Piper, an 8-year-old West Highland White Terrier, beat the odds against cancer.
In December 2017, Piper, just 6 years old at the time, came inside from the backyard with a bloody mass protruding from her rear end. Her owners Rachel and John Askeland took her to the emergency room at Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital.
At first, the veterinarian thought she had a prolapsed rectum, further examination revealed it was a growth of some kind, so they referred Piper to the Flint Animal Cancer Center at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The mass turned out to be a rectal tumor and was surgically removed on Dec. 4, 2017. Laboratory results confirmed B cell lymphoma localized to her rectum. The good news: it had not yet spread.
“We scheduled the first available oncology consultation appointment with Dr. Doug Thamm,” who recommended a 15- week series of chemotherapy treatments.
“Although he couldn’t be sure of the results, he thought she was a good candidate since she was otherwise healthy, young, and the cancer hadn’t spread.”
“Dr. Thamm was very patient answering our questions and helping us understand Piper’s situation and what options we should consider,” Askeland says. “We were very grateful for his expertise.”
Rachel and John had many factors to consider. “If we did nothing, she would die, but there was also the chance we put her through chemotherapy, pay thousands of dollars, and she would die,” she says.
They decided that the odds were in Piper’s favor since the cancer had not spread. They were right, the small white terrier has a whole lot of fight in her.
“Piper was one tough nugget,” she says. “All through that process she was so stoic, her temperament never changed.”
Chemotherapy is very different for dogs than it is for people. Dogs do not have nearly as strong a reaction as humans do. On treatment days for Piper, “she would be a little more lethargic than normal,” Askeland says.
Some days her appetite would be impacted, but not often. “She always had prescriptions for anti-nausea medications and anti-diarrhea, but we seldom had to give them to her,” she says.
Even though chemotherapy is not an enjoyable experience, Piper was always happy to see her veterinary team. “I just can’t say enough about the oncology nurses at CSU… I know they treated her with so much compassion and love and that made it easier for me too,” Askeland says.
A few times throughout the 15-week treatment, Askeland would bring Piper in for chemotherapy and her blood cell count would be too low for treatment, adding a month to the process.
Piper completed her chemotherapy in May 2018. “It was so awesome when she finished treatment,” says Askeland. “CSU makes a big deal about it, almost like a graduation!”
She received a t-shirt, bandana, and had a photo shoot with some of the staff who took care of her. They left that day feeling hopeful that the treatments worked.
Piper’s owners say her recovery was so amazing that it is hard to tell that she went through such a trial. It has been two years and two months since she finished chemo, and over two and a half years since her initial diagnosis.
“Her appetite has changed some,” she says, “in that she can be finicky about what she eats.”
Some days Piper’s stomach bothers her and she does not want to eat her regular food so she gets a treat of fresh grilled chicken or hamburger. “It is important to us that she gets as much enjoyment in life as possible.”
Since Piper has completed chemotherapy, she has not had any reason to go to the vet other than regular check-ups.
Today, Piper is a playful, people-loving, squirrel-chasing, paddle-boarding dog. “She seems healthy and we are happy for any time we get to have with her,” Askeland says.
Photos by Kellen Bakovich/CVMBS