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Beloved Family Dog Has Cancer

Just found out our beloved family 4 yo Golden Retriever “Shaddow” likely had a bone tumor. Biopsy in a week to confirm. But prognosis isn’t good.

I’m having a really hard time with it. In part because I lost another golden retriever to cancer 4 years ago. He went fast though.

How do you deal with it? Based on my reading survival rate isn’t good, even with treatment. Treatment could cost $5-6k, which I don’t have to spare. But even I spend it, it will likely prolong his life 6 months to a year. If I don’t, his condition is extremely painful. Medication isn’t much of an option.

How do I watch him die, in pain? How do I make the decision to put him down and end the pain?

It’s a little early, but I can’t do either.

How do you decide? How do you deal with that?

Comments

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Sorry to hear about Shadow @specialkayme ....

    Wait for the results, things may not be as bad...

    I guess it may come down to doing the least harm possible ...under the present circumstances and "out of compassion" having Shadow euthanized to end what you feel is Shadow's suffering, may be the option you choose.... either way... it's a hard choice to make...

    Have you looked at starting a give a little page on the net...I'm sure there are many animal companion lovers who would be willing to donate towards Shadow's treatment...

    Meditating on attachment made bring some comfort/understanding...

  • ajhayesajhayes Northern Michigan Veteran

    @specialkayme I'm terribly sorry that you and your family and your fuzzy little trooper have to go through this. The best I can say is to make Shaddows life as awesome as you can. Both you and Shadow will know when it's time. I can't say one way or another about treatment, that's something I would discuss with the vet. They're much more knowledgeable than I am on that topic. We lost one of our dogs to cancer in the fall and the people of this forum were absolutely wonderful. We're here for you and your crew.

    specialkayme
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    As a person, first you wait to see if "likely" means there IS bone cancer. If it turns out to be so, then you grieve, you allow yourself to grieve, and you do whatever it takes to keep your dog comfortable. I have lost dear pets, and it is not anything we wish to go through, and nothing we wish for our pets, either.

    As a Buddhist, you observe. You observe your own emotions and see how your attachment creates your pain. And you open to this pain and generate compassion for yourself. You relax into this pain.
    And you observe your dog and generate compassion for your dog's situation.
    And finally, a bit of cognitive action ... you remain aware that the First Noble Truth is that "suffering happens" and that none of us, not people and not dogs, escape that fact. Not to consider it in a negative pessimistic way, but in a "Well, what did you expect?" or "Why should I be different?" And, as well, you remind yourself of the other Noble Truths that follow from this.
    The thing is that in Buddhism, the pain is not removed .. but we have tools to work with out own responses. Mindfulness and compassion are those tools.

    I wish you well.

    ScottPenperson
  • This isn't an easy process. I understand it is part of life, but it doesn't make it better. I greatly appreciate all the support and guidance, even if you allow me to just vent.

    I didn't sleep much last night. My stomach is in a constant knot, and food really isn't appealing.

    You feel an inordinate amount of guilt. I know it isn't my fault, and that I didn't do anything wrong, but you can't help wondering if you made a wrong decision in the past. If you gave him the wrong food, or if you could have caught it sooner. He relies on me for everything, and I can't help feeling like I let him down.

    @Shoshin said:> I guess it may come down to doing the least harm possible ...under the present circumstances and "out of compassion" having Shadow euthanized to end what you feel is Shadow's suffering, may be the option you choose.... either way... it's a hard choice to make...

    How do you deal with that? Euthanization goes against everything I believe about Buddhism. I'm not a monk, and I realize there are exceptions to the general "do not kill" restriction, but I can't help feeling like requesting euthanization is akin to me requesting that he be killed, and as if I'm doing something wrong. But at the same time, I can't imagine the pain he must be going through. How can I sit back and watch him suffer? How do you reconcile that?

    If you do make the choice, how do you carry that burden, knowing you were the one that chose to end his life?

    @Shoshin said:> Have you looked at starting a give a little page on the net...I'm sure there are many animal companion lovers who would be willing to donate towards Shadow's treatment...

