A little over a year ago, our family’s dog, Penny Lane, was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma. Since this is one of the cancers that is usually very responsive to chemotherapy, we decided to treat her with a 25 week regimen. I administered most of the chemo, but Dr. Kathy Mitchner helped with one of the drugs that requires a little more expertise and care to administer than I felt comfortable doing myself.
Penny almost immediately went into remission. Her lymph nodes returned to normal size and she was her usual energetic self. A few days after a couple of the medications she would not eat well and exhibit some nausea, but this was treatable and didn't last long. We finished the chemotherapy in early September.
In December, I noticed that her lymph nodes were enlarging again and I started back on the chemotherapy. Initially her lymph nodes decreased in size, but this was short-lived and again they were enlarging despite the chemotherapy. This is pretty typical of lymphoma. When it returns, as it almost always does, it can be resistant to the drugs that worked so well during the first round of chemo. Because of some abnormal lab values, it was deemed more risky to try some of the other chemotherapy alternatives, that is, it could hasten her decline with more severe side effects, etc.
I decided to just try to make her as comfortable as possible for as long as possible because we were faced with an inevitable outcome. Chemo was worth it the first time because most dogs go into remission and it did give her over a year with a good quality of life. The only significant symptom she was showing was a cough that was likely from enlarged lymph nodes putting pressure on her airways. This responded to cough suppressants.
Just in the past week or two, her appetite declined, but she responded to an appetite stimulant. Over this past weekend, she stopped eating altogether. After struggling with the decision (again, as a pet owner), I decided the time had come to let her go and she was put to sleep as I held her. I’ve never had to euthanize one of my own pets, but as she peacefully went to sleep, I sensed that I had done the right thing.
As a veterinarian, clients with chronically ill pets often ask me, “How will I know it’s time to consider compassionate euthanasia? I always tell them, “You’ll know when the time comes.” It’s likely you’ve lived with your pet all his or her life and you know them better than anyone else. I’ve actually seen pets who reached a point where they seemed to “give up” and convey in various ways to their caretakers, “It’s time, I’m ready.”
Penny is greatly missed and was a special member of our family for over 12 years. Even now, tears come to my eyes as I write this.
For the perspective of my daughter (Penny’s favorite person) who moved to L.A. this summer along with some great pictures and video of Penny, go here.