Remission Rates & Dog Rebates

ShortdogI’m almost afraid to post this.

One year before the day before Halloween 2013, Tucker Dog had his leg taken off due to cancer. In medical terminology, he was “disarticulated at the hip,” which is just as horrifying and brutal as it sounds. He came home on Halloween night shaking with terror, crawled up on me and cried all night. We didn’t turn on the porch light or answer the door. Sorry, trick-or-treaters.

Over the next few days, I got a lot of chances to second-guess Tucker’s surgery. He wasn’t “bouncing back.” He was miserably in pain and obviously depressed — and who was I to blame him? His world went from warm and secure to cold and full of torture in one mortally painful, eternally long day. I’d never even smacked him. He was so unprepared…

If osteosarcoma had already seeded into his viscera, then I’d dropped a savage torment into what would be the last few months of his life. Bone cancer is near-universally lethal for long-leggedy dogs.

When the pathology report came back from the Colorado lab that boiled down his leg, it turned out that Tucker didn’t have bone cancer at all. He had, instead, a chondrosarcoma.

Osteosarcoma is characterized as “an aggressive malignant neoplasm arising from primitive transformed cells of mesenchymal origin (and thus a sarcoma) that exhibit osteoblastic differentiation and produce malignant osteoid.” Which is to say, it’s a vicious, rapid killer that starts by turning undifferentiated connective tissue that’s destined to become bone into tumorous tissues instead. It rots out your good, hard bones,. It spreads across your body like Arizona brush fire and kills you quickly, painfully, and ineluctably.

Three legs abed

Chondrosarcoma is related in that it’s a “bone cancer” (kinda), but rather than the osteocytes that make up a dog’s (or human’s) chassis, it attacks cartilaginous tissue… slowly.

Chondrosarcoma metastasizes sluggishly. Typically growing into soft tissue, it is a less common large-dog ailment and quite rare on the surface of a bone, which is why the radiologist (yes, my dog has a radiologist and an oncologist; as a Great Dane in good standing, he may well also have a cardiologist before he dies… or not) originally thought the star-shaped tumor on his right femur was almost certainly the more common, rapid, and deadly osteosarcoma.

Dogs are most vulnerable to chondrosarcoma in their snouts and ears. On Tucker’s rock-solid shank, it moved slowly enough that on his last day before the surgery, he could still soft-lip a Milk Bone held eight feet high in the air without snapping that cancerous thigh bone like the rotten old twig it was becoming. When they tell you that your tall dog’s bone cancer is not, after all, osteosarcoma, it’s the closest thing to “good news” that canine oncologists ever get to give. After that, you get to watch and wait to see if the nemesis awakes like the shambling nightmare from any American horror movie: flat-footed but well-armed, inexorable, unspeakable.

Tucker had his annual checkup today. No new limps, appetite loss, or odd noises in his lungs; strong heart beating like a coxswain’s drum. When a dog goes a year without cancer, he can officially be called “cancer-free.” Not that cancer is ever free, you understand. Or even affordable.Comforting pup

Is he “out of the woods?” No more than most, and surely less than many. Danes live their short lives slowly, relishing every sleepy moment and romping to a stately waltz rhythm. A cancer-prone dog is… well, cancer-prone. And Dog only knows what next affliction will strike my big, strong, fragile boarhound.

This much I know: Tucker got up today and went off to another adventure, trick-or-treating for Milk Bones at the vet and meeting two new dogs, a cat, every cooing technician in the place (why didn’t I get a Great Dane when I was single?), and one stoic turtle. He busted his ass saddling up into the van (“See, Dad? I told you I hate riding in cars!”) and I cringed when the lone drumstick astern folded up under his weight, but he hopped back in and clambered up onto his blue velour throne across the back. The main differences between Tucker and Scooby-Doo being that Tucker is (still!) real; Scooby-Doo has, for reasons known only to Hanna-Barbera’s animators,  a puma’s tail; and our van of questionable provenance is not named the Mystery Machine. It is the Slobber Wagon.

For a long time, I used to answer people who said things like “see ya again!” with, “If so, that’ll be a good day.” I’ve stopped saying that. Sometimes people shiver a little when they hear it. I don’t really understand why.

Tucker and Auggie RUN!

In so very many ways, dogs are wiser than we. Today, Tucker snuffled and woofed and quivered and waggled and napped and chomped and romped and ran like there’s no tomorrow — and if there isn’t one for him, he won’t have wasted one minute of today.

That rapping sound you hear? Don’t worry about it. It’s not mortality at the door, come to bear you away before you finish that Facebook post.

It’s just me, knocking on wood again.



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  1. can you write a post for Keegan?
    I still miss her so bad, every night.

    She was the light in my eye, the joy in my heart, the life in my soul.

    It hurts so much.

    • Rachel, I think you just did.

      How is it that we can grow so close to the animals who become family, when people are so damned hard?

      You would like Tucker, and he would have adored Keegan. One day, we may all hang out at the same dog park, on the kind of bright warm day that goes on forever, as all fine romping days should.

    • Bea Rector says

      Hey, Jack and Rachel,
      I just want to thank you for reminding me to enjoy every moment with my Australian shepherd, Pie. She turned 11 on Nov. 5th and is slowing down, spending more time sleeping…
      I’ve just given her a tummy rub in Tucker and Keegan’s honor. Thanks for taking the time to put your love into words worth sharing.

  2. Jack, shame on you for making a tough old man cry.

  3. Woohoo! Go Tucker, boy, and kudos to Jack, too. I hear your voice when I read your stories, and then I hear the back stories, too. I cannot read about Tucker without a whisper of that day-you-met story… which always makes me smile with a lump in my throat.

    Lordy, where would we be without our 4-legged companions. I think they are what make us human. (Or not. I’m thinking of a certain politician….)

  4. I”m so happy he’s doing well. He”s such a happy boy

  5. Ren Doughty says

    Just had to reread a few.

    That last photo.

    I do love the way you turn a phrase, Jack. I’ve been thinking about you guys many times every day. I’ve been ruminating on the meaning of the word ‘regarding.’ It’s a better word than I often give it credit for. ‘Regarding Tucker’ got me thinking.

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