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Please note that I'm a pet parent sharing my experience with my dog who was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. I am not a veterinarian and nothing in this blog post should be used to diagnose your dog. Please use this information to become familiar with the symptoms of this cancer and one pet parent's treatment plan. It's important that you work closely with your vet on the care of your dog.
I was walking towards my car after venturing a block away to get something cold to drink. It was 77 degrees and I was sitting in a car without AC because I didn't want to waste gas or risk killing my battery (which I've done before). I remember walking into the convenience store and hearing an argument between the cashier/owner and a customer. I quickly grabbed a Vitamin Water and headed to the front – this was my attempt to let the man know that the woman (the cashier) wasn't alone. It's something women do. We had a quick conversation, I asked if she was okay, purchased my drink and headed back to the parking lot.
Sydney and I were at the emergency vet because I thought she had bloat, a potentially deadly disease that may require surgery. My phone rang and I almost didn't answer it. I have a new phone and I'm not used to the ringtone yet. “Hello, this is Kimberly,” and what followed was the worst news of my life. The veterinarian was hesitant as if she knew that she was about to deliver a death blow to my heart and tears began slowly tracking down my face as I stood on a street corner on a beautiful sunny day. My girl had cancer and it was bad. We only had a few weeks left with her.
It was hard to follow the conversations and I had so many questions but I couldn't string two words together let alone form a sentence or intelligent question. All I could think about was watching my girl being walked away from me and being alone with strangers while I cried in my car. The only message in my head was “pull it together, don't allow her to see you upset.”
Sydney is dying.
We went home. I called Johan. I posted an update to Facebook. I contacted a couple of friends who have experience with cancer in dogs. And I tried to imagine life without Sydney. I couldn't. And then the words of the vet started running through my head and nothing made sense and that's when I started doing my homework and came across a video series about hemangiosarcoma in dogs and halfway through the first video, hope crawled it's way back in.
What is Hemangiosarcoma?
“Hemangiosarcoma of the spleen, or spleen cancer in dogs, is a cancer that is diagnosed in many canines every year. It is a cancer made up of the cells that line blood vessels, and therefore can be found in any part of the body. However, the most common sites include the spleen, liver and right auricle of the heart. Approximately 2/3rds of masses in the spleen are malignant and of those, 2/3rds are diagnosed as hemangiosarcomas. Splenic hemangiosarcoma is most often diagnosed in older dogs, with German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers being the most commonly affected breeds.” ~ AVIM.us
Sydney has been slowing down a lot lately; we attributed this to her arthritis and the summer heat (she's never been a fan). She's been pooping, peeing, and eating just fine. Except, she's started to have accidents in the house – we thought this may be related to the arthritis or her age. What brought us into the vet was her swollen stomach (which I thought was bloat) and pale gums. The veterinarian made her diagnoses based on an ultrasound. I don't doubt that Sydney has cancer, but I'm not ready to accept that she only has a few weeks left until I've heard from her veterinarian and an oncologist. I have no desire to put Sydney through painful procedures and make the time she has left miserable, but I also don't want to give up on her if there is hope.
My Dog Has Hemangiosarcoma
It took 24 hours to recover from the news that my dog has cancer and likely only has a few weeks to live. I sent Johan a text message that simply stated “Sydney is dying.” But as I shared above, as the evening went on, the diagnosis didn't make sense. The next day, I understood why it didn't make sense after speaking with our veterinarian.
1 – The Ultrasound – Sydney had a fast scan ultrasound. This is usually done when a veterinarian is short on time in order to give a quick diagnosis. A proper ultrasound needs to be scheduled and a dog needs to be sedated. The issue with the fast scan is that the dog will be standing and may be moving around so it's difficult to get a clear picture of what's happening. Also, the blood in the stomach obscures the view making it hard to see what's happening clearly.
