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When a Beloved Pet Gets Sick

In the beginning of September, our family dog, a 6-year-old Cairn Terrier named Zac, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma.  Given his age and apparent health, this came as a huge shock to my family.  In our mind, Zac was in his prime.  He was attending weekly agility classes with my mom, serving as a therapy dog at nursing homes and schools, and patrolling the backyard for any lizards that may be hiding.  He was energetic, curious, and anything but ill.

In August, my mom noticed a small lesion on his tongue and took him in to get a veterinarian's opinion.  After watching it for a couple weeks, she decided to get the spot surgically removed.  The biopsy and histopathology indicated that the lesion was cancerous, and after multiple tests, the diagnosis was made.  Unfortunately, T-cell lymphoma does not have a great reputation for being cured.  In fact, it is often found to have metastasized to other areas of the body, shortening the life expectancy.

I encouraged my mom to bring Zac to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital.  Now, in case it hasn't been made clear, this dog means the world to my mom.  He is often found walking by her side, riding shotgun in her car, and waiting at the door for her to come home. Needless to say, she was ready and willing to take the next step in treating Zac.  She arrived at A&M incredibly nervous, afraid of the potentially grave prognosis Zac may receive.  After an informative and comforting visit with Dr. Claudia Barton, one of the oncologists, and Christina, the fourth year student on the case, Zac was evaluated for the presence of metastasis and other disease processes.  I was able to participate in the diagnostic workup, viewing the slides with the lymph node aspirates, watching the ultrasound of his abdominal cavity, and evaluating the thoracic radiographs, all alongside Dr. Barton and Christina.  Tears flowed from my mom's eyes when I told her that there was not an ounce of evidence that the lymphoma had metastasized, and that it was treatable.

Photo of Zac

Throughout the entire process, Dr. Barton explained the disease, the potential treatments, and what to expect in the future, providing not only valuable information but instilling hope in all of us, especially my mom.  We decided to use Tomotherapy, a type of radiation, to treat the tongue in the event that cancerous cells remained.  My mom left the appointment at A&M feeling encouraged and anxious to begin the treatment.  At this point, Zac has undergone three of the five radiation treatments, and he is doing great.  He will complete the last two and undergo periodic testing for the recurrence of lymphoma.  While the behavior of lymphoma is very unpredictable, and it is possible that it may resurface or metastasize, it is also possible that we may never have to deal with this disease in Zac again.  This experience reinforced the importance of having a compassionate and knowledgeable veterinarian, and the impact it can make on not only the animals they treat, but the owners as well.