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A Battle Waged

PREFACE: What you are about to read a chronological account of the emails submitted to Canine Cancer Awareness by Mocha’s owner. We have made no changes. It is quite lengthy so grab a coffee and a tissue. You’ll be glad you did. We have added photos depicting Mocha’s experience including some of her surgery. Be advised that these may not be suitable for all viewers. You will see the trials and tribulations that owners of dogs with cancer face every day.

UPDATE February 10, 2006 —

Hello. We had no idea we would be going through a battle with cancer two weeks ago. My sweet 7.5 year old Shephard Mix Mocha was having breathing difficulties, and after a few misdiagnoses we found out she has a very large heart tumor. We had several emergency trips back and forth every few days 1 hour away to drain her lungs and stabilize her. We thought we would have to put
her down, but did some research and found out the Washington State University has an excellent Veterinary Teaching hospital. We drove 5 hours to bring her there. It is an amazing place, and her care has been better than most human hospitals!

Mocha had open heart surgery yesterday. They removed 1/2 of her tumor (the size of a mandarin orange!) at the base of her heart. They also removed her pericardial sac, and some of the thoracic lining. She is doing wonderful. Six hours after the surgery, Mocha was “trotting down the hallway” to go for a walk. Today, she is stable, and her lungs are still draining, but it is subsiding. After the surgery, the surgical intern showed us pictures and a video of the procedure, and we actually saw her heart beating and her lungs!

These past weeks I have cried so hard, I gave myself a sinus infection. Other than the tumor (which they are confident is a chemodectoma, slow growing, non malignant), Mocha is healthy and spirited. Then her lungs would fill up, and she wouldn’t complain, but start breathing heavy and look distressed. Although the vets news was grim, I knew I had to find a way to save this dear dog. She has helped me through my ups and downs with Multiple Sclerosis and she even helped me gather signatures to raise the minimum wage in our state (which is now the highest in the country). She was in the newspaper and on TV as we turned in the ballots for the minimum wage initiative.

The vet visits have been very expensive. The whole week of wrong diagnoses was over $1000. The emergency care visits totalled over $2000. Lodging will total over $1000. The surgery and ICU care will be between $2000-3000. And we still need to talk to an oncologist about radiation in the months to come. I keep saying, “that’s what credit cards are for” but the reality is the financial impact is overwhelming. My mom, who is retired, has been helping, but it is going to be very hard on both of us to pay once the bills start coming in. We are hoping to get some assistance if possible.

UPDATE February 17, 2006 —

I was traveling back to the hospital today(via plane and hour 1/2 drive), and was en route most of the morning, and then to the hospital to meet with doctors, and spend a few hours with Mocha.

If we can’t come up with the money for a thoracic duct ligation by Monday, we are going to have to euthanize my dear dog. Her pleural cavity is filling up with chylus fluid, which has to be drained every two hours. She has had a lung tube for drainage since last Wednesday Feb. 8, and was getting her lungs tapped for a week and half prior to that. She is starting to show signs of infection because the tube has been in for so long,
and bacteria like the fluid that is draining into her pleural cavity. If the fluid doesn’t drain, the lungs cannot expand, and she literally cannot breath. The surgery would tie off her thoracic duct, and reroute it to her colon.

Three weeks ago, we noticed Mocha, who is almost 8 years old was breathing heavy and took her to our local Vet three times in one week. They would diagnose her with something simple, give us meds or a change in diet, and send us on our way. The last time we took her, they did a chest xray and we found out her lungs were filling up with fluid, and they did the first lung tap, which resulted in almost 2 liters of fluid being removed! That night, we rushed her an hour 1/2 away to an emergency Speciality Vet. They did an ecocardiogram, and we found out she had a heart tumor. We stayed there a few days, she was tapped several more times, and we were told she could go home. They were pretty confident that it was a chemodectoma, a slow growing tumor, but it was very large at 4x9cm. We drove 90 miles back home, and two days later we drove her back because of labored breathing. I was devasted by the lack of choices to help her, because it was
unsafe to tap her lungs for a prolonged time, and they couldn’t confirm the type of tumor without a biopsy. I couldn’t stop crying because I thought I would have to put her down the next day. It was so hard, because when her lungs were clear, she seemed healthy and perky, but when they would fill up, she was obviously uncomfortable, but trying to hide it. In anguish, I started researching, emailing and calling canine cardiologists and oncologists around the country. I found out that the Washington State Vet. Clinic 5 hours away might be able to help her. I drove home (90 miles) with her, and we were going to head out to WSU, but when I got on the road she was breathing heavy and wouldn’t lie down. In a panic I drove back to the emergency Vet (90 miles again) so they could keep her stable throughout the night. The next morning we left at 6am, white knuckling the ride for 6 hours to WSU.