2 – It's a Cancer Guess, not a Cancer Diagnosis – while a mass can be seen, whether or not it's malignant cannot be determined via an ultrasound. The spleen needs to be taken out and a sample needs to be sent to the lab for testing. While a veterinarian can look at symptoms, results of a physical exam, and an ultrasound and come to an educated guess, there is still a chance that this isn't malignant cancer.
3 – Hemangiosarcoma isn't a Death Sentence – this is a sneaky, aggressive cancer that is usually detected in an emergency visit to the vet after a dog collapses. There's little to know pain and many of the symptoms can easily be explained away as something else. We thought Sydney was slowing down due to age, the heat, and her arthritis. The next day, I learned that I got Sydney in early. Although hemangiosarcoma is aggressive, we still have time to change her fate.
If you receive a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma (spleen cancer) and you're told that your dog doesn't have long, please get a second opinion. I thought we were going to have to put my girl down and less than 24 hours later, I'm hopeful that we'll have many more years with her.
After a Hemangiosarcoma Diagnosis
There are a few things that I've had to do to protect myself and create a healthy environment for Sydney and our other dogs. I'm taking a break from everything that's negative and causes stress: Facebook, reality TV, and toxic people. It may seem hard to give up Facebook, especially for influencers (which is what they call bloggers now), but it's easy to take a break from Facebook while still managing your Facebook page.
1 – When going to Facebook, go to your Facebook page or the Facebook Groups feed (I joined a hemangiosarcoma support group) instead of your personal profile.
3 – Take this time to work on your newsletter and blog.
4 – Only chat with friends via Messenger. Or phone. I've been talking on the phone A LOT. I'm thankful that I'm part of a generation of people who don't mind chatting on the phone (thanks, Diane, Tina, Krista, Billy, and Jennifer).
5 – Remove your Facebook app from your phone (or remove the shortcuts) and keep the Facebook Page app.
I immediately felt a sense of calm. I didn't realize how much my daily stress was caused by Facebook. Even my veterinarian told me that I needed to focus on the positive and get off of Facebook.
Hey, it's Doctor's orders.
Put Sydney on a Keto Diet
If you had the opportunity to watch the Dog Cancer Series, then you've heard of the benefits of a keto diet for dogs with cancer. A keto diet starves cancer cells, slows the growth of tumors, and, in some cases, stops the growth and make tumors shrink in size. Cancer cells feed off of sugar, which is why a low carb diet is important, but that's not enough. My dogs currently eat a low carb diet, however, protein converts to sugars too. What Sydney needs is a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs.
I started by creating a meal using the KetoPet Calculator. The next day, I reached out to a friend who calculates meals for pet parents and she tweaked the meal. Sydney is eating a 2:1 (fed twice daily). Here is an example of one of her meals.
- 149 grams – 80/20 ground beef
- 26 grams – fat (ghee, coconut oil, MCT oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, kefir)
- 12 grams – chia seeds
- 14 grams – pureed low glycemic veggies (red cabbage, green cabbage, kale, spinach, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower)
When it comes to feeding a keto diet, I was overwhelmed. My concern was that I'd end up feeding a high fat/high-calorie diet, Sydney wouldn't go into ketosis, she'd just gain weight. But it was easier than I realized. I suggest asking someone to formulate a meal for you and then go from there. By day three I was winging it, using my original meal as a guide, and Sydney stayed in ketosis. I use the KETO-MOJO meter to test Sydney's ketones. It's quick and easy to use.
Is This Enough Food for My Dog?
I thought that Sydney would be miserable on this diet, however, I remember my friend telling me that the meals seem small, but the increased fat will make our dogs feel full. And she was right. Sydney ate her meal and walked away. We're used to her eating and then seeing who's meal she can move in on next.
Can a Dog on a Keto Diet have Treats?
Sydney is a food motivated girl and her new diet does not allow treats, which sucks because she usually gets a few freeze-dried green-lipped mussels daily. I've been advised that I can take some of the food from her meals, roll it into a ball and store in the fridge for treats during the day. After a few days, I felt comfortable giving her the green-lipped mussels or freeze-dried salmon as a treat – just one or two small ones a day. I chose these because they include fat. So far, she's remained in ketosis despite the treats. But it's important that we remain conservative.