    We'll have to see what the vet says. He'll end up sending us to a specialist, and then we'll end up seeing what they say. Treatment may not be an option at all. Or the treatment may be a minor financial remuneration. We'll have to see.

    But I highly doubt I'll start a page. I can come up with $6,000 if I need to. It comes at a cost though. And an added extension of maybe 6 months of painful life doesn't seem like it's worth it. But we'll see, it may be different. I'd prefer for those funds to go to people who truly need it, or can't come up with it themselves.

    Meditating on attachment made bring some comfort/understanding...

    Thank you for the link. That was very helpful.

    You think you have a good grasp on attachment until you have to let go. Like Mike Tyson said: "Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face."

    @ajhayes said:>Both you and Shadow will know when it's time.

    You can't help but thinking that, no matter what decision you make, it's going to be the wrong one. If I choose to end his suffering sooner, you can't help feeling like you're doing it more to end your own suffering than his, and at the expense of your own beliefs and his own life. If I choose to end his suffering later, you're just prolonging the suffering. Maybe treatment would have worked. Maybe you try treatment and its incredibly painful and it doesn't prolong his life at all. What was the cost? Maybe it would have been better to end his suffering sooner, while he still has a smile on his face. But again, are you doing that for him, or for you?

    @FoibleFull said:
    And you observe your dog and generate compassion for your dog's situation.

    Shadow has taught me to be a better person. I like to think I've enriched his life as well. Who knows though. The guilt makes it hard. You're always wondering if he really led a happy life. Maybe you should have played with him more, or gone on more walks. So many times I didn't take him on trips with me, even though he was so excited to go, because it would have been an inconvenience on me. Maybe I should have been more attentive to his needs, been there for him more, supported him more. It's all illogical, I know. But you can't help feeling it.

    In the end, his final act will still make me a better person, teach me more compassion, and help me understand attachment better. And thinking about it makes it even more difficult to bear.

    lobster
  • ajhayesajhayes Northern Michigan Veteran

    @specialkayme I certainly understand the wrong decision thought. I felt that way when we made the decision to remove my dads life support, I felt that way when we put our dog, Lucy, down in the fall. It's a terrible call to have to make, and you will pore over it for a long time. I think it's the nature of being a caring person. You want to make sure that you are making the right choice when someone else can't. I've been thinking about you all day today, I'm truly sorry that you have to suffer through this. I can't say that enough. Give that dog a snuggle.

    Kundospecialkayme
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    How do you deal with that? Euthanization goes against everything I believe about Buddhism. I'm not a monk, and I realize there are exceptions to the general "do not kill" restriction, but I can't help feeling like requesting euthanization is akin to me requesting that he be killed, and as if I'm doing something wrong.

    What is happening right at this moment is You are worrying about what could or might happen ....is this worry helping you or Shadow in any way ?

    To worry is to pay interest on trouble that may never come!

    But at the same time, I can't imagine the pain he must be going through. How can I sit back and watch him suffer?

    You don't just sit back and watch...If you are into chanting mantras, you can do that...

    You can also play or chant this mantra "Medicine Buddha Mantra"

    How do you reconcile that?

    If the diagnoses is cancer then by doing what you can to make Shadow as comfortable as possible and do "Metta Meditation"

    "Tonglen" is another meditation, the link is a short guided meditation by Pema Chodron ...

    Kundospecialkayme
  • ScottPenScottPen Maryland Veteran

    @specialkayme, you're gonna have to trust your vet. Hopefully there's a local veterinary oncologist that you can be referred to as well... my pup had a couple of tumors that had to be removed and the oncologist was an important part of that decision. It wasn't anything as bad as bone cancer, and my dog's still alive 6 years later... but oh yeah the $$$ is serious. We didn't have kids yet, and we might have made a different choice if we did. You might want to get a second opinion too. There isn't a single physician, human or otherwise, that should discourage a second opinion from another qualified professional healthcare provider.

    Since our animal kin can't talk, we have to rely only on observables: the stuff that leads to the diagnosis and Shadow's behavior. Don't discount the importance of your emotions and feelings here... it's not selfish. It's part of how we make decisions. Your compassion and empathy will help you make the best decision you can. Ask your vet how they recommend you handle the palliative care and end-of-life decisions. They will know better than anyone. Your dharma practice can help your decision making and the emotional fallout from whatever you choose, but the criteria should come from the doctor.

