In March of 2020, while playing and patting our dogs, we discovered our then 5 year old West Highland Terrier cross, Albert, had a fair sized hard lump in his throat. We took him to our local vet who said it was best to surgically remove the mass to have it checked. A few days after the surgery, the vet called and gave us the unpleasant news that it was lymphoma and that, if we wanted to seek treatment, needed to contact the oncology team at SASH on the central coast as a matter of urgency. The news came late on a Friday, so we had an agonizing wait over a weekend before we could take any sort of action.
The SASH team were amazing at getting us an appointment as soon as they could. We were distressed that one of our boys was so sick (but barely showing any symptoms), but everyone was so friendly and supportive. At that first visit it was confirmed that Albert had t-cell lymphoma, the type with the least favorable outcomes life expectancy wise. After a couple of hours of tests, we were told what to expect both with and without treatment and what treatment options were. As we were insured, we opted to go with chemotherapy, specifically a LOPP chemotherapy protocol. It would take around 6 months, cost a lot of money and it would not cure Albert’s cancer, but potentially give us another comfortable year or two with him.
Chemotherapy for dogs is not comparable to humans. While it’s the same drugs, dogs endure it really well and apart from the occasional upset stomach (which medication resolved easily), Albert took it like a trooper. There were regular trips for IV infusions during covid lockdown and a lot of pills to administer at home.
While we were at SASH for an oncology appointment we managed to get him in to see the dermatology team as well and they were able to completely cure a lifelong chronic skin issue Albert had been suffering with. We have been forever grateful that he could be made so much more comfortable!
A couple of months into Chemotherapy, SASH gave us the great news that Albert was in full remission. Meaning he wasn’t cured, but there was no evidence of active cancer. All his lymph nodes had gone back to the size they should have been. The chemo was doing its job. In September of 2020 we completed the chemo protocol and now tried to go back to normal lives with very frequent and targeted pats and belly rubs to make sure he wasn’t in a relapse.
It’s now December of 2023. We were told 18-24 months was the likely best case scenario with the type of cancer Albert had.
But…. he’s still with us now and still in full remission. He’s a typical 9 year old terrier that loves his teddy, loves to bark at things he doesn’t recognize and loves to cuddle under the blankets with us on cold winter mornings. When they stay with my parents while I’m on holidays he loves to cuddle with grandma and ‘help’ her do the housework.
The quick diagnosis of our local vet, the amazing care and knowledge of SASH and the financial support of pet insurance has kept Albert with us for almost 4 years, when the cancer would have taken him within a month or two without treatment.
The core messages I want to get across is to always play, pat and examine your dog regularly. If you find a bump, don’t panic as most of them are benign.. but get them checked so they can be treated quickly. Get pet insurance from the start. Having that financial security removes very difficult decisions when they present themselves… the cost of chemotherapy was mostly covered and our out of pocket was reduced signficantly.
But most importantly… trust SASH and their amazing staff. The receptionists are warm and bubbly, the nurses care about you and your fur kids 1000% and the vets are so knowledgeable and will do everything in their power to save a life, or at least make it much more comfortable. Dr Amy and Dr Penny in Oncology and Dr Phillipa in Dermatology were caring and compassionate, while still being completely honest about what to expect.
Thank you SASH for helping us keep Albert in the family for all these years.
(The image attached was actually taken by SASH staff after they dressed him up for Easter at one of his treatment sessions).