and within an hour she was being examined and my worst fears were coming to life. Surgery was scheduled for several days later, where it was discovered that my girl had the canine equivalent of breast cancer. She was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of inflammatory carcinoma. The prognosis was grim at best and our post-surgical options were limited. I was told that the surgery would only do so much and that without additional treatment, Scarlett had maybe weeks to live. Refusing to give up on my girl without exhausting every available option, I was referred to Dr. Kenneth Rassnick and the Oncology department at the Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) of CNY. And two days after the biggest snow storm of early 2017, I loaded my girl into the car and made the hour long commute to Syracuse to see what our future held.

Walking into the VMC, I was cautiously optimistic, because we really had nothing to lose. But instantly I knew that no matter what happened, we were in the best possible hands. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, in any medical office, human or otherwise. Everyone from the receptionists to the techs to the docs were kind, understanding and so very sympathetic to our situation. Even the other pet-parents, were super supportive and wishing us well. This extensive group of complete strangers took us in and were going to help us in any way they could.

After our consultation, it was decided that a combination of chemotherapy and a daily medication would be the best option for Scarlett. For the next 3 months, Scarlett and I traveled out to Syracuse on a weekly basis for her treatments, making friends with several Thruway toll collectors along the way. And for a dog that was quite apprehensive about visiting the doctor and very reluctant to leave my side, Scarlett handled the treatments amazingly well, carrying herself with a graceful dignity that any pet-parent would be proud of.

In June, it appeared that Scarlett could possibly be on her way to remission. Her bloodwork was looking good and her scans were all clear. My heart was overcome with joy and relief. In my mind, Scarlett had beaten the odds and we had been granted the miracle I had been praying for. My brave sweet girl, who deserved so much more from her golden years, enjoyed a perfectly amazing summer of long rides in the car with the windows down, lazy days napping in the sunshine and all the snacks and snuggles she could handle.

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In September, to my great disappointment and to the disappointment of all our wonderful friends at VMC, I found a new mass on Scarlett’s belly. So we’re back to our regularly scheduled chemotherapy and trying our luck with a new medication. But most importantly, Scarlett’s spirits are high and she’s feeling good. So for now we take it day by day, the plan being to keep Scarlett happy and comfortable for as long as possible.

I don’t know what the future holds, but what I do know is that finding Dr. Rassnick and all the incredible people at the VMC has been a true blessing. They helped to keep my sweet girl feeling like herself and have given me precious time with her, and those two things have been the greatest gifts I could have ever asked for. So from the bottom of my heart I thank you… and Scarlett thanks you too!

- Erinn Riley (Scarlett’s Mom)