If you read last week’s blog, you know our family only had a
few days to decide whether, and how, to treat Sparky, our 11 year old Norwich
Terrier who’d suddenly been diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. After a frenzy of research and deliberation,
Henry and I supported our son’s decision to try the less expensive chemo ($6000
single agent treatment instead of $12,000 for multi-agent protocols). Henry
and I agreed to pay half, and Max would cover the rest of treatment out of his
Friday, Sparky had his first treatment. He came home with prescriptions for
EIGHT AND A HALF pills a day. He was supposed to take two white pills
(steroids) in the morning, 2 ½ pink pills to prevent vomiting and diarrhea, and
one beige pill for nausea. But Sparky
vomited up the pills before they could help him. I tried feeding him the pills, one by one,
inside tiny meatballs and individual blobs of peanut butter. About half of them stayed down. The steroids caused him to pee in the house;
Sparky had accidents in the hall and the elevator. Even more ominous and worrisome, Dr.
Britton, the veterinary oncologist,
warned us to be careful not to make contact with our pet’s bodily fluids.
Sparky was leaking toxins.
between coaxing Sparky to eat and cleaning up his accidents, I couldn’t help
thinking that chemo might have been a
mistake. Both our regular vet and the
dog oncologist had told us that dogs
didn’t suffer side effects from chemo the way people do. Was that all a
big lie? Why did Sparky need so many
pills to treat the side effects that dogs (supposedly) don’t experience?
On Monday, Sparky began to shake
and tremble violently. He stopped eating and drank only a little. I tried to call Dr. Britton, but she only
worked Tuesday to Friday. The on-call
doctor told me that Sparky was probably having a reaction to the chemo.
(Duh!) Three days later was “prime time”
for dogs to have a reaction to the particular medicine administered to our
Sparky. Hopefully, the vet said, he
would improve the next day.
Sparky got worse. His breathing grew
more labored; he wouldn’t eat, drink or walk. Max carried him to the vet. Although Sparky’s lymph nodes were much less
swollen, his lungs had again filled with fluid; he was dehydrated and running a
fever. He’d also lost a pound and a half
in a week, about 10% of his body weight.
I couldn’t believe our beloved dog could deteriorate so quickly— in
three short days— after rallying for a week on steroids and an initial shot of
I had tears in my eyes. Was this really it? “What can we do for him?”
sighed. “Take another X-ray and drain
the fluid from his lungs. We can also
give him sub-cutaneous fluids to rehydrate him and lower his fever.”
the last time you drained his lungs, they filled up again in a just three days. Will that keep on happening? We can’t drain
Sparky’s lungs twice a week.” Looking
from Sparky to the vet, I couldn’t help wondering who benefited more from these
medical procedures. The last vet bill had been over $800.
if he doesn’t improve?” Max asked as a tear spilled down his cheek.
we need to discuss euthanasia . . . .”
That e-word hung in the air for a moment
before I called Henry to discuss whether we should save Sparky one more time (for
“Do I need to come to the vet’s
office now to say goodbye?” Henry asked.
be taking him home,” the vet told me and I told Henry, but I didn’t feel
decided to give treatment one last try, to see if Sparky could rally. Max and I
went to Starbucks while the vet and technicians worked on Sparky. This time I was crying, and Max looked
numb. I knew the dog was suffering, but
I saw that my son wasn’t ready to let go.
It was important that Max never look back and feel that we didn’t try
our best. I found myself on slippery
ground, guilty and heartbroken, feeling Sparky’s pain— yet allowing my son and
husband to convince me that maybe, just maybe,
the vet could work some magic and our tough little terrier could pull through.
son and I returned to the office, the vet pinned up the x rays. She showed us
where the fluid was building up, and told us she had once again drained close
to 8 ounces. Our sweet Sparky had been
“rehydrated,” and his paws soaked in alcohol to reduce his fever. He had also been given an appetite stimulant
and an antibiotic. I felt encouraged until the technician brought Sparky into
the room, and then I burst into tears. Sparky’s breathing sounded like a death rattle. I paid the bill and went home with more
pills. It was 7 PM, and Manhattan Vets
never ate another bite of food, drank another sip of water, or swallowed
another pill. He died seven hours later in my son’s arms. A few hours earlier, I had encouraged Sarah to
“kiss Sparky goodnight” before she went to sleep. Sarah wasn’t nearly as attached to Sparky as
the rest of our family, but she loved him simply for being a family member, and
I wanted her to have closure and say goodbye.
Before we went to bed, Henry and I also kissed and stroked Sparky in
Max’s lap, but by then our poor dog had become too weak even to lick Max’s
Around 2AM, our son woke us
“Sparky’s dead. I can’t believe he’s gone.” Max’s voice was
an excruciating mix of sadness and disbelief— despite an eight hour vigil,
cradling his ailing dog, stroking his fur, his own tears falling onto Sparky’s
limp, furry body as he slipped away.
matter what the doctors said or did, no matter which treatment we chose, Sparky
had the final word. I can only hope that
when he drew his last labored breath and closed his dark, soulful eyes that he
knew how much we loved him every minute of his eleven years.
Labels: canine lymphoma, chemotherapy, Norwich Terriers, oncologists, steroids, veterinarians, x rays