Resources for Keto Diet for Pets
- KetoPet Sanctuary – you will find a helpful ebook and keto meal calculator
- KetogenticK9 – there is a helpful tutorial on how to create your own spreadsheet that calculates your dog's keto meals
- Baby Steps to Healthier Pets
Supplements Added to Sydney's Diet
It's tempting to buy every supplement people recommend (another reason to get off of Facebook), but that would be a terrible idea. I am using supplements recommended by Sydney's veterinarian and I gain comfort from hearing from others who have had success with these supplements.
Yunnan Baiyao – the emergency vet prescribed Yunnan Baiyao to stop the bleeding. Sydney get's 2 capsules twice daily (with breakfast and dinner) for five days. Then she goes 5 days without the supplement; then we start again. You can purchase Yunnan Baiyao through your veterinarian or at Walmart – yeah, I was surprised too.
Hemangio Sarcoma Formula – a blend of Chinese herbs that support dogs diagnosed with cancer of the spleen or a bleeding spleen by boosting the immune system.
Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum Decoction) powdered herbs – I purchased this from a local company. This Chinese supplement is well known for its positive impact on humans (and dogs) that have cancer. “Bupleurum can induce apoptosis or cell death in cancer cells and inhibit cancer cell growth and division.” It's been used successfully with many cancers, including sarcomas.
Fermented Fish Stock (from Answers Pet Food) – not only is this a healthy source of fat, it provides Omega 3 fatty acids, it reduces inflammation,, and it has a healthy amount of CoQ10, which is great for heart health (important with this diagnosis).
CBD Oil – I'm added CBD oil capsules to Sydney's meals twice daily. I prefer Canna-Pet products because their capsules provide relief for a longer period of time versus just CBD oil. I'm adding CBD oil to promote calm, to alleviate discomfort, and (fingers crossed) help kill cancer cells.
Turkey Tail Mushroom – a couple of months ago, I purchased a container of turkey tail from Canine Matrix and forgot about it until two days before Sydney's diagnosis. I ordered two more containers so that I always have it on hand. Turkey tail is a powerful antioxidant that helps to boost the immune system while fighting certain cancers. I add 3 scoops to her morning meal.
Chaga Mushroom – did you know that Chaga mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants? Over 3 million; berries aren't even close. A friend of mine (thanks, Diane) recommended Chaga mushrooms and I found them at a local supplement store. They can also be ordered online. I add three scoops to her evening meal.
C60 Olive Oil w/Pure Hemp Extract – someone recommended this supplement to me a long time ago and I began adding it to Sydney's diet to support her joints. She's not able to take prescription pain medication because it might promote bleeding. This supplement really helps.
For now, I'm sticking with these supplements because they work well together and people are reporting successful outcomes (more time with their dog / improved quality of life for their dog). For years, I've given Sydney Canine System Saver. I've decided to take her off of this supplement temporarily. She's getting so many supplements and it's important that I stick to this regimen because it is proving to be successful with other dogs.
What About Golden Paste?
A friend told me to make a huge batch of golden paste and I almost did it and then several people reminded me that one of the side effects of turmeric makes it the worst thing to give to a dog with a bleeding condition because, in some cases, turmeric prevents clotting of the blood. So I will not be adding any golden paste or any supplement that contains turmeric to Sydney's diet. The other dogs, however, will receive golden paste so my huge batch won't go to waste.
Poly for Pets
Another supplement that was recommended to me is Poly for Pets. It will be arriving in a few days and I'll start adding this to Sydney's diet as well. This is a powerful antioxidant that boosts the immune system, detoxifies the body, and alleviates symptoms of cancer.
I asked the company to send me a list of studies and other information for their products for anyone who would like to check it out:
- Board Certified Oncologists’ STAGE 4 Cancer study that attained a 71% survival rate with 1,000 Cancer Patients over a 70 month period (5 years – 10 months).
