Chewie: Good news and bad news

The bad news: Chewie has cancer.

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The good news: It is on one of his two kidneys.  Tomorrow, surgeons at the University of Minnesota will operate and remove that kidney, and so long as the cancer is confined to that one kidney, that’s the end of it.

Short of “turns out Chewie just had a bad flu and now he’s recovering”, this is about as good as the news could get.  With his platelets so low and his white blood count off the charts, it had to be pretty serious.  Were this cancer on almost anything else in the body, it would be a death sentence…but just as with people, a dog can get by with one kidney.  If only bodies had more redundant organs!

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Melinda and I left work at 2PM to talk with the doctors on the phone and hear the verdict.  Dr. Stiller at the U of M told us that they were willing to operate, despite his platelets being lower than they would like, because the platelet count is most likely being caused by the infection so it won’t be getting better.  Surgery is ballpark $2500, and if they have to give him a blood transfusion, that’s $500/bag.  (Where do they get the dog blood?  I’ve never seen a doggie blood drive.)

I thought the price was the bad news…but then Dr. Stiller told me that the average life expectancy after the surgery was 16 months.  I’d been gung ho to do the surgery because Chewie is still so young, but I hadn’t thought about the lifespan afterwards still being reduced.  Thinking about it, I realized that the “average” is negatively impacted by the number of dogs with cancer who were already elderly and going to die in around 16 months anyway, as well as the cases where the cancer is not caught in time and it spreads to more systems.  Still…it was a shock.  We cannot justify spending thousands to give a dog a year of life.

We told Dr. Stiller that we would think about it, and that we’d call her back in 10 minutes.  I then proposed to Melinda that we should get a second opinion from Dr. Karen Lee at the Quarry Hill Veterinary Hospital, so we hopped in the car to drive over.  Stuck at a red light, I started fighting back tears at the thought of having to say no to surgery and saying good-bye to Chewie someday very soon.

Dr. Lee greeted us and listened to all of the developments.  In light of all the factors in play here (Chewie’s youth and vigor; the tissue mass being on a kidney; kidney surgery being relatively easy, with only three connections to tie off), Dr. Lee didn’t have any reservations.  If it was her dog, she’d do it.  We are so grateful for her last-minute consultation and her support.

We went home, called Dr. Stiller to tell her to proceed, and then had supper in our very quiet and lonely house.

Chewie goes in for surgery on Wednesday the 20th, and then he will come home on Thursday.  Please, please, pray for him, for the surgeons, and for us.

We would like to thank all of our friends, family and co-workers who have been so supportive over the last few days.

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