Mocha had heart surgery the next day. She had 2/3 of her pericardium (the lining around her heart removed), and a tumor the size of a small mandarin orange removed from her heart. They thought this would help the pleural effusion. Mocha was a trooper! They came out after the surgery and let us know it went great, and even showed us pictures and a short video of her heart beating. Six hours later I got a call that Mocha, was up and “trotting down the hallway”. A huge relief given the extensive nature of her surgery, and that they actually lifted her heart out for 10 seconds at a time over & over again.

Since Mocha’s surgery, we have spent 3 hours in the morning and three hours at night with her everyday. We thought the pleural effusion was subsiding because of information the interns would tell us everyday. But, we found out later that those were false alarms, that her tube had been clogged and in fact the leakage was increasing.

Mocha has been such a great patient throughout all of this. She always greats us with a smile and lots of tail wagging, and brings us her stuffed animals as gifts for our visits. She has a 1/2 a blue eye which sparkles when she sees us. As long as the fluid is removed from her lungs, she is perky and playful. Her foot long incision between her ribs is healing beautifully, and a post surgery echocardiogram shows her heart is functioning better without the tumor pressing on her atrium.The tumor did not invade her heart, but rests outside of it. It is so hard to imagine ending her life when she seems so healthy. We can’t remove her from ICU without removing the lung tube. So, it is either try the thoracic duct ligation, or end her life.

Mocha has meant so much to me. She has been my companion through some very difficult times, including my ups and downs with Multiple Sclerosis. There have been 5 times where I have lost my vision for up to 4 months at a time, had major fatigue, extreme pain and uncomfortable sensations, difficulty walking etc. I had to leave my job, and pay $500 month for cobra, which then pays for my medications which are almost $20,000 per year (interferon shots are expensive). In her playful and gentle way, Mocha would coax me out of bed for daily walks, and snuggle with me when leaving bed was not an option. She always knows when to push me a little harder, or just simply be at my side until I feel better.

I worked in Poverty Advocacy for 6 years, and everyone knew Mocha. She was the “ambassadog” at our Board meetings, and made sure she would greet every person. She has a way of making every person she meets feel special, without racial or economic discrimination. When Mocha was a puppy, I took her with me to gather signatures for our state’s minimum wage campaign. People would say, “can I pet your puppy?”…and I would say “sure, would you like to sign this first?!” When it was time to turn in the ballots, Mocha was on the news, and in the newspaper at our state’s capital. We joke that because of Mocha Washington state now has the highest minimum wage in the country.

I am afraid this story is not going to have a happy ending. Tomorrow is my birthday, and all I can think about is that I am unable to give Mocha the chance to live longer. That the weekend will end, and I will have to make that horrible decision to let her go. Because it has been difficult for doctors to know exactly what they are dealing with, and Mocha’s case has presented in an unusual manner, this situation has been drawn out to the point that we are tapped out. The care she had even before WSU adds up to $4000. We were told today we are up to $6000 at WSU. My retired mother is helping me, and we keep saying that is what credit cards are for. But the reality is we need help. We are already going to cancel our cable, internet and cell phones. We have asked the hospital for $2,000-3000, but they are in a budget crunch and we will find out Monday if they can help at all. We are asking Canine Awareness to help us raise $2000 for her surgery. We will charge the rest (an additional 2,000-4000 for ICU and chemo.).

I am grateful for any help. I am currently working on getting a certificate in Professional Fund Raising, and hope that my health will allow me to go back to work and raise money for important causes. I know personally and professionally I will repay the kindness to others that need it. Thank you.

UPDATE February 19, 2006 —

Mocha has cancer, but it is really difficult to tell from the staining if it is a chemodectoma or thyroid carcinoma. The cytology and histology labs were having a hard time trying to figure it out, so it has been sent to a special lab out of state, and we will hear back on Monday. Only half of Mocha’s tumor was removed on her heart. They believe the rest of the tumor is interferring with the thoracic duct, and want to tie it off, and reroute it to her colon so her pleural cavity stops filling up. We cannot take her out of ICU with the lung tube in, and she can’t go much longer with the lung tube in, but removing it will kill her if she doesn’t get the throacic duct ligation. Luckily, the new antibiotics they started today seem to be fighting the new infection (which results from having the lung tube in). The chance of her going septic with the lung tube in is very high. Right now they empty the tube every 2 hours.

