Maggie was a black pug born in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles on March 23, 1999. After losing a leg in September 2006 I called her my tri-pug. This is the story of Maggie’s cancer journey which took us through two types of cancer over 4.5 years.
In the winter of 2005/2006, when Maggie was just over 7 years old I found a small lump on her left side. I took her to my vet confident that it was one of those fatty tumors you hear about. When my vet said mast cell CANCER- well you all know what those words do…
But after a bit of research the panic subsided a bit. MCTs in the skin are often not much of a problem. I had the tumor removed, along with A LOT of skin. The pathology report was good, grade 1 with good margins, no signs of any cancer anywhere else. Crisis averted, or so I thought. Somehow in my research and discussions with my vet I missed the part about being on guard for new lumps.
About 6 months later we were playing and Mag was trying to run from me. I grabbed her by her back legs and felt a big lump on the inside of her left knee. My heart dropped- I just knew it was a new tumor, but was not prepared for what my vet said. She told me right away that Mag most likely would have to lose her leg. My vet sent me to an oncologist for consultation. That vet said the same thing. We went over all the options and really amputation was the only way to proceed. We did many tests to be sure that the cancer had not already spread- because if it had spread too far I would not do the surgery. But there was NO sign of any cancer anywhere. With the amputation we would probably be in good shape. So we did the surgery on September 7th, 2006. It was tough to see her when I picked her up- but she had made it. Her prognosis was rated as ‘good’ after the amputation.
Then came the next blow- a couple of days after the amputation the oncologist called with the news that the dissection of the lymph node in the amputated leg showed that it was full of cancerous mast cells indicating that although we did not see it in pre-surgery tests the cancer had most likely metastasized through the lymph system. Maggie’s prognosis was downgraded to ‘fair’ at this point- with chemo life expectancy was 6 to 9 months. Well, I had gone this far and I felt I couldn’t give up on her after putting her through the amputation. I chose to do chemotherapy knowing that if she had a bad reaction we could stop. She did pretty well, but was fatigued some of the time. You can read about her chemo treatments on the page in this blog titled Amputation and Chemo.
Maggie took her time but adapted to being a tri-pug. She got back to her old self- an obstinate sometimes devious, playful pug. I got a stroller for her so we could get her outside and to the park as soon as the sutures from the amputation were removed. I thought she would not like the stroller at first; she never liked riding in wagons. But she took to it immediately- I swear if she could have waved she would have looked like the Queen in a parade! She gained strength as the months went by; we gradually increased her activity level and length of walks. She eventually was walking a mile or more on her own. And the stroller was always near to allow her to ride if she got too tired. We saw the oncologist 3 months after chemo was done- all clear. Then six months- all clear. Nine months… a year. Her one year check up in September 2007 showed her to be clear of any signs of cancer. We were to have checkups every six months for the next 2 or three years. Years!! A long way from the original 6 to 9 month prognosis. I continued to check her for lumps regularly, and did a couple of 6 month checkups. In the spring of 2009, 2.5 years after her amputation I decided that we would probably not do any more multipart checkups. We had been doing ultrasounds, xrays and blood work. Maggie was now 10 years old. I also decided at that point even if the cancer came back that I would not put her through anymore invasive or aggressive treatments.
So of course I almost immediately found 2 suspicious lumps, one on her shoulder and one on her chest. My local vet aspirated the two lumps, as well as a very small third one she found while examining Mag. The preliminary results were that both of the larger lumps were mast cell tumors, they could not get a good sample from the small one. Off we went to the oncologist. We discussed my feeling that aggressive treatment, including removing the tumors surgically with a large amount of skin, was not a good option at that point in Mag’s life. The oncologist agreed with me, at some point you have to consider quality, and what an aggressive treatment would gain. She suggested some tests, which I agreed to, to see if there were signs of mets anywhere. When the test all came back clean we decided to have the tumors removed under a local anesthetic. Each mass was removed by our local vet, and a couple of stitches put in place. Mag healed quickly and on we went.
In the winter of 2009/2010 I noticed that Maggie was losing a little weight. She had always been a little picky with her food, and I chocked it up to aging. In January 2010 I found two new lumps on Mag, one on her side near her remaining rear leg, and a very small one on her nose. I had both lumps removed like we did in the previous spring, under a local with just a couple of stitches. The lump on her side was confirmed to be a mast cell tumor; we never got the report on the lump on her nose.
While healing from the lump removal Mag became incontinent. We did blood work and urinalysis to make sure an infection of some sort was not causing the incontinence and we discovered Mag was in stage 1 kidney failure. That accounted for her weight loss and really picky eating habits that developed over the winter.
We solved the incontinence problem with Proin. I modified Mag’s diet and started doing subcutaneous or sub-Q fluids 3 times a week. We were fine for a time, and then Maggie started refusing almost all food. Then even when I could get her to eat she would throw everything up. I got her to the vet for IV fluids and anti-nausea shots, which we did for three days. While checking Mag’s mouth to see if a tooth abscess or other mouth issue was causing the problem my vet found a tumor on Maggie’s upper jaw. We did a biopsy and confirmed that the tumor was a malignant melanoma. At that point Maggie had lost almost 2 pounds, and she had not had a full day’s nutrition in a week and a half. We all thought we were a couple of days away from losing her. But she rallied, I started feeding her with a syringe, and eventually she started eating on her own again. We stabilized her weight, and she seemed to be enjoying a spoiled pug life again. We went to see her oncologist, just to see what options we had. All the treatments for melanoma were very invasive. I stayed with my decision not to aggressively treat this new cancer.
Maggie did fine for three months. On the night of June 1st it was apparent that the tumor had ‘broken through’ into her jaw bone and was causing significant pain. I let Maggie go on June 2nd, 3 years and 9 months after her amputation, and 3 months after the melanoma diagnosis.