Eli was our 3rd guide dog puppy when we got him as a transfer several years ago. We’ll never forget that beautiful day at GDB when we picked him up. He was 13 weeks old. His head was already close to full size, but his body was that of a puppy. His limbs were short and strong. He looked like he was standing in front of the house of mirrors totally unproportional.
His size and status were that only found during ackward puppy growth. He was the cutest puppy I had ever seen. His forehead full of expression and beaming pack with an extra row of smiling eyes. His tail was powerful and wagging so fast that I thought it would knock Amie over. Those memories of the first time I saw him wander back into my head as difficult times pass before us.
In January of this year, Amie took Eli to get x-rays at her work. We had noticed Eli was hesitant to jump on the bed. Eli never showed any hesitation with anything. He was the type of dog to act first and think later. We thought it would be a good idea to take x-rays to check him over. We thought perhaps he was getting arthritis in his back legs. We figured since Eli is turning 9 year old that a thorough check over was a good idea.
Well we discovered more than we were ready to know in January 2013. Eli had a tumor or lesion that destroyed part of his hip bone. He had shown very little evidence of pain. I was amazed at his pain tolerance. Eli like many dogs decided not to show pain because it is not in his breeds nature. Labrador Retrievers are notoriously tough dogs and try to remain strong In times of pain. I suppose when surviving in the wild that this would be a vital attribute for any animal trying to avoid the predation radar.
After our discovery of Eli’s cancer, we took him on a road trip. While we were sitting in the exam room listening to the oncologist (fancy word for cancer doctor), she gave us a full lesson on bone cancer. We were told all about osteosarcoma. The lesson was very tough to swallow. She said this cancer could be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, but treatment would only slow down the cancer. If Eli had this cancer, then he may only live for 4 more months. Did Eli have this cancer? The immense pain described from osteosarcoma all weighed very heavy on our minds. The doctor said she might suggest Eli as a candidate for a hemipelvectomy. With this surgery and chemotherapy treatment we were told he may last for another 12-16 months. She said osteosarcoma was 100% fatal and non-curative, but the process of surgically removing his right leg and hip may releave him of a ton of pain and slow things down. This option was very devastating for me to think about.
As we discussed different opinions, and educated ourselves about Eli’s options, it became clear this was not going to be easy. Everything is expensive when it comes to treating cancer. We had opted on not getting insurance for Eli just six months prior. The very topic came up just months before Eli got sick. Now we found ourselves saying “If only we had gotten insurance for him. ” On top of this we still had not found ourselves with a certain diagnosis. Our first biopsy came back benign chondroma. What? That is just a non-cancerous cartilage mass? This didn’t correspond with the bone damage we viewed on his hip x-ray? We needed a 2nd opinion.
We got a fine needle aspirate biopsy the day we visited UC Davis. This was our 2nd attempt and finding out what cancer Eli had. This time it came back chondrosarcoma? We did some research and found out this would be ideal. Osteosarcoma is the really bad bone cancer, chondrosarcoma is not as bad because it is not 100% fatal. Really? In shock, we now had feelings that Eli may be able to survive. One can only imagine the emotional roller coaster ride going through our heads.
When we explored what step to take next, we were still being told we need to do CT scan guided biopsy. So a third biopsy? What the hell? I was not very understanding and wanting to accuse somebody of screwing up. Amie was calm and cool, but fully aware of the necessary steps we needed to take for Eli. At this point we were looking at $3,500 of diagnostic evaluation and had not even treated the cancer yet.
After the third biopsy we had a 100% diagnosis. Eli had chondrosarcoma after all. This form of bone cancer is much more rare. We acertain that it occurs less than 10% of the time in bone cancer cases. We also just avoided the dreaded osteosarcoma which we were told was non-curative and 100% fatal. We were elated. May Eli be able to survive?
Now we were asking ourselves “should we go to Colorado State University to get Eli the best treatment available for him today? Eli could get treated by a oncology vet staff unmatched in the country. He could get a specialized radiation therapy that would knock down his tumor with full effects realized in six months.”
Thanks to the love, support, and help of many people, we were able to raise $4,500 to help with the expenses to get Eli treatment in Colorado. In fact we just returned. Eli took to the road trip well and handled all the poking and prodding very well. We got him his radiation treatment, and now are waiting to see how his body takes it all. It really is still a mystery. The way an organism handles radiation, and how effective the treatment is on a given cancer. We really don’t know much even at this point I am discovering. At least his radiation was very concentrated and the risks are minimal.
We decided to film everything I described in this blog today. We have been filming for several months now. I am going to call this story “Anything for Eli”. Amie and I think that this film may help inspire others to save their dogs and not to give up if their pups get cancer. Thanks again to all who helped us pay for Eli’s bills. So far we have spent $10,000 approx. We really appreciate our freinds and fans. We are very blessed.