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Teddy’s Tales: Hearing the Worst, Hoping for the Best

After the diagnosis of Teddy’s malignant melanoma, we were told how long Teddy might be expected to live. While I had asked the question, nevertheless, I didn’t want to think about the fairly hopeless answer. Instead, my mind ran towards all the human-grade ‘cures’ for cancer (see last blog post Teddy’s Tales: Chemo For Dogs?).

Having talked it through with our ever-sympathetic vet, Erin at The Strand Vet, it turned out that in fact, it was more pressing that Ted first had some fairly drastic surgery.

We headed to the Animal Referral Centre, a multi-disciplined referral hospital. With specialists in internal medicine, surgery and emergency critical care, it’s something of a one-stop-shop for such serious conditions. We had a meeting with Sarah, the vet in charge of internal medicine. She was fully prepared to answer all our questions, and calmly and clearly talked us through a plan of action.

First: surgery. Sarah introduced us to surgeon Karl, who told us what he would do. First he’d cut away a 3cm wide thickness along Ted’s upper lip to remove any other cancerous cells lurking there. Then he would take out the lymph glands in Teddy’s neck so they could be assessed for cancer spread. “By advancing Teddy’s remaining top lip forward and suturing the gum line, lip muscle and skin in separate layers,” he would meticulously piece Ted’s mouth back together again. Karl was so utterly assured, and so smilingly positive, that we didn’t need to think twice. Of course Ted would be fine with Karl. And he was. Teddy came home in a cone and, although dopey for a couple of days, was the model patient: no scratching, and he healed beautifully fast.

What’s more, instead of waiting for ages to hear about the results from the lymph nodes, in the shortest time, the results came back: clear. So, while we knew that, without a doubt, this aggressive strain of cancer will return, the clear results from the surgery left us with some more options.

Sarah told us that with Ted’s type of cancer, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are not considered as effective as immunotherapy. It’s the gold standard for humans. Having done some research (you can read more about Teddy’s vaccine, here), the side effects appear to be negligible – in some cases a mild fever – but the potential boost to Ted’s immune system might help him live healthily for longer. Sarah warned us that the vaccine would have to be imported from America, it would take some time to arrive, it was expensive and there was always the risk that it might not work for Ted. She left it up to us. The decision was easy to make – we’d give up a lot for Teddy, although in this case, we didn’t have to. Instead we thanked our lucky stars for pet insurance and went ahead with ordering the vaccine.

Now, two months later, Ted has fully recovered from the surgery and has happily accepted all four rounds of his immunotherapy. He is perfectly perky and utterly himself: albeit with a characterful slant to his face where the lump was removed which, we’ve decided, gives him a fetchingly quizzical look. If all is well in six months, he will have another shot of immunotherapy.

I say ‘if’ because I’m trying not to count my chickens, but then I’m also doing quite a good job of putting the all-too-short life expectancy timeline out of my mind. We’re busy seizing the moment over here in New Zealand, and when I allow myself to think about it, of course I’m hoping that Teddy will prove the exception to the rule.

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