UPDATE March 13, 2006 —

So much has happened in the past month! Mocha had a successful surgery, but her chest was still effusing at such a high rate. We thought we were going to have to put her down again, because she was going septic. We convinced the Doctor’s to let us take her for a night to the hotel, chest tube and all. I didn’t want her last night to be spent in a hospital. Everyone was crying, including her surgeon, because Mocha was so happy, playful and obviously wanted to live. The next day, we came in thinking we were putting her down, and were surprised that for the first time in WSU’s history, they let us take a dog home with a chest tube!! We were told she had two days, anything more would be a miracle! Well, not only has it been 19 days since we left (we even got stuck in a snowstorm, and had to find a hotel), BUT her tube was taken out a week ago today!!!! She has been a maniac, running and jumping all over, and we no longer have to drain her chest every 3
hours!

UPDATE March 15, 2006 —

Well, eight days after the tube was taken out, and she is effusing again. I am praying she doesn’t have to have the tube put back in, it is considered a surgery. There are many risks short/long term. We changed her diet to a cancer diet, and I am hoping the high fat caused the problem. The ups and downs of this disease are maddening!

UPDATE March 20, 2006 —

I am heading up to visit her today at the Speciality Center (an hour away). I am hoping she can come home soon, and without a tube! Once we figure out if she needs a tube or not this week, we can then plan on treatment to slow the growth of the cancer. Right now, the fluid accumulation is priority. She was doing great yesterday, I am hoping she doesn’t need the chest tube again!

UPDATE March 21, 2006 —

I am happy to report Mocha came home today after 4 days at the Specialty Vet, tubeless and happy!!! Today is day 27 since we left WSU Vet Clinic 6 hours away. Mocha was at WSU in ICU for 3 weeks after her heart surgery(she has a fourteen inch scar!) At that time, they said it would be a miracle if Mocha lived longer than 2 days because she was going septic, and that the tube would never come out of her chest. They said we were taking her home to die, and we were asking for a miracle to expect anything else. Mocha proved everyone wrong! The tube was taken out 2 weeks ago. Four days ago she started having fluid problems again, but we made some adjustments in her diet (she has to be on very low fat), and are keeping our fingers crossed.

What is amazing all of us, her doctors included, is how happy Mocha is. She carries her football around, and always greets everyone with it, as if thanking them for taking care of her. We always run into staff at the clinics that know Mocha, even though we don’t know them. They always smile, and laugh as they say “good to see your still carrying that football around Mocha”. So many people have gotten attached to Mocha, and they are happy she gets to go home, but they always say that she is the brightest part of their day and will miss her.

Mocha has had many lung taps on numerous occasions, where they put a very long needle in between her ribs many times, and draw fluid. I was told that they have never seen a dog so accomodating for this procedure. When I first brought her home from WSU, and she had a large lung tube in, I had to remove fluid every 3 hours from her lungs, and lavage her daily(put a large bag of saline into her through the lung tube, and draw it back out). It was an hour 1/2 process, and she would lie down when I needed her too, and stand (tail wagging of course) when I had to draw out the fluid). She wags when I take her temperature and even when I stuff pills down her throat. I never realized a dog could show so much courage, and teach humans how to keep your head high, your heart laughing, and your heels kicking, even at the worst of times.

UPDATE March 22, 2006 —

It has just all added up, her meds, all the emergency visits, and her being in ICU for so long. It’s just crazy….

But, she is doing great today.

UPDATE March 23, 2006 —

My dear Sweet Mocha joined her canine companions to chase tennis balls in the sky this morning. She was so energetic and happy. You would never know she had major heart surgery, got through sepsis, and had many lung taps, not to mention cancer. Several hours ago we were playing with a rope toy, and she was frolicking. Suddenly she had a seizure and fell over. I had her to the Vet in less than 5 minutes, but it was too late. They think she “threw a clot”. Mocha never suffered throughout her amazing and courageous battle with cancer, but she sure put up with a lot of poking, pills and temperature taking! I am so grateful for the quality time we spent together, and getting an extra month to share love and adventures. I am an emotional wreck, but an emotional wreck who is lucky to have known such a pure soul. Although I was on this list for such a short time, it meant a lot, and give my love to all the doggies still fighting, their human soul mates, and those who have passed, but are never forgotten.

Sharon