With COVID protocols in place at all the vet specialists for the unforeseen future in Los Angeles (ie, pet parents aren’t allowed inside), combined with Tucker’s numerous health concerns that dictate some preface before examination, getting consultations in the Los Angeles area was a no-go for me. They were still acting as if pets were like vehicles to be dropped off for an oil change. And while that was a necessity in the beginning, being two years in… it was time to get real.
Luckily, up north at independent veterinary clinics, they were allowing pet parents in wearing masks and reducing indoor contact. They understood pets and their parents are much less stressed when they're together.
So I had booked two appointments to discuss re-treating Tucker with Stelfonta: an injectable cancer-killer for mast cell tumors that he had been treated with by Dr Sue Ettinger back in February 2021 in Connecticut. A new tumor had grown near the original tumor’s site on the leg. I didn’t want to drive all the way back to Connecticut now that I knew the procedure and knew ultimately it really is about one minute that’s needed to get this done. However, I needed to find the right vet who had the confidence and experience to do it, and who Tucker was comfortable enough with to get it done. If necessary, of course, I’d make the drive back to Dr Sue, but I was hoping we could resolve this a little closer to home.
And for us, Northern California is home, so why not?
Our Monterey appointment with the oncologist Dr. Arteaga was scheduled for Monday end of day so we’d have all day to drive, hike, explore, and then go to the appointment. Our Scotts Valley appointment with Dr Scholl, a general practitioner who had used Stelfonta before, was first thing the next morning, leaving us an entire day of exploring and hiking before heading back down the coast.
Not taking out usual route up into the Bay area, we had a little more exploring through the Central California heartland. Then onto the beaches to a place we hadn’t yet been, and is supposedly quite dog friendly: Carmel. It did not disappoint.
The exam room was a lovely set up. I felt more like we were in for a therapy session than an oncology appointment. Despite a nice cozy dog bed, Tucker took his position in the chair… because always with the chair (and it was the seat closest to the treat jar on the bookcase).
This vet did give me some hope. She said, “Maybe you just have to come to terms with the fact that you have a lumpy dog.” She had read Tucker’s medical history and knows the breed and risks. Because the tumors are usually low grade (but sometimes numerous) with Staffordshire Terriers, the choice to not treat is an option. It’s possible Tucker may develop many more. Of course, with each tumor, there is a risk of metastasizing--going into the organs and spreading. MCT is the great pretender: it can look like anything, act like anything, be completely benign, or cause death within a couple of months. However, sometimes the simple act of treating it (surgery, radiation, etc) can cause stress and activate more tumors into existence. It is all a gamble with no odds published.
My main concern for Tucker was the location. Without surgery as an option due to no sedation, if it gets bigger, it would impede his mobility. She suggested a course of steroids to reduce size should it come to that.
Overall, it wan’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted Tucker’s tumor to be treated and gone. I didn’t want to wonder if one day I’d wake up and he’d be unable to walk. Or that the cancer load would be too much for his body or that it would spread.
But it was what it was. I appreciated her honesty. I will never be upset with a vet who says, “I won’t do it.” I’d rather they know their limitations and stick to a standard. If she was completely confident that she could administer Stelfonta and it would work, she would do it.
And so we took our leave just before sunset and then headed north toward Scotts Valley.
But the sun was still up, therefore there was still some coastline to see before night fell. Pulling off to a little parking area along the main highway, Tucker and I sat and looked out over the ocean to watch the sunset.
The fact is Tucker doesn’t know he has cancerous tumors. He feels fine. He enjoys life. All is well. The burden is on me. Any time a tumor exists, there is a chance of metastasis. It’s all a gamble. Once metastasized, there isn’t much one can do. Chemo… or supporting his body to try to keep it at bay—which is what I had been doing since everything began. But still, it is a gamble.
I hate gambling. I don’t go to Vegas, I don’t like slot machines, and I don’t like risks. This one is more than losing a little money. It’s losing Tucker. An accurate risk assessment was important, but was so finding the right vet. It’s why I drove 3000 miles through ice storms and a pandemic before vaccines Connecticut last year. Dr Sue was the only one I trusted to do this. And it may be she’s the only one again.
But we still had one more vet to see in the morning.
And so I enjoyed the moment with Tucker, as we watched the sun go down on a day of adventuring, with hopes and wishes for many more sundown to watch and many more days - and years - of adventuring ahead.