I began pet blogging out of a simple love of animals and a desire to share my pets with the world. Certainly, pet blogging offers many benefits. As bloggers, we share our pets, network with like minded animal lovers, and perhaps even make a few extra dollars. What I did not know when I started pet blogging was that it would also directly produce the incredible benefit of prolonging and, perhaps even saving, my dog’s life. This is that story. I hope there is a lesson here not just for fellow bloggers, but for all pet parents. As difficult as it may be to publicly share the hard things that happen in life, hope and salvation can result from it.
Writing About The Good Things
It is easy to write about the good things. The things that make us happy. The things that are cute and that people will adorn with little heart comments on Facebook. But writing about the bad things is hard. Who wants to rehash the day that they learned that their dog has cancer, or the day that their cat was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia? The urge can be strong to hide from adversity, to suffer in silence, to simply follow the recommendations of the vet without question, all while hoping for the best. Anyone who has publicly shared adversity involving their pets will also tell you that it simply cannot be done without tears. Not just a few tears. Buckets of tears. Tears dripping onto the keyboard with a desktop full of tissues. I am not a particularity emotional person. Yet this story comes with a lot tears. Thus, it is not surprising that plenty of pet parents avoid sharing the bad and focus on the good. Putting on a positive face is often seen as a good thing. “Be positive and upbeat for your pet,” the experts will tell you. Wallowing in negativity is viewed as bad for our own health. Projecting positivity is indeed good advice. But something amazing can also come out of sharing adversity, especially if that sharing requires joining groups and conducting research. It can lead to hidden information that could change the entire outcome.
On May 8, 2015, I sat on the floor quietly weeping and waiting for the phone to ring as my treasured corgi Ty, my heart dog, my best friend, that once in a lifetime extra special pet, lay weakly beside me, possibly dying. My husband left for work, feeling rather helpless, leaving me with a silent kiss on the head, my only response being more tears. At 9:00 am, the phone call with the terrifying confirmation came. Ty had stage Vb B-cell lymphoma, the worst stage there is. A few hours later, he was receiving his first dose of chemotherapy. After that, we would make eight weekly long drives for chemo, followed by another eight sessions every other week. I was told that, if remission was achieved, the average survival time was around 12 months. While I shared the news on Ty’s Facebook page, I waited for some time to write about it on the blog. I felt as if doing so would be profiting from my dog’s illness, and that it would further be an exercise in spilling needless tears.
I am a researcher by nature. I am also a researcher by profession. So it is not surprising that, from day one, I spent countless hours reading everything I could find, not only on canine lymphoma, but also on lymphoma in other animals and in humans. I went to Ty’s second chemo appointment armed with information and a lengthy list of questions generated from that research. I learned about diet, supplements, holistic care, and research studies. Endlessly I searched for anything I could find that might save my precious boy. After about a month, I decided that I had so much good information that it would be wrong not to share it. By then Ty was responding to treatment, and I set out to write the resources that I wished I had easily found when Ty was first diagnosed.
Writing About The Bad Things
When I wrote When Your Dog Has Lymphoma, the goal was to provide as much information as possible in one article about dealing with an initial lymphoma diagnosis. From there, I moved on to write about topics such as diet, supplements, and canine lymphoma resources. Doing so required additional research and fact checking. It was through making a list of resources for the blog that I came across additional information on alternative and adjunct treatments, several Facebook groups, and some obscure research studies that I would not likely have found otherwise. Little did I know at the time, but through writing, I found a goldmine. Little did I know that it would also later fundamentally change both Ty’s life and my own.
Entering the Unknown
On June 17, 2015, Ty was confirmed via ultrasound to be in remission. Like many others, we progressed through the chemotherapy protocol with various ups and downs. Sometimes Ty would not eat. Other times, he was tired. One by one, he lost his whiskers, often leaving them orphaned in his food bowl for me to find and tearfully discard. But he remained my sweet boy. Our bond was always strong, but cancer solidified it. Day to day activities take on more meaning when time is limited. I made the most of them. In October 2015, the protocol was finished, and the waiting began. Every night I would obsessively check Ty’s lymph nodes for signs of swelling. I lived in fear of the cancer’s inevitable return. That is a fear that will never go away.
