Hi! My name is Scout and I am a 5 month old golden retriever puppy from South Australia. My mum has had a terrible year and got me to help her feel better about life; which is good because I LOVE life. Unfortunately I have a nasty tumor on my head. It's a kind of cancer that comes from muscle cells and developed when I was inside my dog-mum. A few weeks ago my face swelled suddenly and we thought I'd been stung by a bee, but after lots and lots of trips to the vet we found the tumor. We tried to have it cut out but it came right back. Now mum and I need help raising money for a very expensive treatment plan so I don't have to leave her. And that's why we've come to you guys!
The type of cancer I have is called Rhabdomyosarcoma; it means it's a cancer of soft tissue that has come from mutated muscle fibers. The vet described it as "malignant and aggressive" and because I am a growing pup, with constant new cells for it to attach to, it's even worse. Don't worry, right now I am still very happy. The problem is, if I go untreated it will grow rapidly and I may have to go to "sleep" within a matter of months. I'd really like to be around to get spoiled for my first birthday.
Here's the plan: I need to have it removed from my head and while they do that they will also need to get rid of the skin and muscle and layer of skull to try and get any cancerous cells in the area. Lucky I am a floppy dog with lots of skin and hair because then they'll take some of that extra skin and give me a "mop top" new haircut on my noodle. But here's the big problem, there is almost no use in putting me through this surgery if I can't have radiation. If we leave even a tiny bit of cancer behind it will return within months and then I will have to leave. So the radiation is there to try and mop up any cancer cells we miss in the surgery, which is possible. But South Australia doesn't have puppy-oncologists so mum will need to fly me interstate to get me treated (we don't yet know how much this will be so we haven't included it in our total, any extra will help towards it though)
Because I am a puppy I don't understand much more than that but Mum can tell you more. What I do know is bubbles are the best thing in the world and that if I can get treated I have the best purr-sister, Luna, to help me recover. If I could, I'd give you all licks for reading this. Thank you, Love Scout
From Scout's Mum:
Dear Everyone, thanks for reading about Scout. She is, speaking both biased and non-biased, the greatest dog in the world. This year has been a particularly hard one for me. I am currently at vet school and between that and the other pressures of life my mental health took a hit. So I got a dog to help get me. And she really has. When I went to choose her from her litter, the breeder told me she had a little heart murmur (common and normal in puppies), but that didn't put me off because I knew she was the pup for me and we would deal with any complications that life threw at us. Well, did it throw them. Ironically her heart murmur resolved entirely but we now have this horrible cancer to deal with.
So far Scout has had two surgeries and a CT scan. I have lost track of how many vet visits we have had, but all of them have been with a team of wonderful, compassionate and honest vets, nurses and staff. Obviously being a poor uni student, I have now burned through my savings and have the enormous frustration of studying to help other peoples fur-babies, while I can't help my own. So here we are, at the wonderful world of go-fund-me.
Here are the facts: Scout's face swelled suddenly one day (see picture) and she was treated for a hypersensitivity reaction (like a bee sting). The swelling subsided but didn't go away. As it went down though we noticed a lump at the back of her head. We tried to treat it with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds; neither of which worked. Eventually scout went under general anesthetic to have her lump removed (see zombie dog picture). Once her surgical drains were removed though, the swelling and the lump returned within days. We were referred to a specialist and the original mass was sent away to pathologists for diagnosis. Originally they diagnosed her with a fibrosarcoma (a cancer that comes from fibroblasts - the cells that make scars) but there was some uncertainty. So our brilliant specialist sent away the sample for many more opinions and eventually a consensus was reached that yes, it was cancer, and yes, it was from muscle cells (ie rhabdomyosarcoma). So the operation that she requires will remove the lump and any of the surrounding tissue that has the potential to carry the cancerous cells. This includes the lump, and a border of tissue, skin, muscle, and skull around it. She will then need a skin graft to replace that removed from her head. The estimate for this surgery is $3,500 - $4500. Then comes the radiation. The radiation is so important because it gives her the best chance of survival by trying to kill off any cells we missed; without it there is a high chance her cancer will return and her prognosis is then very poor. The estimate cost for radiation is $10,000 - $15,000 a(after asking the clinics in-house oncologist). Unfortunately South Australia does not offer oncology for animals so we will need to send Scout interstate, this in an additional cost that we haven't included in gofundme because we're unsure of it.
Had this tumor occurred on her leg we could have cured her with amputation. But alas, Scout really needs her head.