  • @ScottPen Thank you for the support and guidance. I had a very bad experience with something similar 4 years ago. We had another golden retriever who had a toe tumor, and had it removed. The vet told us the tumor was removed, but it was something we needed to keep an eye on. After a few checkups, a year later we brought the dog back because he was having trouble breathing/sleeping. Same vet that removed the tumor. After going back and forth over 3 weeks, they took an xray and found his lungs were swiss cheese. The tumor metastasized to his lungs. The oncologist specialist said it was so advanced, there was nothing anyone could do, and gave him maybe a few days to live. When we asked about what we should do, the oncologist said he was in alot of pain, but it didn't really matter if we put him down now or waited, as he didn't have long to live. There wasn't much support, although I was an emotional reck at the time anyway. We made the tough decision, stayed up all night saying goodbye, and took him to the vet to be put down the next morning. As he was lying on the table awaiting the end, the vet told us he forgot about the tumor a year ago, and it was a shame because if he remembered we might have been able to catch it earlier. I don't believe its true, but it is a horrible thing to tell you as you're waiting to put your best friend to sleep, to give you so much guilt and pain that it could have been avoided. Then essentially "oh well" and we put him under. It was the worst experience of my life, and likely made me extremely overly sensitive to the situation at hand.

    I realize I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, and worrying isn't productive to anyone. But I don't know that I can help it. I'm hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.

    Shadow has perked up considerably in the past two days. He's on antibiotics (as a hail mary that it's an infection and not cancer) and an anti-inflammatory to help with the pain. I don't know if he's perked up because of the anti-inflammatory, or because we're paying more attention to him than we had in the past six months (having a toddler at home occupies a lot of your time).

    For better or worse, the ordeal has made me spend more attention to Shadow, and respect and appreciate the limited time I have with him. Maybe a few more days, maybe a few more years. Time will tell.

    Thank you to everyone for the support.

    lobsterShoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    As we all know the 'Shadow Buddha' breaks our Heart. 💔

    @specialkayme said:
    For better or worse, the ordeal has made me spend more attention to Shadow, and respect and appreciate the limited time I have with him. Maybe a few more days, maybe a few more years. Time will tell.

    Then we realise what is being learned. We apply what before was words but yet again is experience.
    With practice such as metta bhavna, the shadow becomes lighter and the moments more real.
    https://tricycle.org/magazine/stay-your-broken-heart/

    How wonderful. <3

    Here is one we did earlier ...
    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/8068/buddhism-and-heartbreak

  • The vet confirmed it's cancer. A cancerous mass has completely taken over his jaw, to the point that there is no bone anymore in one spot. A biopsy was taken and sent to a lab for diagnosis.

    The vet believed the cancer hadn't spread to his snout, or tonsils. He doesn't believe it has metastasized, but he admitted he didn't know much about cancer.

    Once the lab results come in, we'll consult with a specialist.

    Certainly not good news.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited July 18

    @specialkayme I need to tell you something, and I hope you will take it with the good spirit with which it is intended.

    I'm looking at this situation entirely from the dog's PoV.

    You dog doesn't have cancer.
    It doesn't know what cancer is.
    All it knows is that something's wrong or malfunctioning with its jaw, because it doesn't feel the way it felt before.
    It's possible that even though the problem may not have spread, your dog may feel it can't smell things as it once did, or taste things as it once did.

    I don't know if you have ascertained the pain level, if any, that Shadow might be feeling, and I'm sure it's hard to tell, but if he's acting normally, and seems happy, then there's little or no pain, because if a dog or any pet, is in pain, uncomfortable or in distress, you'll be very much aware of it.

    The big problem Shadow will have, is in understanding what the matter with you is.
    Because if you change your MO, and adapt your behaviour towards him, to sympathise, or make allowances for him, or treat him differently, he will know.

    And he won't understand why you're doing it.

