Please help us wish Stella Belle a complete speedy recovery! We received the following thoughtful account of her diagnosis and amputation for the Honor Roll, along with a generous donation from her pack—the day after her surgery.
Our nearly twelve year old boxer, Stella Belle, was diagnosed with radiation-induced osteocarcoma, in May 2015.
Two years ago, Stella underwent surgery to remove a mast cell tumor from her right, hind leg. Following the procedure and healing, we took her to UC Davis to (the amazing) Dr. Michael Kent, where she received radiation therapy five days a week, for three weeks. We drove from our home in Santa Rosa, to Davis, daily. Stella is an incredible dog with a joyous spirit. She loved the car rides, even though she had to do them with a cone on, and loved her care providers at UC Davis even more.
When we were told of the existing bone tumor in May, we were also told about amputation. This was when I first found your site, and began reading about the remarkable ways dogs adapt to life on three legs. Regardless, we were very concerned about Stella undergoing such a life-altering procedure, given her age and the fact that she has a compromised left hind leg – a knee surgery – and arthritis. So, we returned to UC Davis and with the help of Dr. Alain Theon (also amazing), came up with a plan to treat her radiation-induced osteocarcoma with radiation – something that has never been done at any other veterinary hospital in the world – and pamidronate infusions every three weeks.
Stella did really well with this protocol, for months, despite being very naughty while receiving her treatments (ultimately, I had to sit with her for the two or three hours she received her infusions because she repeatedly escaped from her cone, ripped out her catheter and ate it). She seemed to be in less pain – well, she was limping less noticeably – and was her usual, goofy, high-spirited self. Our biggest concern, and what became our ultimate obsession, was that she would break the compromised leg should she slip on the hardwood floors in our home or try to jump up on the furniture, or stumble going down the stairs. Dr. Theon had warned of the distinct possibility of her suffering a pathologic fracture, and advised solemnly that should this occur, the only option was amputation. All of us agreed that if we could manage the tumor with radiation and bone-building drugs, this would be the best choice for her, for the time being.
So we confined Stella to the kitchen – my husband built a baby gate – and whenever we left home, we left her in there. She adapted well, but didn’t like not being able to roam the house freely, as she was used to doing. She was bored, and we became anxiously over-protective of everything she did.
And despite it all, last week we noticed that she was barely using her right hind leg. After a day of increasingly severe limping, I took her to her veterinarian in Santa Rosa (Dr. Erich Williams – again, amazing), he did an x-ray, and discovered that the tumor had “blown up” and that Stella had suffered a pathologic fracture. We were devastated.
My husband, Mike, and I talked and cried for hours. Our options were to amputate, or to put her down. And while I had found Tripawds months ago, and because of the information I’d gleaned from your site believed that amputation, regardless of how inhumane it seemed, was a feasible option, Mike struggled with it. He didn’t want to put Stella through such an involved and invasive procedure at this point in her life, considering all she had already gone through, but he couldn’t look at her, with her bright eyes and wagging nub of a tail and in his heart come to accept that euthanasia was the best choice. We decided to return to the surgeon that had removed her mast cell tumor two years ago (Dr. Clare Gregory, PetCare Santa Rosa – yes, he too is amazing) and confirm that Stella was a candidate for amputation, and that her prognosis was relatively good.
I returned to Tripawds and read voraciously – I bought Stella a Ruffwear harness, and prepared myself for her impending appointment.
Dr. Gregory met with us on Friday morning, September 4th. He looked Stella over as she wriggled and “woo’d” at him, doing whatever she could to get him to kiss her (including catching him off guard and plastering a sloppy wet lick right across the entirety of his face). He looked at us and told us, very sincerely, that while she wasn’t the ideal candidate for amputation – she isn’t two years old, without arthritis and a pre-existing injury – she has such life in her and such a bright, sweet soul, that he believed she would do well. Also, to date there is no evidence of metastasis of the cancer. All of her scans and chest films have been wholly negative, to this point. He assured us that she would be in less pain, regardless of her pre-existing deficiencies. He took her into surgery that very day.
