Northrop terrier Chili was only five years old when she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on her abdomen last May. “Cancer” was not a word Marilyn Davison wanted to hear. Her husband had died of cancer very quickly, and a previous dog she had adopted just a few months after his death to bring some warmth into her life developed cancer and died after six months of treatment. She brought Chili home soon after, and now Chili, too, was diagnosed with the disease.
Ms. Davison sprung into action, having the tumor — a soft tissue sarcoma — excised by a surgeon at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals and then opting for chemotherapy. “Soft tissue sarcomas often return” she says, “so even though the tumor was removed with clean margins, I chose to treat it aggressively.”
That’s when her life was really turned upside down. She had to take Chili to Tufts every other week for almost three months for the chemo treatments, arriving at 7 in the morning after a one-hour drive from a Boston suburb and often having to stay until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. One of the reasons the appointments took so long was that Ms. Davison had enrolled Chili in a study of the effects of the chemotherapeutic drug on the heart.
On the in-between weeks, Chili had to see her vet closer to home for blood tests that were sent to Tufts to determine whether Chili was in good enough shape for the next chemo round.
“I was more than a little nervous the whole time,” Ms. Davison says. Her routine was upended, too. She would never leave Chili alone for more than two hours unless she could find someone to come and stay with her. And while away from home, she would constantly watch Chili on a video camera. “My goal was to keep her as absolutely stress-free and as healing as possible during the chemo,” she says, and the camera helped her keep an eye on her pet.
Ms. Davison’s own quality of life was significantly impacted in other ways as well. “I was definitely stressed,” she says, and “ever vigilant. I did not go to see friends all summer or take vacation.” One time, she even left a graduation early. “I couldn’t stand it,” she relates. “I looked at Chili on the video camera and could see that she was looking toward the door.”
Yet “another stressor I encountered,” Ms. Davison says, “was the need to change my will. I wanted to add additional funds for Chili’s caretaker to continue treatment if something happened to me suddenly.”
Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. Chili’s scan after the summer showed that all signs of the tumor were gone, and it looks like she will go on to live a cancer-free life.
Ms. Davison credits the veterinary staff at Tufts for Chili’s phenomenal care. “They have just been incredible,” she says, singling out many departments and people, including Your Dog editorial board member Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, for her help on the behavioral medicine side. (Dr. Borns-Weil heads the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts.)
Still, Ms. Davison says, “every time Chili has another scan I’m highly stressed waiting for the results. I’m going to continue to worry.”