Currently Scout is booked in for her surgery on the 2nd of October.
Can she have chemotherapy instead of radiation? While chemo is an option we want to avoid it because chemo works by targeting rapidly growing (cancerous) cells to kill. Unfortunately in a puppy all her cells are rapidly growing as she grows and chemo is non-specific in which cells it targets. So while it is an option, it's effectiveness and the harm it may cause Scout isn't ideal. She has a better chance of survival and success with radiation with the least discomfort.
With all the surgical intervention Scout has already had we have actually increased the risk of spreading cells with the fluid created by her operations so radiation is really the only logical option to try and help this too.
Have you considered just getting another puppy? Yes. I have spoken extensively with friends, family and veterinary professionals about ALL my options, including putting Scout to sleep and getting a new dog to avoid the financial and mental burden this is creating. But in short, I don't want to. Those who have met Scout will attest to what a unique and loving dog she is and I take the responsibility of owning an animal seriously. I don't want just any dog, I want Scout. After choosing her the breeder told me that if I had not taken her she is sure the person choosing after me would not have because she wasn't perfect because of her heart murmur. I'm not one to romanticize, but I think I was meant to have this dog because I would stick by her.
What happens if she has radiation and the cancer still comes back? If Scout's cancer returns even after radiation we will admit defeat. I have faith it will work but have considered the possibility that we don't win all battles. If that's the case I can promise you Scout will have the BEST and happiest life for as long as she comfortably can. Again, I think we have a good chance with the radiation though. I am very conscience of not putting Scout through more than she can handle and although she has been a trooper so far, I do want to avoid any unnecessary discomfort.
What causes this type of cancer? Short answer? We don't know. While we understand the principles of how cancer cells develop, there is very little known about what causes this specific type. Pediatric tumors are not well known either so while we can talk about the 'what', we don't know much about the 'why'.
Why does her treatment cost so much? Her surgery is a specialist kind that not every vet can perform. In the same way that you wouldn't let your GP perform brain surgery. Human and Veterinary medicine is the same medicine just applied and performed differently; the large difference is there is no Medicare for animals. So clinics and clients both have to foot the bill out of pocket. That is why things like Scout's radiation will cost so much, if I don't pay it, the clinic will have to. And that's not fair for the people who are trying to help her.
Will she look weird after removing all that stuff on her head? At first Scout will look like a zombie. She will have surgical drains to keep the swelling in her head under control and a very large area of stitching and general grossness where her skin graft will be. But once it heals and her hair grows back she will look like a normal dog, except her hair will grow the wrong way and she will have a fringe/comb-over. Adorable.
Can you just leave the tumor alone and hope she heals it? In short, no. Cancer becomes a problem for humans and animals because they are "immortal cells". This means the cells that create the tumor will never stop diving and growing because they have nothing to tell them to stop. If we leave it alone, it will get worse and will start to cause her pain and discomfort. Because Scout is a puppy, cancers like this are more aggressive than in older dogs with all the new cell growth already going on. If we don't treat her, Scout's prognosis is poor. She will have a few months before I will have to put her to sleep.
Is Scout in pain/unhappy? No. You have never seen such a happy, life-loving puppy. I went to collect her after one of her procedures at the vet and found her, not in her cage, but on the lap of one of the vet students being cuddled because her love of people is so large. We do check her regularly for signs of pain and thus far she is showing none. This won't always be the case if we leave it untreated of course. And after each major procedure she doesn't sook, she just genuinely loves everything.
If you've made it this far thank you so much. I want to stress that although there is a financial burden to all this, I do not consider having Scout a burden. She is, along with her feline sister, the most treasured thing in my life which is why we are fighting so hard to help her. This has been one of the hardest years mentally for me and Scout keeps me going and positive every day. Although this fundraiser is to help save scout, you are really helping to save me as well.
P.S. Lots of people think Scout is a boy because of her name; she is named after Jean Louise Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (aka Scout). And, just like the character, she is bold, courageous and loves indiscriminately.
If you'd like to check in on Scout from time to time you can do so at her Instragram about_with_scout or #savescout2018
Scout's initial Swelling
Zombie Scout after the first attempt to remove her lump
Scouts tumor (between her ears) currently after her operations
Scout's "big" sister Luna keeping an eye on her after her second surgical drain attempt
Trying to be a bee and collecting pollen on her nose
Truly a retriever with her love of water
Bubbles are lifeScout circa Space Jam