We have recently received some terrible news regarding our baby, Varg. I noticed something was not quite right with her on a Thursday evening, as I was just about to leave the house. She was lying at the top of the stairs and would not respond to my calls, even after coaxing her with treats and heating up her dinner (which the sound of anyone in the kitchen usually makes her barge in to get a taste or treat!). I managed to walk her down and take her outside, where she instantly just lay down. I put her dinner in front of her and she was not interested in her food. I thought she may have been a little sick in the tummy, so I proceeded to take her on a short walk, however she practically collapsed in the driveway, which is very unlike her.
It was obvious that there was something wrong, so I rushed her down to the closest veterinary clinic, however as it was late in the afternoon, we had been referred to the 24hr Vet Emergency Clinic. At this stage, Varg was no longer walking and we had to carry her out on a stretcher. At the Emergency clinic, a few questions were asked and the first thoughts were that she may have swallowed something poisonous (rat poison or the like), however this was not the case. Based on her symptoms, the culprit was sadly a rapidly growing, highly invasive variety of cancer which is quite common in German Shepherds known as Hemangiosarcoma. Hemangiosarcoma is a sarcoma arising from the lining of blood vessels; that is, blood-filled channels and spaces are commonly observed microscopically. A frequent cause of death is the rupturing of this tumor, causing the patient to rapidly bleed to death. Varg has only just turned 7 years old, but unfortunately that is around the age that this type of cancer starts to develop. To properly identify the cause and affected area, Varg required a full CT scan, which would only be available once we had an appointment booked with an oncologist at another facility. This was all incredibly heartbreaking news, as we were advised that at the rate she was bleeding out, she may not make it through the night and had been asked to make a decision whether to proceed with scans, or to euthanise her there and then. Varg wasn’t in any pain, though I had never seen her so lifeless and unresponsive and I couldn’t face the idea of never being able to see her happy and playful again.
Overnight she had lost around one and a half litres of blood and required two blood transfusions, as she was bleeding out faster than they were putting the blood back in. On the drive to the Emergency Animal Hospital in Murdoch, she was quite fragile, but happy to see us and happy to put her head out of the window on the way there. She was rushed through to get her proper CT scan, where she was put under anaesthetic. The results of the scan were able to locate the tumor behind her ribs, up near her lungs. We were advised that the surgeon would need to review the scans, but based on the location of the tumor, it was a difficult and risky procedure, as they would need to remove a few ribs, as well as her diaphragm in order to remove the tumour. We were given the option to put her through a risky, expensive procedure, euthanise her whilst she was under anaesthetic, or wake her up from the anaesthetic to say our goodbyes and then euthanise her (which may cause her distress and was not recommended). We were given a few minutes to discuss the most viable option. My Dad, Verity and I had a pretty tough time dealing with the decision making and we were all in tears the entire time. The vet nurse then returned, advising that the surgeon took a look at the scans and said that she was very confident proceeding with that type of surgery, if we wished to proceed. Obviously there were still risks involved and we were told that although the tumor would be removed, she would still have cancer cells running through her body, which again could result in another rupturing tumor, though this would at least give us a bit more time with her (at least a few months, likely up until Christmas). The operation and aftercare was also really expensive (estimated between $11-13, 000), however the cost was no deterrent and we would happily make sacrifices necessary to have the extra time to love and appreciate Varg.
Varg underwent the operation early that evening and we received an update to say that the procedure went well, though the surgeon would give us a proper update within the hour. After an hour had passed, I phoned the animal hospital to receive an update, however it was pretty hectic and busy, so they were unable to get in touch with the surgeon, but not to worry, as Varg was in a stable condition. A few hours later I spoke with the surgeon who was very happy with the results of the operation. They removed three of her ribs in order to reach the tumour, which had wrapped itself around her diaphragm and near her lungs. The tumour was successfully removed and after monitoring, she was in a stable condition and no longer bleeding out. This was excellent news and an incredible weight off my shoulders. Around twenty minutes later, I then received another call from the vet nurse advising that the surgery went well, but her post op recovery was not looking good and she was placed on oxygen as she was not breathing properly on her own. If things did not improve, they may need to place her on a ventilator, which had increased risks and only a one in six chance of survival. All of the stress and emotion which had been slightly lifted just before all came rushing back. They were going to keep her on oxygen overnight and to monitor her progress. At this stage we were asked to be on standby, as we may receive a phone call at any time throughout the night if something were to go wrong. Thankfully we didn’t receive a call until the next morning, where we were given an update to say that Varg’s breathing had been improving and wasn’t of concern. She was still on oxygen, but she was in good spirits and we were able to come down and visit her that Saturday morning.
