Never Underestimate a Lump

This month we are doing something a bit special for our Patient of the Month and have a wonderful piece written by one of our amazing clients, Lara. This is her and her beloved Golden Retriever, Suzy’s, story.

Did you know Golden Retrievers are predisposed to nasty cancerous lumps called Mast Cell tumours?

I didn’t know this until my beautiful Golden Retriever Suzy presented with her first tumour, one of five to date.

Suzy is currently ten years old and lives a happy and healthy, fun-filled life. She enjoys park visits twice daily, long walks, car rides to friend’s houses, healthy treats every lunchtime, beach trips in summer and long naps on the bed. She really lives a dog’s life!

Yet, there have been many bumps, literally, in her road to this salubrious lifestyle. Without my vigilance and constant patting routines, I fear her story may have ended far differently. In Suzy’s case, each of these nasty mast cell tumours (MCT) presented as very small lumps about the size of your little fingernail, negligible in size yet deadly in their consequences. Without checking all over her body regularly they could have been easily missed.

The first one appeared on her elbow, I initially thought that it was probably nothing, yet my instinct and overprotectiveness took us to the vet for a check-up and after a biopsy was performed, it was confirmed it was a mast cell tumour and needed to be removed immediately. She was booked in for surgery the next afternoon with Dr Warren Foreman, who removed the lump (with margins) and sent the tissue away to see if the whole MCT had been successfully removed. After a week tentatively waiting on the histopathology I was finally relieved of my anxiety with the news that the lump was removed with all clear margins meaning there was no need for chemotherapy, we had averted a potential disaster.

The second lump presented on the top of her head closer to her ear, knowing better this time we went straight to the vet and once again she was whisked into surgery quick smart, again the histopathology returned with clear margins. After this one, she walked around with a shaved head and attracted a lot of attention and questions from well-wishing park goers until her fur grew back.

The third lump popped up on the side of her torso, into surgery and again she had a long line of stitches as a souvenir. To remove the lumps they need to take quite a bit of surrounding tissue to ensure these clear margins. Phew, again histopathology confirmed it was a nasty MCT yet it was removed with clear margins. After this removal to ensure she didn’t scratch she walked around in one of my pink long sleeve t-shirts to protect the area that an elizabethan collar would not.

The fourth lump was the most devastating, it popped up between the toes on her paw. The cells confirmed it was an MCT and once again she arrived for surgery. We hoped we could remove it without too much of an issue yet when Dr Warren Foreman had her in surgery, he realised that the cancer had twisted around her toes and to successfully remove all the cancer we also had to amputate two of her toes. I sadly agreed and when I picked her up the long process of healing the paw began.

Daily bandage changes, pain relief, helping her walk outside, resting her and no park visits all became very challenging, however, we took one day at a time and muddled through. When she was able to walk once again we started slowly around the block. What I didn’t realise was that once a few toes are missing the whole leg, foot and gait works differently. The joints in her toes were taking pressure they normally wouldn’t have to accommodate. So our walks were only short. Considering we were used to walking at least an hour a day this was upsetting. As the walking time increased so did her lameness once we returned home. This went on for some time. I bought a kids buggy from eBay and put her in the buggy to take her for long walks, there was no way I could leave her at home whilst I walked Chelsea my other dog. There had to be something I could do to help her!

It was about this time I read a book about how they built elephants prosthetics and I had an epiphany, someone in Australia must be able to make her some sort of device to stop the lameness. I was on a hunt for a solution, and would not stop till I found it.

After much searching I found and spoke to Michelle Monk, that’s when things began to change and I felt some hope.

Suzy and I took an eight-hour drive to Melbourne and stayed in a multi-story hotel building, she thought it quite amusing looking down to the street below and riding in the lift. She had a day with a dog sitter making friends while I went shopping and had dinner. Then we finally went to meet Michelle. While we were consulting with Michelle she made a plaster cast of Suzy's leg so we could order a specially made orthotic for her. This would help with her walking and should prevent her becoming lame after exercise.

We came home hopeful for a change. Sure enough, after a bit of waiting, a specially made orthotic arrived for Suzy specially fitted to her foot all the way from America. We then began the long road of getting her to adjust to the boot being placed on her foot and her learning to walk with it on.

We had Skype appointments with Michelle and she helped us to work through this until she became an orthotic doggy expert. I am lucky she only needs it to walk on the bitumen, at home and in the park she can be boot free. There is no residual lameness anymore and we have progressed from five minutes walks back to over an hour if we wish. We now have no limits and the buggy is gathering dust and spiders in the shed.

Life started to improve for Suzy exponentially, and that was when the fifth lump appeared. This really deflated me and once again the lump on her neck was removed and again had clear margins. She healed whilst she wore my skiing neck warmers to protect the stitches and keep her warm through winter.

Suzy is like a cheeky cat with many chances at life, five so far, and despite feeling upset and sad at each occurrence of a new lump I have changed my perspective. I realise maybe she was sent to me because I am so attentive in looking and finding lumps and I get them checked immediately and progress through to removing them, giving her every chance at recovery and life.

Maybe in another situation, she may not have been so lucky or lived so long. So I figure she has had a hard lumpy life but she is also having the best most loving life she could hope for. So I approach each new lump with tears and a simultaneous confidence I am doing all I can for her and I provide her every day with a fabulous life. Only like a dog can, Suzy handles all this with poise and grace and a big Golden Retriever smile on her face, despite walking around in neck warmers, t-shirts and boots, getting quizzical looks and remarks from everyone we meet!

The biggest “Thank you” to Dr Foreman and all the team at the AdelaideVet as it has only been with their help we have been able to get through each surgery and to date keep Suzy cancer free.

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