Sometimes life STINKS

Jack Russell Terrier with malignant anine oral melanoma

You may or may not have noticed that this blog has been quiet for more than a month.

That’s because in early February we received some devastating news that has required time to digest. I haven’t wanted to write about it; it was too new and raw. I think I was hoping everything would magically go back to normal. But that doesn’t seem to be happening, and I can’t put this off any longer. Therefore it’s time to hit publish on this post, which was difficult to write and has been gathering dust in my draft folder for over a week.

My sweet Archie has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of malignant cancer (canine oral melanoma), which has already invaded his lymph nodes and probably his lungs.

His prognosis is grim. Our hearts are breaking.

“Hey, what’s that bump?”

It all started last month, when Scout and I took Archie and Sophie to the park to play. Archie was doing his favorite thing in the world, sprinting after the rubber ball that has traveled around the world with us, when I noticed blood pouring from the side of his mouth. It was coming from a small bump growing between his two back molars. The bump was tiny, not more than several millimeters in diameter, and totally hidden unless Archie happened to be panting. It looked like nothing, just one of those weird and no-big-deal bumps dogs sometimes get, you know?

Except is was a big deal.

The Biopsy

I scheduled a biopsy and (optimistically) a teeth-cleaning for Archie at the vet around the corner from our apartment. When I dropped off Archie, the vet mentioned she’d also biopsy his lymph nodes, but I assumed this was just a precaution. Honestly, I didn’t think the bump was anything problematic and was more concerned about the anesthesia.

I couldn’t wait to pick up Archie and check out his pearly white teeth.

A few days later, when I popped back in for the test results, the vet told me the bump was actually a malignant melanoma. I can’t recall much of what he said, but phrases like “maligno,” “muy agresivo,” and “nódulos linfáticos” stuck in my brain like fishhooks.

A month has passed since that moment, three weeks of it spent waiting for in-depth pathology report from a laboratory DFE (Mexico City). Unfortunately the damn report confirmed everything the vet had already told me. No mistakes had been made, no test-results mixed up. Archie’s cancer is malignant and has already spread to his lymph nodes.

Life expectancy: 3 to 6 months.

While we all waited for the report, the vet did an x-ray, which showed specs on the lungs.

When I reviewed the x-ray film with the vets, one if them suggested the spots could be coincidental, merely some kind of calcifications. However the other two doctors shook their heads grimly.

Treatment Options for Canine Oral-Melanoma

Once this particular cancer has spread, treatment options are limited. There is no cure. At best, the spread of the tumor can be stalled for a while.

An immunotherapy vaccine has given some dogs at death’s door extra years of life. It’s expensive, and not available in Mexico. But nevertheless, I hoped it might save Archie.

I spent the first week after Archie’s diagnosis writing and sending lengthy, tear-stained emails to various executives at  Merial, the company that makes vaccine. Maybe they could sponsor Archie and send some of the vaccine to Mexico. Hey, you never know what kind of blogging sponsorship is possible.

But eventually I received a two-sentence message back from Merial, confirming that they would not be showing up on a white horse. Apparently Merial won’t license or ship the vaccine to Mexico, period.

We briefly considered taking Archie to the US for immunotherapy. But the cost of treatment there is exorbitant. What do I mean by exorbitant? I mean $1,500 dollars per shot for a sequence of four shots, plus lifetime boosters every six months. And that’s not the end of it. In addition to the vaccination cost, there’d be canine oncologists, other vet expenses, tests, housing in the US, and more.

But then didn’t feel right for our family. Or for Archie, who’d hate all the fuss. We abandoned the idea when canine oncologists (from both the US and Mexico) who’ve read Archie’s path report agreed that with such an aggressive cancer, one that’s already spread so far, even immunotherapy wouldn’t be very effective.

A well-connected medical friend offered to set up a compassionate-use drug trial just for Archie. (Thanks, Kim.) Their drug, designed for humans, has helped some dogs. But it turns out that drug probably isn’t the best match for Archie’s tumor. Though my family and I decided against it, the magnitude of the effort exerted on Archie’s behalf warmed our hearts and provided a ray of light during an otherwise dark time.

Radiation won’t help, and though we actually bought pricey chemo medicine and planned to begin treatments here in Mexico, we’ve since rethought that path.

After consulting with a few other vets, Mark, Scout and I realized that the chemo is unlikely to be Archie’s silver bullet. At best it could give him a few extra months, but what kind of months would those be?

No, instead, we have decided to help Archie enjoy his life to the fullest. No more medical procedures, no aggressive treatments. Just love, fun, and palliative care. Archie hates going to the doctor more than any other dog on the planet. My free-spirited, traveling pup can’t spend his last months of life on steel exam tables with his tail between his legs, being poked by needles or force-fed toxic medications. That’s just wrong. He’s already spent too much time at the vet’s office this past month.

After all, Archie doesn’t know he is dying. All he knows is that there’s a rat with his name on it somewhere in the kitchen pipes. His death should be our problem, not his.

Jack Russell Terrier with malignant anine oral melanoma

Omaha Beach, France

Exactly how rotten is this?

Archie just turned five. He should be keeping me company for another 15 years or so, but I’ll be lucky to have him for another six months. That stinks.

Just so you know, Archie and I have been best friends since he was 8 weeks old. He is my soulmate dog. He’s slept under the covers next to me nearly every night of his life. When he was a puppy, I used to get up three times a night, bundle him into the elevator, and take him out to the backyard of our Vancouver high-rise. Bleary eyed, I protected the little fellow from owls as he wobbled around the yard, looking for a perfect spot to pee.

Jack Russell Terrier Vancouver BC

Vancouver, Canada

With 20 countries under his belt, Archie is quite the traveler too.

He has swum in the Pacific, the Aegean, the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Marmara. He has frolicked in Lake Como, chased cats in Istanbul, strolled the cobblestoned lanes of Germany, marked cypress trees in Italy, and bathed in hot springs on an ancient Greek battlefield. He’s streaked across the D-Day beaches of Normandy, cruised the canals of Amsterdam, hiked the Swiss Alps, played fetch in the pine forests of Croatia, and taught the apes of Gibraltar that a Jack Russell Terrier never backs down.

He is a terrific travel buddy—always game for any adventure, as long as he’s with his family—and exploring the world won’t be the same without him.

Oren Turkey traveling dog

Ören, Turkey

A request

I considered turning off comments on this post. Your good wishes are appreciated, but I’ll ask everyone to resist making treatment suggestions or recommendations. Our research is done, our decisions have been made.

Life isn’t about dying, it’s about living, and that’s what Archie is going to do. As soon as we can arrange it, we’re moving Archie and ourselves to the beach. There he can play in the surf, chase gulls, terrorize crabs, snooze in the sunshine, and live large, as  befits a Jack Russell Terrier. We want to enjoy the time we have left together.

By the way, just because we are choosing a path of acceptance, doesn’t mean we aren’t still hoping for a miracle. Please keep us in your thoughts.

Chapala, Mexico

Chapala, Mexico


Click here to read more about oral canine melanoma.

We have added a PayPal button to the top right of this page for those who have asked how to contribute to Sophie’s rescue expenses or Archie’s vet bills. Thank you so much for your support. We’re hoping to get Archie to the beach ASAP, and every little bit helps.

Thermopylae hot springs

Thermopylae, Greece

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