It was nearing the anniversary of Ty’s diagnosis that I learned about experimental T-cell infusion therapy though a specialty Facebook group. I had previously come across an older study involving eight dogs that indicated that the isolation, expansion, and reinfusion of autologous cancer killing T cells could prolong remission time in dogs with B cell lymphoma who had undergone chemotherapy. T-cell infusion essentially uses the pet’s own immune system to target cancer. I was aware of various forms of T-cell infusion being studied in people, but had seen only the one study in dogs. That study did not grab my attention at the time, since it had reported data for only about a year after the treatment. What I was soon to learn was that there were dogs who received infusions who remained in remission for as long as five years. It turned out that a veterinarian in Washington State was establishing a new project and enrolling dogs to receive the treatment. After a lot of frustration and persistence, I arranged for Ty to be one of the initial 16 dogs enrolled. It was not easy. Communication was slow. We would need to take part long distance, and Ty’s oncologist, who was about to go on maternity leave, was not particularly interested. Fortunately, my local veterinarian was happy to help. A donation was arranged to the Perseus Foundation, who was funding the project, to help get Ty into the project. If accepted, Ty’s blood was to be sent to Washington via overnight express and the T cells sent back us in Illinois for infusion. Getting the OK to take part was slow and frustrating.
Then, on May 10, 2016, two days past the anniversary of Ty’s diagnosis, two things happened within a hour of one another: Ty was accepted for the T-cell project, and I learned that my article, When Your Dog Has Lymphoma, was a finalist for a Blogpaws Nose to Nose Award (a much more deserving article would actually go on to win). I sat on the floor with Ty and cried again that day. Good tears. The kind of tears that come from a release of stress. I cried again a month later, as I picked up a little box of cells at the FedEx office and drove it and Ty to the vet. To this day, I cannot write about that feeling of holding that box without intense emotion. It is impossible to accurately describe the feeling that you are possibly holding your dog’s life in your hands. An emotional mix of stress, terror, hope, and joy.
Running for T Cells
I am a distance runner and had previously toyed with running a 24-hour race. I was interested in trying longer distances, but did not think I could complete a 100 mile race within the time cut off of most races. A 24-hour race, however, is simpler. You just run as much as you want in that time frame. When it became clear that the Perseus Foundation needed more money to fund additional dogs, I decided to run the Christmas in July 24-hour race as a fundraiser. Through a combination of blogging, social media shares, press interviews, and a heck of a lot of networking at the Blogpaws conference, I raised $3000 for the Perseus Foundation, who also received an additional $3000 from an anonymous matching donor.
In July 2016, I ran 74 miles in 24 hours, raising a total of $6000. It was my first 50 mile distance and first 100k distance. I won second place master’s women when I had never won anything other than a minor age group award before. I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities in that 24 hours. I left the race joyful and amazed. Best of all, when I returned home, Ty was there.
20 Months and Counting
Ty is now at 20 months of remission. He has already beaten the odds by a significant amount and has been in remission long enough that he could redo the best chemo protocol should his cancer return. He eats a better diet aimed at cancer prevention than he would have had I not learned so much when he first got sick. He takes specific supplements uncovered through careful research. Through the blog articles and Ty’s Facebook page, I have met many other pet parents who are dealing with the disease. We learn from each other. While unfortunately many dogs in the T-cell project that were not in solid first post-chemo remission have not held lengthy remissions from the T cells, Ty’s remission is solid. Is it from the diet? The supplements? T cells? Plain old luck? No way to know. But researching and writing about his disease contributed to the things that could save him. It was, and still is, painful. It is also worth every single tear.
The point of all of this? I ask this of those who are reading: Share your adversity. Discuss it. Write about the hard things. It isn’t pleasant. It can be downright painful. But it can turn helplessness into hope. It might also save you.
Ty will be nine years old this fall, and I will be running my first 100-mile race.
November 2017 Update: I ran my first 100-mile race in September, 2017. Ty remains happy and healthy and is at 29 months’ remission.
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