Our Journey with Alfie fighting Canine Lymphoma

Our Journey with Alfie fighting Canine Lymphoma

*this post, though published, is not finished and will continue to receive updates+edits as Alfie continues to battle Lymphoma. In addition to serving as a personal timeline, documentation and sort-of diary for our journey with Alfie as he fights lymphoma, this post also serves as a resource for those of you whom may be facing this difficult situation. My hopes in documenting and being as transparent as possible in our approach against canine lymphoma is ultimately for hope. Hope and encouragement for you and for your family. You are not alone and though I am no expert nor am I qualified to give any medical advice, my email and inbox is open to you. I’m more than happy to answer any thoughts or questions you may have *

/ first updated 14th October, 2020 at 3:00 p.m.

/second update 5th December, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.

“How did you know something was wrong? How did you know to take Alfie to see the vet?

I didn’t – it’s a detail I repeatedly gloss over. I didn’t realize anything was different until one moment when everything went from “absolutely normal and fine” to “nothing is the same.” 

Ironic, isn’t it? As the phrase “a new normal” seems to be a repeat description for life in year 2020. Using the phrase “nothing is the same” to describe our experience thus far may seem dramatic but a journey walking alongside Canine Lymphoma means walking a path not dictated nor paved by the usual pulls of life’s excitement but instead more like tip-toeing carefully along a narrow, poorly kept, crumbling walkway.

I didn’t realize anything was “wrong” until one day,  during a puppy play date, a friend pointed out Alfie’s appearance. 

  • them: “Alfie looks like he dropped some weight?”
  • HC: “You think so?”
  • them: “I think so. Maybe not – I feel like he’s skinnier than what I remember from last time I saw him.”
  • HC: “Hm. I mean, you know him, Alfie’s always been slender and extremely picky. I’ve never had any issues with Ollie when it comes to food but you know Alfie, he has always been picky.”
  • them: “Yeah, you’re right.”
  • HC: “I mean, maybe he seems a little thinner than usual? I don’t know. Maybe not. I’ll keep an eye out.”

A few days later, I was playing with Alfie and as I was petting him, where my hand would usually run over his smooth, soft fur, my hand instead ran over a bump. 

The bump. 

It was a bump I had never felt before. I ran my hand over the same spot and again, my fingers felt a hard, circular bump. After a quick rub down, we soon discovered a second lump. I stood back and observed my always happy, barely four-year old, big-smiling shadow of a puppy. The previous conversation with my friend noting Alfie’s change in weight + appearance instantly came rushing back to me and for what felt like the first time, noticed his more-slender than usual appearance. 

[one evening, mid-way through June 2020] One “after-hours” phone call and a little over 16 hours later, Alfie was having blood work done while Chi and I waited outside in the Veterinary clinic parking lot. 

It’s hard to remember the exact words that followed the vet tech’s greeting of “Hi, how are you…” as he began to relay us the results of Alfie’s blood work:

“his lymph nodes are lit up like a Christmas tree”  

“send the blood work to test for –

cancer.”

concluding with “here are some meds to help with the discomfort until we get his results back and can take further action.”

Four days later, I received a call from the vet tech confirming the presence of cancer found in Alfie’s blood work and that’s where our journey with Canine Lymphoma begins.

What is Lymphoma? 

Lymphoma in dogs, like in humans, is a type of blood cancer and a cancer of the lymphatic system. 

 You know your puppy best.

I say this because YOU and only you know your puppy best. Whichever treatment route you choose to take for your puppy is your call, your decision. You know your puppy best and I trust that any owner taking initiative to do the research for best options truly has their canine’s best interest at heart. After I broke the news of Alfie’s diagnosis to family and close friends, I then shared the update on social media and also shared our plan for treatment. 

This is where I feel the need to publicly thank (waiting for permission to share) for her help in listening to my thoughts, answering my questions, sending resources for education and then also sending resources regarding diet changes. Without your help and encouragement, I wouldn’t have felt so empowered and confident in moving forward with our treatment decision.

We are incredibly fortunate and lucky to have the community we do – we were showered with love, encouragement, sympathy, and kindness from you and the support from the beginning is what makes all the difference. 

Did you change his diet? What does he eat?

Yes! Changing Alfie’s diet is the first “big” change I introduced to his current lifestyle. Prior to his diagnosis, I fed Alfie only high-quality, grain-free kibble from a well-known brand, mixed every few days with vegetables and different proteins.

In mid-June, when Alfie first started displaying signs of discomfort, I took him to the vet and was informed by the vet tech that leaving grains out of a dog’s diet is more harmful than leaving them in, as a grain-free diet *may* be linked to a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. 

However, Ollie or “Oliver,” my German-shepherd mix rescue, continues to thrive on his diet consisting of a mix between fresh, home-cooked food and grain-free kibble. 

If you’re curious and want to read further on the topic, here are a few articles discussing the pros and cons of a grain-free diet versus a diet with grains:

1.

2.

3.

Long story short, I switched Alfie’s diet consisting of home-cooked food mixed with kibble to a home-cooked diet completely void of kibble. Preparing home-cooked meals for Alfie requires extra prep and planning ahead of time, as it’s important to be sure he’s still getting all of the nutrients his body needs to not only sustain itself but also fight lymphoma. In addition to a fresh, home-cooked diet, I also supplement his food with a number of multivitamins, oils and supplements to ensure  his body is being fueled with everything it needs to stay healthy. 

How did you decide to go with chemotherapy treatments? Have you noticed any side effects?

Talk to a vet! I can promise you that your pup’s vet has your four-legged friend’s best interest at heart. Alfie’s oncologist was so incredibly helpful in our decision to go through with chemotherapy treatments. In Alfie’s case, chemo didn’t negatively affect the quality of his day-to-day life at all. We are so lucky! The side-effects of increased panting, increased appetite, pot-belly and a few others, were all caused by his steroid medication. So even though Alfie has displayed side-effects from treatment, chemo isn’t at all to blame and we are extremely fortunate he has responded to treatment so well.

ON CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENTS:

Before Alfie’s journey against lymphoma, my knowledge of treatment options available to dogs with cancer was nonexistent and I had no idea we would be presented with so many different types of chemo treatments to choose from. 

How long did it take for you to notice the side effects of chemotherapy [treatment] ?

The side effects I observed were caused by the steroid Alfie took in addition to chemo. I noticed the increase in panting, thirst and hunger within two days and his “pot-belly” appearance shortly after crossing the two-week mark. Our oncologist notified us ahead of time so that we could monitor for the aforementioned side effects. If you’re unsure of the most common side effects or signs to watch for when introducing new medication, ask your vet. I know the amount of information online can be overwhelming and I know how confusing or alarming reading off potential side-effects can become but rest-assured that your oncologist knows what they’re doing.

 Thankfully, Alfie never exhibited the common signs canines receiving chemo treatment usually display. Unlike human chemotherapy, dogs receive much smaller doses and typically, compared to humans, dogs are on fewer medication when undergoing chemo. In regards to prescribed medication, Alfie only ever took steroids and once his lymph nodes were almost undetectable and his spleen had reduced back to a regular size, he was weaned off his prescription. After Alfie had completed his steroid, we didn’t reintroduce steroids back into his treatment plan until a few weeks later, around early October, when Alfie fell out of remission.

09 October 2020: Chemo Day// today, we switched from Doxorubicin to Ceenu.

16 October 2020: Travel day// South Carolina to the DMV (Maryland)

Extra advice and resources I’ve found helpful:

The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Love always,

HC

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