Dogs bring us a great bounty of love, enthusiasm, loyalty, and laughter. Really, their only fault is that they die too soon. Like many of us, Nancy Wolske knows how tough that is.
Nancy’s dog Schooner was not just her furry child, but also a contributing member of the community. First as a guide dog, then after retirement as a Guide Dog Ambassador helping to promote the service dog mission. Schooner was also a therapy dog for Dove Lewis hospitals.
When lung cancer took Schooner at eight years old, Nancy was devastated. Soon after, her sister-in-law asked her to adopt a 3-month-old Red Setter puppy named Cara, but she was reluctant. “My mother-in-law rescued the mom, and my sister-in-law had the other puppy,” says Nancy, who finally agreed to foster the puppy for the weekend. “She arrived in our home while our hearts ached terribly, but it didn’t take but a few hours to find laughter through the tears.” The Wolke’s fell in love and wound up adopting Cara. “It was one of the best decisions, ever,” says Nancy.
Cara is now nine-years-old and Nancy describes her as “our child”. She is a very smart dog and Nancy has taught her many hand signals. She also knows all the individuals in her stuffed animal zoo, and will retrieve them by name as requested. When asked to ‘do the dishes’, Cara picks up a spoon or small dish and carries it into the kitchen. “She is very proud of this ability,” says Nancy.
Last fall, Nancy found a lump on Cara’s neck. She immediately took her to Dr. Beth Nguyen at Woodburn Pet Hospital, who ordered a needle sample; the test result indicated thyroid cancer. She referred them to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at OSU.
At the VTH, an oncology team examined Cara and ordered a CT scan which confirmed the mass on her thyroid gland. Surgery was recommended, however a blood test revealed Cara had an abnormally low platelet count. The oncology team consulted with the internal medicine team who diagnosed immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMTP), an auto-immune disease that attacks platelets in the blood stream and can slow blood clotting. Unfortunately, Cara could not undergo surgery in that condition.
The internal medicine team prescribed a drug treatment plan to bring Cara’s platelet count up, and Nancy took her home. “It was very stressful to think about the cancer growing while we waited for the treatment to work,” she says. “The communication between Dr. Nguyen and OSU was frequent and timely. I cannot emphasize enough how important, and good, this component was.”
Finally, Cara was able to have the tumor removed. The surgery went well with no sign that the cancer had spread. “We were very fortunate and able to take her home earlier than expected,” says Nancy.
Cara is now six months post-surgery and back to her old self, with a good prognosis for a normal lifespan. “She is likely to do very well,” says OSU oncologist Dr. Katie Curran. “The average survival for dogs with this type of cancer, when surgery is possible, is between 2-3 years from diagnosis.” Dr. Curran adds: “It was important that Cara was brought to her veterinarian when the mass was first noted. This allowed us to initiate treatment for Cara as soon as possible.”
Nancy is now an enthusiastic ambassador for the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “We are so grateful for the entire team there at OSU, from the amazing volunteers, the reception staff, the Saturday staff — every person there went above and beyond for us. It genuinely eased our worries from the first moment we arrived.”
Catching cancer early is often key to a good outcome. In addition to regular veterinary check-ups, pet owners should stay aware of their dog’s condition, and keep an eye out for lumps or other changes. For more information on signs of cancer in dogs, visit http://vetspecialists.com/category/oncology/.