Independence, MO – Although I’m yet to unwrap my first gift, I’ve already received more this holiday season than ever before.
Sally, our adopted retriever-collie mix whose 12th birthday we’ll celebrate on Jan. 1, is home for the holidays. Let me explain.
I noticed a lump in Sally’s neck about six weeks ago while waiting for her to be seen at Three Trails Animal Hospital. We’ve always taken our animals to Rick Schrock, DVM, and decided we should have him examine Sally’s lips, which we’d noticed the night before were drooping in the corners.
After running blood tests, Dr. Schrock’s team decided to treat Sally for an infected salivary gland. They prescribed antibiotics and, a week later, refilled the prescription because the lump was still noticeable.
When the lump grew during Sally’s second week of drugs, Rick decided to remove the tumor. Anticipating it would be the size of a golf ball, he was surprised to find a baseball-sized mass in her throat and mouth, which he couldn’t completely excise.
He tested the tissue and confirmed it was malignant melanoma. According to the pathology report, Sally’s median life expectancy was 147 days without additional treatment.
Rick explained our options: Keep Sally comfortable with no additional intervention; take her across town to a Mission, Kan., veterinary practice with oncologists on staff; or take her to the MU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Columbia, Mo.
There was only one choice. Sally was going to Mizzou.
Kate and I made the two-hour trek east several days later. What we encountered exceeded even our biased love for our alma mater.
Sally was initially seen by an oncology resident, who explained canine melanoma and the aggressive nature of Sally’s version. She reviewed the options, and we agreed the best choice was surgical removal followed by appropriate post-operative treatment.
Within minutes, Sally was scheduled for surgery the following day. To help us prepare, we spoke at length with the surgical resident, who explained what she and her team would attempt to do and shared their goals for the procedure.
Sally and I returned to the clinic the next morning, and surgery began around 11 a.m. It lasted four hours, and the surgical resident expressed measured confidence that the operating team had gotten “clean margins” – which in layman’s terms means they’d removed all the cancerous tissue.
After several weeks of home recovery, Sally accompanied the five two-legged Beems back to the hospital Thursday to have her staples removed and discuss post-operative options. The oncologist was pleased with how well the incision had healed and explained the lingering risk of cancer given Sally’s aggressive form of melanoma and the pros and cons of various treatments.
After a quick conversation, Kate and I agreed a combination of localized radiation and melanoma therapy was the best course. Sally received her first melanoma therapy injection while we were at the clinic and will receive her final three in January when she spends a month there receiving radiation five days a week.
For now, though, Sally’s home for the holidays. Beem animals are full family members, and we’re thankful for the health of our black, furry girl with big brown eyes.
This holiday season, we’re grateful to Dr. Schrock and the MU vets. Their gifts to our family are invaluable.