One in a million, without equal, once in a lifetime, presence, handsome, perfect. Joshua was all this and more in my eyes. He was a true joy to have in my life. If money was no object I would have cloned him so he could be the last dog I ever had. Then one day he is diagnosed with lymphoma and life as I know it changes.
December of 2014 was when our roller coaster ride began. It was a weekend and he started passing bloody diarrhea. It was scary enough for me to take him to the emergency hospital. They took X-rays and I was shown one of his abdomen. The vet pointed to a round area in the radiograph and explained this was his prostate and that it was enlarged. She said she could feel it in the physical exam and it was causing the bleeding and the straining. She said neutering him would reduce the size and he should be fine. This seemed like a simple fix, right? But something didn’t make sense to me. I had Josh on herbal prostate supplements for the last few years. It didn’t seem right but I’m not a vet so I made an appointment with his vet for neuter surgery. The day after his neuter everything went bad. His rear leg was swollen with edema, his scrotal area was swollen 3 times the normal size and he was in pain. I took him back to his vet and they put him on lasix and an antibiotic. Within a few days the swelling went down. Then a week later the bloody diarrhea was back. We took him to the ER and he was evaluated by a different vet. She said she could feel a mass and that there were polyps in his colon that were causing the bleeding. I asked her about the X-ray and that I was shown it was his prostate just a week or so ago. She brought up the X-ray on the computer and asked me to point where I saw it. I did and she says that is his bladder not his prostate. The prostate is located further back not able to be seen by X-ray. Shock doesn’t begin to convey what I was feeling in that moment.
We were scheduled with an internal medicine specialist for the next day (12/27). We woke up to what looked like a bloody crime scene. Our back room had blood everywhere. He was standing hunched up, drooling with blood on his rear, exhausted. We rushed him back to the ER. We met with the specialist and he explained Josh would need to stay so they could get him stable. He gave us options to figure out what exactly was going on inside, what was it they were feeling. We decided on a CT scan to know for sure what was happening. But first his digestive system would need to be clear to get an accurate look. For the next couple days he was on IV meds to clear his system. The CT scan was done and revealed a 3 inch by 6 inch mass in his pelvic area just below his rectum/colon. The next procedure needed was an ultrasound guided aspiration to collect cells and see what it was. At this point we are praying that it is treatable. I was told if it is lymphoma it can be treated and extend his life. Never thought I would be praying for lymphoma. The sample was sent out and they would call the next morning. It is New Years Eve and all we can do is think about what tomorrow will hold, missing Josh, hoping for the best.
The next morning I got the call. It’s lymphoma! We can start treatment that day. His official diagnosis is stage V, B cell lymphoma. We meet with an oncologist and she explains treatment options. We decide to start with the Madison Wisconsin protocol. It is a series of chemotherapy drugs over the course of 26 weeks. While I am personally not a fan of these kind of drugs, I wanted to hit this tumor hard. It was so large, if this could shrink it down I was willing to try for Joshua’s sake. He is given his first treatment and finally we are able to bring him home after 5 days at the ER. I was elated!
His first treatment went well with no ill effects. Over several weeks the tumor began to shrink, lymph nodes went down and he gained weight. But along the way he did react to several of the drugs. One caused low white blood cell count which created a spontaneous skin infection and high fever. Another caused horrible diarrhea and another made him nauseous and not feel well. After one bad reaction we took a week off from treatment so he could recover. He wasn’t up to another treatment so soon. The next treatment caused another reaction and when he went back for a check up she could feel his lymph nodes were enlarged and could feel the tumor again. At this point we made a decision to stop chemo and treat minimally with just prednisone. We made it to March, I wasn’t giving up.
I did so much reading on alternative treatments for cancer, special diets, supplements and now I was going to see what I could do. All along from the beginning I had him on a high meat protein, no carb diet but was not able to give supplements. The vet was concerned with a reaction to the chemo drugs. I consulted with a holistic vet and got the green light to go forward with my supplements. The following were incorporated into each meal- 2 tablespoons nitrogen flushed cod liver oil, 2 teaspoons Mega C Plus vitamin C powder, 1 heaping tablespoon of food grade diatomaceous earth, 1 500mg taurine capsule and multivitamin. At our next appointment for check up I was not sure what the oncologist would say. Was he better or worse? He seemed fine to me, I didn’t feel any enlarged nodes but it’s what’s inside that matters. I was relieved and amazed when she came back with him. No sign of the tumor and all lymph nodes are small!! I cried the whole way home, overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude.
For the next 3 months he had a clear check up. He made it to his 7th birthday. I was able to take him on a drive for a visit to play with his sister. I did everything I could to make each day relaxing, happy and enjoyable. Then at our June appointment she felt the tumor again, his lymph nodes were large. She offered to give him a shot of a chemo mixture but I declined. She prescribed him a large dose of prednisone but he couldn’t take that much. It made him so uncomfortable. I took him home and thought the next 24 hours would tell me what I needed to know. He was already having trouble, straining. I didn’t want him to go through another bloody horror. I went to bed late and I set my alarm for 3am to let him out. He was ready to go out at 3 and was still straining but little came out. I got up again at 7 and spent the morning with him. I knew this was it. My husband and I talked it over and decided to release him from anymore suffering. We said good bye to him June 20, 2015.
I think I cried more in that year than in my entire life before. Just when you think you have no more tears left, they start flowing. I miss him. I miss everything about him. I looked forward to seeing him every morning. I don’t believe you stop loving or missing them once they are gone. There is no past tense. If there was one thing you take from reading Joshua’s story, it would be to keep fighting, don’t give up. Where there is life there is hope, there is a chance for the positive. Be grateful for each day. Don’t be afraid to try alternative treatments. You know your dog better than anyone else, don’t forget that. Do what you feel is best.