For each PuppyUp Walk, the Event Manager and their Walk Team select both a Human Cancer Hero and a Canine Cancer Hero, to be honored during the Walk ceremonies.
These Heroes are chosen because of their exemplary attitude towards their particular type of cancer, showing bravery and hopefulness in their fight against this terrible disease.
Penny was approximately three years old when she was pulled from the Hickman County Animal shelter by a mother / daughter rescue team (Companion Pet Rescue of Middle Tennessee). Penny was emaciated, uneducated, scared and not very socially interested in people. At three, she had already significantly worn down her teeth likely as a combination of malnourishment and constant chewing to get out of her situation.
Simultaneously, in May of 2011, I was along for a ride with a friend who was looking to adopt a Collie after her recent loss. At this point, I had been without a dog for two years since the loss of a boxer to heart disease and I was telling my friend the entire trip how crazy she was for rushing to get another companion. I remember saying how I wasn’t ready for the commitment of another dog and the potential heart break. Needless to say, one hour later, I’m on my way home with a muddy, scared, and cute little girl I later named Penny. And oh, by the way, my friend left empty handed.
Penny was a hand full starting out so we quickly got her some professional training and started socialization activities. She was smart and caught on quickly to it all, including using her charm and looks to her advantage. For about 5 years, everything was fun with a few medical issues here and there but relatively uneventful from a health stand point.
In April of 2016, I’d been working out in the yard and spraying for wasps under the deck because Penny had been romping, playing and nipping at wasps (that’s my girl) and I knew she was going to get stung. That very night I was fussing at her because she had a small welt on her hind leg at the hock, no doubt stung by a wasp. I watched her leg for several days and the welt didn’t go down, so I took her to the vet thinking we had a stinger in her leg or a local allergic reaction….we’d be in and out in no time. Thirty minutes later we are having an aspiration done with a commitment to call the next morning with results. When my phone range at 7pm that night from the vet’s office, all I heard was “likely Mast Cell Cancer” and “Oncologist Visit” and I remember thinking this must be a mistake. Days later we are at the Oncologist for a consultation where I heard “amputation” for the first time because the location on her leg had no tissue around it and therefore no way to remove the mass – I was horrified and sobbing. Going from a suspected wasp sting to talk of amputation in less than a week didn’t even seem possible.
A few days later we were already at Blue Pearl in Atlanta, Georgia to see a Radiation Oncology specialist, Dr. Nathan Lee. No guarantee, but it was worth a shot for my girl to lead a ‘normal’ life. After 17 daily treatments and a wonderful experience with the Blue Pearl staff and Dr. Lee who were kind and caring for both Penny and me, we were headed back home to Nashville for recovery. She was just a little sluggish and tired, but all in all she was pretty much herself with no welt and we were scheduled with follow-ups at Blue Pearl in Nashville with Dr. Pam Lucas, Oncologist. Penny’s leg that was treated had some swelling for a few months which was not unusual, but the swelling just wouldn’t go away. After more aspirations and biopsies with Dr. Lucas, I heard the horror of the word “amputation” again.
We had to face reality together, Penny with three legs is better than no Penny at all. A full body scan was performed to confirm there were no more hidden issues that would negate the benefits of amputation and then OMG, I’m actually making the decision to cut my girl’s leg off!
With Dr. Lucas and Dr. Mirae Wood (Surgery Specialist) now working together, we scheduled our surgery and I cried for days. The day came and we amputated. I won’t lie, the first 7 to 10 days were tough. She was hurting, groggy, and struggling to figure out how to go to the bathroom and hobble around. She fell a few times which seemed to discourage her from even trying. Dr. Lucas and Dr. Wood counseled me to give it a little more time and just continue to help and be supportive…she’d get there.
Days later, she woke up, figured it out and decided she could do anything on three legs! We’ve never missed a beat since. We took a few chemo treatments, but when the pathology report came back at a low grade II, Dr. Lucas and I decided to stop because the threat of spread was low. It has now been 2 years since her original diagnosis and over 1.5 years since her amputation and we are living a ‘normal’, cancer free life. Penny with three legs is definitely better than no Penny at all and in reality, just as good as Penny with four. It takes most people hours to even realize she is an amputee.
Penny and I are both thankful every day for the Blue Pearl Clinics, their supportive and caring staff, and the quality of care we received from Dr. Lee, Dr. Lucas, and Dr. Wood. Although the radiation didn’t work, it was worth a try to us and we still think we made all the right decisions with their council. I’m also thankful that I work at wonderful employer, Symmetry Surgical, with a supportive boss. I’ll never forget what he told me when I asked for time off: “If she is important to you, she is important to me….take whatever time you need”. Penny is still here and with everything that happened still loves to visit the Blue Pearl office because of all the people around us that loved and supported us. Penny and I both hope you never have to learn about Mast Cell Cancer, but if you do, we encourage you to get the right help quickly and make the tough decisions so you have the best chance possible for more time together!