Seeing Varg that morning was a little tough and we were all feeling quite emotionally fragile. She was hooked up to machines, wrapped up in bandages and had half of her fur removed. She was very docile, but enjoyed our company and rested on our laps as we gave her pats and shared our love. Everything was going as well as it could at that stage and once she started eating, she would be able to come home! We visited her again that evening to try to get her to eat, but she was interested in food and still very docile, which was understandable given what she’d been through.
On the Sunday when we went to visit, she had a lot more energy. She had been going on walks to the outdoor area to use the toilet and she was smiling and happy to see us. Verity brought her some popcorn chicken and my Dad brought her some other treats. She was still not super interested in food, but a lot more responsive. We still had to wait until she was eating proper meals, but her recovery was going really well and she had started to breathe a lot better on her own.
Monday morning, Varg was discharged from the animal hospital. She was still not eating, but she had been a bit naughty and lively overnight – she had chewed her collar and ripped it from the enclosure she was left in and had gone on a few adventures in the hospital when they had opened her cage. Though she wasn’t really eating, the vet nurses thought that it would be best for her if she came home and in more familiar surroundings, her appetite would likely return (which it did!).
Since she’s been home, she has recovered well. She was a little lethargic and tired initially, but it only took her a few days to return to her normal, playful self. Varg received a checkup once her stitches were removed and she’s recovered as well as she could from the operation she had. She was a bit naughty and had a chew at the spot where her stitches were and was given the ‘cone of shame’, but her scar has now healed and is no longer a concern.
As I’ve mentioned before, the operation to remove the tumor was successful, however given that Varg has been diagnosed Hemangiosarcoma, there are thousands of cancer cells running through her entire body and it is inevitable that another dangerous tumor will arise and rupture. We visited another oncologist to discuss the best methods and procedures to offer Varg the best quality of life. With the Hemangiosarcoma, we were told that Varg will probably appear like she’s back to normal, but within a few weeks, the same thing will happen, in which instance going through the same process would not be an option. With chemotherapy, they are not able to remove or cure Varg’s cancer, however they are able to contain and control the cancer cells, which would greatly increase her lifespan under her current circumstances. It’s hard to say what her lifespan will be, as this type of cancer is very unpredictable and each dog responds differently to chemo, however if Varg responds well to the chemo it is likely that she may have several months left as opposed to a few weeks. Some dogs with Hemangiosarcoma have responded well to chemo and even lived for up to a year!
Speaking with the oncologist, I did have a few concerns in regards to chemotherapy, especially in regards to Varg’s quality of life. This is incredibly important to me and I’d hate to make a selfish choice and put her through chemotherapy to extend her lifespan, if she were to not have a good quality of life during this process. We discussed the best options for her with quality of life in mind and realistically the best quality of life will be to give her the longest quality of life. The chemotherapy that dogs undergo is very different to what humans go through and after each round of chemo, aside from a little bit of nausea for a day or two, the side effects are insignificant and do not impact on their day to day life.
With this in mind, we have chosen to take the chemotherapy route. This entails around 6-10 rounds (or injections) of the chemotherapy treatments and Varg receives the treatment once a fortnight. There are three types of injections which Varg receives, one in one visit, then the other two on the next fortnight (on a rotational basis). She has since received her first and second rounds of the chemotherapy, as well as a follow ups to monitor her progress. She has responded very well to the chemotherapy and she’s been just as eager and happy to have a bit of a play and go on walks as ever. Following these injections, she will then be placed on tablets to contain the cancer cells.
Again, given her current state there is the risk that a tumor could rupture at any time during her chemotherapy and unfortunately Hemangiosarcoma is incurable. We have come to grips with the reality of the situation, but are just so happy that we are lucky enough to have more time with Varg. For those of you who have met her, you’d know that she’s a truly beautiful, playful and cheeky young girl. She’s been with me through some of the toughest times in my life and continues to put a smile on my face and I hope that we will be lucky enough to have her with us for quite some time.
Although the costs involved with Varg’s treatment are incredibly high, they have not deterred us from doing everything we can to offer us as much time together as possible. I am lucky enough to have comprehensive pet insurance, however that has only covered us up to an excess of $12,000, which will leave us at close to $10,000 out of pocket.
Varg’s overnight blood transfusions and treatment at the Emergency Vet had a cost of around $2,500, her operation and post operation treatment at Murdoch was over $13,000 and the estimate for her chemotherapy and checkups is likely to be around $7,000. My Dad are prepared to make sacrifices, we’ve each sold a few of our guitars and are prepared to part with more. We have both maxed out our credit cards and taken out loans in order to pay the medical costs (which had to be paid up front). We understand that it is completely our own decision to have the cost bestowed upon us, but no amount of money or possessions are more important to us than the time we have with Varg.
We don’t expect anything, but we really could use the help. I can’t express how much gratitude I have for those of you who have reached out to share your support. It really does mean so much to our family and I can’t even begin to describe just how lucky I feel to still have such an amazing and wonderful family member like Varg in my life. She means the world to me.
Thanks for all your support <3
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