Early this December, Willow, our sweet, 5-year old German shepherd dog, began getting feverish and she lost her energy and appetite.
She had been itching her ears so we thought this was caused by an ear infection. When we took her in, the vet confirmed her ear infection, but also told us she had lost 10 pounds (unnoticeable under her thick fur since she is a long-haired German Shepherd and often skipped meals) and that we should do blood work right away.
The blood work came back with possible results of lymes, antiplasma, or lymphoma. Since lymes is an epidemic in MN, we began treating with antibiotics and pain killers for the lymes and antiplasma. Over the next week, Willow still had little appetite. Each night was spent making meal after meal to find anything she would eat. We would try the canned dietary food the vet sent home with us, ground beef and rice, kibble, chicken, hot dogs, or treats. She usually would eat the meal the first day and turn her nose at it the second. I also struggled giving her the two antibiotics plus pain medicine she was on. She clenched her jaw shut when I held the pill up, and my fingers got caught between her back teeth a couple times as I pushed the pill as far as it would go down her throat so she would swallow instead of spitting it out.
Over Christmas, we drove 5 hours to my family’s house. Willow continued to struggle with food, but she did eat chicken and the food my parents’ German Shepherds were on. She was even less active now. One morning, Kevin and I played in the backyard with our nephew, Dylan, and our German Shorthaired Pointer, Nova, while Willow laid in the yard watching us. Dylan made sure she had a ball near her to be part of the action, and occasionally would give her a pat on the head and tell her it was ok. During our stay, Willow also began breathing more heavily, especially at night.
The Tuesday after Christmas, we took Willow in to the vet again as she was still not eating and her health had not improved. The vet was extremely concerned and did an x-ray to find that her stomach was surrounded by 5 pounds of fluid. We were referred elsewhere (to the Metropolitan Veterinary Referral Services), and the next day Willow had an ultrasound and a sample of the spleen, which revealed lymphoma.
We were given hope that if the cancer had not reached other organs, we could do surgery. However, the research we did that night told us that once the lymphoma cancer reaches the spleen, it is at stage IV and has most likely reached other organs.
The next day on Thursday, the vet confirmed our fears. We were told the cancer had also reached her liver. She was also anemic with red blood cells at only 20%, which told the vet that the cancer had also reached her bone marrow. We saw Willow the last time on Thursday from 3:30 to 4pm. Willow was very weak now. She could barely stand to leave the room. As we sat there, her beautiful coat was speckled with blood. She panted heavily and her heart beat very quickly.
We agreed to give Willow a blood transfusion and start her on the first round of chemotherapy and a steroid, which would make her more comfortable and buy her a few more weeks with us to say goodbye. Further chemotherapy was not an option for us since remission would likely be only 6-8 months and then she would become sick again.
At 8pm, our vet called and said the blood transfusion did not work. Willow was puking up blood now but the vet was hopeful that the chemo would start working and Willow would recover. We contemplated euthanizing her at this point, but the vet asked that we not give up on Willow. At 10:30pm, she called again to let us know Willow had stabilized: her heart was beating slower, but platelet levels were still low. At 3:30am, we received a call that Willow’s lungs were slowing down and she was not receiving enough oxygen. 10 minutes later, as we made our way to the vet, we received a call that Willow had passed away.
We arrived to a peaceful puppy and we brought our German shorthaired pointer, Nova, along to say goodbye as well. The vet told us that she understood that her big sis, Willow, was no longer here.
Willow had died from canine lymphoma cancer only 2 days after her diagnosis, giving us little time to come to terms with the cancer that was invading her body. She was a strong girl who hid much of the pain and stress her body was under. We had hoped to make her comfortable again and have the chance to say goodbye in our own home with family, but Willow could not hold on any longer. We are very sad and miss her like crazy. I cannot believe she was taken so suddenly from us.