    See, he doesn't know he's sick. Not in the way YOU know he's sick. He doesn't understand 'sickness' or cancer, anywhere near in the way you do.

    All he knows is, that when he's round you, you act differently, and he thinks it's because of something he's doing, and he doesn't know what to do about it.

    I used to have a lovely little dog called Lily, and we had her neutered. I went to the vet to pick her up, and when the veterinary nurse brought her out to me, I just took the leash, told her to sit, patted her head, then ignored her.
    Every instinct within me was screaming to pick her up and cuddle her, with her big bald-tummy patch, and her stitched-up scar, but I just acted as if nothing had happened, and took her home and carried on as normal.
    Because had I made any change in my normal approach to her, it would have confused her.

    It's all to do with Pack Dynamics.

    And Shadow looks upon you as being a leader, so any form of concession towards him, isn't seen by him as empathy or kindness.
    He sees it as you weakening in your position.
    He needs you to maintain your position, because if you change it, it won't help him. It will make him uncomfortable.

    He already knows he's loved; He's protected, fed, exercised, played with and comfortable and happy.
    But if you start to treat him differently, he will begin to behave differently.
    Because those are the signals you are giving him.
    And the signals you are giving him, will 'elevate' his position in the pack.

    You have a young child.
    If shadow gets snappy, or a little more bullish, it may be because of discomfort and pain. But it may well also be because you, through concessionary behaviour, have given him the authority to throw his weight about.

    As a Dog Behaviourist, I have in the past, been called many times to address supposed increased aggression in dogs towards children.
    Nothing life-threateningly serious, I'm relieved to say, but an alteration in behaviour, and increased 'bolshiness' in the dog.

    And it has always been because of mixed signals, and a treatment of the pet which in essence, gave it the authority to be higher in the pack, than the children were.
    The dog wasn't getting aggressive; it was trying to keep the "puppies" in line, because unwittingly, it had been given a higher position than them in the pack. Through the interactive dynamics with the adults.

    And I speak out of complete concern for both Shadow, and your child.
    Because although infrequent, it's not rare or uncommon even, to find situations where a classically placid dog has shown uncharacteristic aggression towards a family member.
    A number of factors come into play; breeding and socialising are definitely important, but how the dog is treated within the family is also a factor.

    I actually had to deal with a family whose TWO long-haired retrievers, were both aggressive and powerful characters, and this came down to primarily in-breeding, but also, in treatment.
    The owners were at a loss as to how to control and "Master" the dogs, in order to teach them pack Hierarchy.
    Everything had been done wrong, so in effect, the two dogs were the pack leaders.
    That took about a solid month of work on my part, to turn that one around.
    The dogs were still quite powerful characters, because the breeding had been very misguided, but the owners did manage to get on top of the 'Dominant' issue.

    I'm sure that is far from the case with Shadow. It sounds as if he is a beautifully-integrated and much-cherished family pet, and I totally get your affection, concern and care for him, with the desire to ensure that his comfort, peace and well-being continues for as long as it possibly can.

    But - putting it bluntly - don't go from winner to wimp in his eyes.
    He won't understand it as loving care. He will perceive it as a weakness.

    And it will confuse the hell out of him, because it will be happening around him, and he won't understand what to do to deal with the change of status. He will think it's something he's doing, and doing wrong, and may actually increase his anxiety, because all he knows is that he's weaker and below par. And what you do, will be giving him a higher position he's simply not up to accepting.

    Sometimes, the way we love our animals, is not the way they need to be loved.
    We need to love them on their terms, not ours.

    With much Metta to you, Shadow and your family.

    lobsterKundospecialkayme
  • @federica Thank you so much for taking the time to share that insight. I found it very informative.

    I don't disagree with any of it, but concept is easier than execution. It is difficult to remain pack leader while watching your friend be in pain, and knowing your time is limited with him. Overall, I think I'm doing a good job, but when its time to go to bed and Shadow is in so much pain he doesn't want to get up off the living room floor, it's difficult not to just sit down next to him and stay there. But doing that would be for my benefit, to make me feel better, but wouldn't be for his benefit. But it's still difficult not to treat him differently, even if a little bit.