- Scientific Research for Poly MVA: Independent 3rd Party Testing with 8 Cancer Cell Lines exposed to Poly MVA, Dr. Forsythe’s 1000 Stage 4 Cancer Patient Study Presentation, Link to Poly MVA Published Research on NIH Website, Dr. Garnett’s Patent Filings since 1970
- Published research and Videos detailing that Disease & Cancer are all linked to and start with Mitochondrial Dysfunction. Graphics of How Poly MVA supports each cell to PREVENT Disease and Cancer.
Our Hemangiosarcoma Game Plan
The spleen must go.
I had a couple of long chats with our veterinarian and the best route is to remove Sydney's spleen. Cancer or no cancer, a bleeding spleen that can rupture isn't a good thing, so she is scheduled for surgery in a few weeks. First, she'll need a few appointments to make sure she's ready:
1 – Sydney received x-rays to see if the cancer has spread to her other organs, specifically her lungs. If it had spread to her lungs, then surgery would become riskier.
2 – Sydney's next appointment will be a full ultrasound; for this appointment, she'll be sedated. This work is being done at a different clinic because (1) my veterinarian is booked up for the month and she doesn't want Sydney to wait for an opening and (2) the clinic doing the ultrasound also has an oncologist who will do Sydney's follow up care.
3 – Sydney's third appointment will be a Zoom chat – they'll examine her and we'll chat via Zoom on the current state of her health and we'll schedule the surgery within the next week.
4 – Sydney goes in to have her spleen removed.
5 – We discuss recovery and if chemotherapy and radiation are necessary.
Sydney is covered by Trupanion. I've nearly paid my deductible and once it has been reached, Trupanion will go on to pay 90% of the remaining costs, including vet appointments, surgery, and medication. The wonderful thing about Trupanion is that I don't have to pay everything upfront. They will pay their share to the vet while I cover my share.
How Sydney is Doing Now
Each day saw improvement. A day after her diagnosis, we began to see some pink in her gums again and this grew a little each day. She was tired due to the anemia, but by Saturday (3 days after her diagnosis) she had more energy, she walked around the yard for so long that I had to call her inside to keep her from overdoing it.
Her stomach (which was the first sign that something was wrong) is still bloated, however, it has gone down a small amount. I've been told that we should see it go down 4-5 days after starting on Yunnan Baiyao.
Another pet parent recommend a ramp for our car to prevent Sydney from jumping down from the car, which can cause internal bleeding (Thanks, Belinda). So I purchased both a Solvit ramp and steps for the bed. When it comes to the bed, I've been told that it's important to train our dogs to walk down the steps too – they will walk up, then jump down (thanks, Diane). So we'll be working on that too.
And I ordered a prayer blanket. I was raised in the church and my faith is a big part of my life. Several years ago, Scout got sick out of the blue and the veterinarians couldn't figure out what was wrong. A reader and her friends came together and made him a quilt and they prayed during the creation, which made it a prayer blanket. I swear it worked and Scout loves his blanket. So, of course, Sydney will get a prayer blanket too.
The hemangiosarcoma support group on Facebook has been amazing. There is a wealth of knowledge in the files and the members are responsive, supportive, and kind. I will continue to post updates on my blog about Sydney's progress. I hope that by sharing our story, we can give others hope.
Thank you for the continued support, prayers, and well wishes that everyone is sending our way. It may seem like nothing, but it's everything and it has been what has helped me shake the sadness and focus on the positive. Thank you.
Update on Sydney
Sydney's diagnosis was confirmed seven days after the initial vet visit and we learned that she isn't a candidate for surgery (it won't help her). I offer more details in a blog post about her cancer diet and supplement protocol. Sydney gave us five weeks after her initial diagnosis. When she reached a point where she was having more bad days than good days, it was clear that she was in pain, and her quality of life was declining, Dr. Sara of Compassion 4 Paws came to our home to help Sydney transition. Our hearts are broken, but we take solace in knowing that we fought for her, we loved her, and she passed in our arms being loved.