Friday afternoon, I returned to the Tripawds website and found the Amputation FAQs. Until this point, Mike and I hadn’t discussed the information I’d read on your site. He was scared and resistant to the idea of amputation, and I had been walking a very fine line in terms of freely sharing thoughts and facts. It was just so hard to talk about – and while we communicate well nearly all of the time, this was something that felt really private, really personal. And while I know that we came to this decision as a collective partnership, I know that if I hadn’t told him that this is what I thought was best, if I had advocated for euthanasia, he would have most likely agreed. This isn’t a commentary on Mike’s lack of love for Stella. She is his constant companion and his truest, most adored friend. I just think that the idea of amputation – of taking her leg – was too much for him to comprehend and resolve in himself on his own. Once we had made the decision, and she was undergoing surgery, I forwarded him the amputation FAQs from your site and told him that while I knew it was hard, he must read them before Stella returned home. And he did.
…all of this seems so sudden and overwhelming – but now
I know where to go should that be what we decide.
I downloaded the Tripawds e-books yesterday morning, and read Three Legs and a Spare in one sitting. I went to the store and bought seven carpet runners for our hardwood floors, a set of non-slip socks, a couple of different e-collars and fashioned a sling from a canvas grocery bag, per your site’s instructions. I washed all of Stella’s bedding and made sure we had some cheese and chicken on hand in case she needed to be convinced to take her medication. I made rice to mix in with her food for a few days, and I added low sodium chicken broth to her water.
I brought Stella home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. While I was prepared for her to be dopey, the scared, confused look in her eyes was heart-breaking. Mike and I kept vigil over her all evening and through the night, as she panted and whimpered and refused to eat. We were worried, and yes, at one point I questioned what we had done. She was suffering, and wasn’t suffering what we were trying to avoid by having embarked upon this journey, to begin with?
Mike and I decided that rather than try to carry Stella upstairs last night, he would sleep downstairs with her and I would go upstairs. We didn’t trust ourselves to have to navigate the stairs in the middle of the night – and we figured at least one of us should sleep well, to insure that at least one of us would be rested enough to care for her in the morning. Mike was up all night – talking to Stella, petting her and trying to help her feel safe as she softly cried and intermittently panted heavily. In the early hours, he decided perhaps she needed some pain medication, and miracles upon miracles, she took it with a slice of cheese. He took her outside to go potty, but once they got out there, she seemed too tired to move. So he picked her up and brought her back inside. She settled into her bed and fell asleep.
When I came downstairs just an hour later, she was still sleeping. Mike went upstairs to try to catch a wink or two, and I fed her the rest of her medicine with another piece of cheese. I decided that, perhaps, she would eat a bit more, so I mixed up some of her kibble, with some rice and chicken, then heated it in the microwave with a bit of broth. As I put her bowl into the stand I heard the tinkle of her collar. I looked into the hall and found her standing there – struggling a bit to secure her footing, but standing there nonetheless, and looking as if she was going to attempt to hop toward me. I told her to “stay” and rushed to her side, securing her harness and gently guiding her to her bowl. She ate heartily, took a good long drink of water, and we headed outside.
I put her to bed, and she’s sleeping comfortably. Our veterinarian emailed me this morning, and advised that should we choose, he can provide chemotherapy treatments for her. Mike and I haven’t yet discussed it – all of this seems so sudden and overwhelming – but now I know where to go should that be what we decide.
The Tripawds site has been a godsend. Even when the going’s gotten rough, when my husband and I are in tears – upset and doing everything we can not to lash out at each other or show distress – you’ve prepared us and motivated us to keep moving forward. Day two, and things are looking up. Thank you, thank you, thank you…for everything.
All the best,
Mike, Stacey and Stella Belle