    In the end, he's still a dog. He's our beloved member of the family, but he's still a dog. Rules are laid out for him and he has to obey them, cancer or not.

    But it doesn't make knowing I have to say goodbye to him any easier. But then again, I don't know anything else would either.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited July 18

    The big problem I had in conveying certain behaviours to people, is that the words 'ignore' and 'indifferent' are viewed as negative, on the whole, with regard to Human behaviour.
    But if you 'ignore' a dog, it doesn't mean you are punishing the dog, or that you don't want to know. It actually means you're taking the pressure off the dog, by signalling that you have no expectations of him.

    By being 'indifferent', it doesn't mean you don't care about the dog; it means you are communicating an understanding that they are going through something, and that's ok. It relieves them of panic, because again, it eliminates the 'ball's in your court, now what are you going to do?' angle.
    By "ignoring" the dog, and being "indifferent" to its condition, you're allowing the dog to take its lead from you; you're taking away any responsibility that he might perceive he has, to take charge of the issue.
    Because as you well know - he can't. So it's up to you to lead, be practical and deal with the circumstances.

    if you observe packs, they are very definitely aware and capable of affection. They can 'love' their fellow pack members, and they play, nuzzle and huddle up to one another, for comfort, warmth and safety. And watch how attentive parents they can be!

    You are essentially Shadow's "parent".
    He is ailing, so naturally he merits some kind of attention to his ailment.

    The thing to guard against, if you will, is to not get overly emotional with him and succumb to the very natural temptation to smother him with affection, and be excessively attentive.

    It's so hard to give any form of guidance because first and foremost, you didn't ask for it, so my presumptuousness is already going beyond what I would normally do. Secondly, this is the only form of communication we have so it's really inadequate, and I'm kinda pitching in the dark here.

    Please know I am always here for you.

    lobster
  • So it's been an ongoing parade of tests and consultations. Two biopsies have confirmed it's cancer, but they believe it's localized to the jaw and hasn't spread to the lympnodes. The only real possible treatment is a removal of half of Shadow's jawbone. The cost will run $5-8k, and there is no real guarantee it will resolve the problem. At best, he'll be missing half his jaw for the rest of his life. At worst, the surgery isn't successful, or infection sets in, or they can't get all of the cancer.

    The surgery costs more than we can comfortably afford, but I couldn't choose not to give him the chance to fight it out. So we scheduled the surgery for tomorrow. He'll need to stay with the vet for a few days for observation, and then he'll need some help for a few days/weeks after that.

    Win lose or draw, I've learned from the experieince thus far. It hasn't made it easy, but I've done my best not to treat him any differently. I've tried to provide him support, while understanding that his time with us is limited, and may be measured in years, months, or days. It's still sad though.

    Thinking good thoughts for the next 24 hours :)

    lobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 31

    I wish you and your dog all the best. I hope everything goes well.

    I know what you're going through, though, and how tough it is. Our cat got into some lillies a month ago, which are deadly to cats, and by the time we realized how sick he was, it was too late. We decide to have him put to sleep rather than progressively getting worse. It was a horrible day and decision, and we still cry about it. Attachment is a bastard.

  • Straight_ManStraight_Man Gentle Man Veteran
    edited September 1

    I am a buddhist, but have some attachments and cravings. I agree with Jason about the attachment part of what he said.

    It is time to think about what to do after you make the difficult choice if it comes to that. My dad had maxillary cancer after a tumor metastasized in his throat. He chose radiation and chemo. he died three months later.

    I had to let him go, I had no choice. The treatments were doing no further good, HE chose to end them and after his last breath we had a memorial service which was done at his request according to a layout he drew up. Then we scattered his ashes in the harbor as he had requested. then came the hard part, the grieving. As part of it, i had to let him go from earth, and clung to hope that we might meet again after I died. As I said, I am Buddhist.

    But I am not a monk. I only know a smattering of pali, so I rely on monks to teach me, and support some of them with some recompense for teaching. They told me about letting go, and to meditate on death and that it inevitability is part of man and animal existence. Since it is inevitable, you can let your best friend go when the time comes.

    JeffreyKundo
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