I was just about to leave my clinic for lunch one day in September when something held me back. Chichi had an appointment booked later in the afternoon. But his owner was worried that he was getting worse and couldn’t wait.
Chichi met me in the exam room with kisses, but his tail wag didn’t have it’s normal enthusiasm. After noting his pale gums and weak pulses, my heart sank when I discovered a basketball size mass in his belly. He winced as I carefully examined his abdomen, and I knew for a stoic boy like him this was evidence of intense pain. Chichi, at 70 lbs, is a not only a tough guy, but also lap dog and his owner’s best friend.
An X-ray confirmed that the mass occupied most of the belly and was most likely associated with his spleen. Splenic tumors are common in dogs, generally carry a poor prognosis, and are high risk for rupture causing life-threatening bleeding.
The next few hours that unfolded were very emotional. The treatment choices I presented to Chichi’s owners were not pleasant, a high risk surgery that may prolong his life for a few months, pain medication to go home until he lost his battle with the tumor, or saying goodbye. Chichi’s owner believed it was not his time. And even though it was against the odds, opted for surgery. Chichi was admitted to the hospital and began a series of treatments and tests to prepare him for surgery the next day, including his first blood transfusion.
The next morning I found a somewhat perkier Chichi in his hospital cage and a very worried owner. I prepped his owner for a very bloody surgery – one Chichi may not survive. His owner requested to stay with him during the surgery; reassuring me he would be able to tolerate the goriness. I knew it may be the last time he saw his dog and I agreed.
Surgery quickly confirmed several suspicions. A giant fragile tumor of the spleen occupied his belly. It ensnared several other abdominal organs including the pancreas and omentum (fatty net within abdomen that the intestines reside in). Removing the monster tumor was brutal and tedious. Some blood vessels were the diameter of my finger!! Chichi was going to need another transfusion. However the extra unit of dog blood we had collected in was contaminated and not useable. Tawnya, the surgery technician who had been assisting in the surgery, volunteered her own dog to be used as a donor. And thanks to Tawnya and Diesel, Chichi received the blood he desperately needed.
After an hour of surgery the tumor was finally able to be lifted and removed from the abdomen. It was a beast weighing eight pounds!!
I quickly finished reassembling and closing his abdomen to get Chichi to recovery as quickly as possible. He was cold and weak and his recovery was touch-and-go for 48 hours. Chichi’s digestion and intestinal tract did not function well due to trauma, medications, and blood loss. As he slowly fought his way back we received surprising news from the lab. Chichi’s tumor was not what we had expected!! Although it was still cancer that would likely be terminal, it was not the super aggressive form that is most common! Chichi began a form of low intensity chemo and herbal therapy and his recovery improved in leaps and bounds!
Over the last couple months I have enjoyed frequent picture updates his owner has sent me of Chichi enjoying the beautiful fall weather and activities he hasn’t done in years – like wriggling around on the leaves on his back, feet in the air!
Making a choice for high-risk surgery isn’t the right decision for every pet or family. But I felt blessed to be part of this journey with Chichi.