Over the past few years I have watched Jesse and his mum battle with cancer. Together they turned a poor prognosis into years of good quality life and Jesse’s mum has been kind enough to share their story. They are both a great inspiration to never give up and to fight your fears.
I hope their story will be a source of support to others.
In loving memory of Jesse
Jesse was my dog and I was his human. We loved each other without reservation, and from the start were completely in tune with each other. He was a Border Collie, and I first met him when he was 10 weeks old, and took him home a week later. We were rarely apart, as I took him everywhere with me, including work and church, and he gave me more understanding, loyalty, devotion and sheer joy than almost anyone else I have ever met, including humans.
When he was nine, he barked at the postman as usual, but then gasped for breath, which was not usual. Thinking he had a respiratory infection, I took him to the vet, who diagnosed paralysis of the larynx. On referral to a specialist, I discovered that this was caused by an underlying neuropathy, which would eventually cause his back legs to give way. It was not known how fast or slow moving the neuropathy would be, but the larynx would require an operation within a few months, in order to enable him to breathe. After the operation, he would never be able to swim again, and would be at risk of catching repeated infections.
Deeply distressed by this horrible news, I took Jesse home and found it hard to believe, as he was still so active and full of life, and I had certainly never seen any sign of weakness in his hind legs.
I was still trying to come to terms with this when 3 weeks later I felt a small lump under his throat. The local vet sent me straight back up to the referral hospital, where cancer was diagnosed. The surgeon was hopeful that it was early stage thyroid cancer, which he had a good chance of removing and carried a reasonable prognosis. However, when he operated, he found it was a very rare soft tissue cancer, which could not be removed. He took me to speak to the Oncologist who told me the cancer was very aggressive, did not respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and he would only live a few weeks. There was an experimental treatment available, but it was too soon to say whether or not it would have any impact.
I won’t try to describe my feelings on hearing this news, as no words could ever convey them, but anyone who has been deeply connected to a dog might have some idea of what I was going through.
A few days later, though, I determined not to accept the diagnoses or prognoses, and to fight these evil conditions with everything in my power.
First stop was a dog physiotherapist. She was lovely, and had several constructive suggestions as to how she could help Jesse counter the effects of the neuropathy, but sadly he was not able to cope with the treatments she offered, and after 3 attempts he became so distressed that we felt it wiser to give up. She gave me a helpful sheet of exercises which we could do at home.
Next stop nutritionist. Oddly the hospital did not have one, or any links to one, but I was fortunate to find Kristina on the Internet. She took endless trouble to create the best possible diet to help him fight the cancer, and suggested various supplements as well.
So battle commenced. We did the exercises and a lot of uphill walking to strengthen Jess’s muscles. We also went up and down the stairs frequently during the day, and I made sure that Jesse had lots of walks to keep him on the move. I gave him frequent leg massages, which he enjoyed, and kept his blood circulation going. He loved his new diet, and also drinks, because he refused to drink water, for some reason (not uncommon in dogs with cancer I was told) and had chicken and vegetable broth home made for him instead.
I know from experience that in humans it is important for a cancer patient to have a positive outlook and a wish to live, so I made sure Jess and I went on interesting new walks, went visiting friends, met lots of other dogs, got out and about, and that he was never, for one second, in any doubt as to how much I loved and wanted him. We still played ball, he chased and carried sticks, and he still swam in the sea. At home we continued to play with his toys.
A few weeks came and went, and a few months came and went, and Jesse was doing fine. He had monthly blood and urine tests at the vets and the results were good. We had a scare when his kidneys began to function less well, but Kristina corrected this via his diet, and they became pretty much normal again.
After a year he began to slow down a little…less energetic play with other dogs, a few more grey hairs, an increasing number of infections, but he still had a good quality of life, and care from the vet quickly sorted out the infections. He was unable to have the ‘tie back’ operation on his larynx to improve his breathing, as the cancer was in the way, but in fact his breathing remained pretty good. Occasionally he would over strain himself and have trouble breathing, making a roaring sound, and collapsing on the ground, but I learned to sit him up, hold him closely in my arms, point his nose upwards, and stroke him calmly , telling him he would be fine in a minute. The roaring would stop and within a couple of minutes he would indeed be fine, and go rushing off again, wagging his tail.
After about 18 months, we visited the Oncologist at the referral hospital, and she was amazed that he was not only still alive, but still so lively and looking so good. She said it was a good job he had never read the text books, he was a medical impossibility!
Coming up to two years after diagnosis, Jesse began to slow down noticeably. He could not chase the ball any more as he ran out of breath, but we still played with it, with me throwing or bouncing it to him so he could catch it, which he enjoyed. He still went to greet other dogs, but stopped playing with them after a few minutes, as he couldn’t keep up. However, we still walked 1.5. hours a day, albeit broken up into 3 separate walks, and he always trotted ahead of me, and took a great interest in his surroundings. He also took to choosing a toy and taking it with him on walks, something he had never done before. Maybe he needed the comfort of a familiar toy in an increasingly puzzling and difficult life.
Jesse knew he was ill, but I think he always believed I would get him better, and no-one could have tried harder than I did. I would have given everything I owned to have Jesse well again, but sadly it is not that easy. He began to limp on one of his front legs, and the vet thought it was arthritis, so I gave him two different types of pills and the limp went away. We prayed every night that he would get well, although I knew that the medical expectation was that this was not a possibility.
Eventually I thought I could see pain in his eyes, and so did my close friends. He got yet another infection. The vet gave him stronger painkillers and more antibiotics, but this time the antibiotics didn’t work, although the pain relief helped.
His life came to an end quite suddenly, 2 years and 3 months after his diagnoses, and the cause of it was foot drop in his front paw, caused by the neuropathy. This is where the muscles in the leg are just not strong enough to support the paw, and it drags along the ground causing stumbling and grazing to the top of the paw. I tried every type of boot I could find at the vets and on the Internet, but none of them fitted, and they seemed to make the problem worse, with the extra weight they added to his leg. I also tried home made contraptions, but none of them worked. Our lives contracted, so that we could only walk for 10-15 mins twice a day, and Jesse didn’t really want to go out and about any more, even though I had bought him a ramp to help him into the car. He wanted to go for walks and would trot along at a fine pace for the first five minutes, but then it would get too difficult and he would soon give up and want to go home. He frequently stumbled and often fell. I wouldn’t leave him alone, as he became quite frantic if he thought I was going out without him, so our house became a sad place, in which we both became bored and depressed.
In the end, his other front paw began to buckle under him, and his hind legs were very wobbly. His walks were no longer a pleasure for him, and we had hit a brick wall. I took him to the vets for a final injection when I was sure he had had enough.
I suppose the ending was inevitable, but nothing can take away from me those two extra years we had together, against all the odds, which were rewarding and happy for us both until the last couple of weeks. Neither of us are the sort to give up easily and we fought shoulder to shoulder until the last ditch. What gave him so much extra life? I will never know, but I think love, good nutrition, zest for life and a positive attitude were the main factors, coupled with positive and constructive help from our excellent vet. God bless you Jesse, RIP. 25.01.17