Gazelle’s cancer journey


Joy’s Journal
Patient: Gazelle, 15 year old Saluki mix

Parents: Joy & Ken
Illness: bladder cancer
Dates: January – March, 2014

Over the years I have learned how to guide pet parents when they are faced with a shocking diagnosis just like I was. That is why I created our Specialized Care division because I realized that the average person needed guidance to help care for their sick pet. Now that pet parent is me and Gazelle is my sick dog.  I think it’s important to journal and share our journey not only to help me have an emotional outlet but hopefully it could help another family in a similar place.

Gazelle – my sweet Saluki

2014 didn’t start off so well for me and my sweet Gazelle, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma). I was overwrought when I first heard Gazelle’s diagnosis, my head was spinning thinking about her options and next steps. I was considering surgery if the tumor was operable plus chemotherapy but then I came to my senses and knew what I was going to do. Gazelle is going to be 15 years old. She’s in good health otherwise, still going strong and did I really want to subject my senior dog to surgery or chemo? No I did not, so I took my own advice in this situation and decided to provide Gazelle with the best palliative care possible. That’s what myself and the Specialized Care team from JoyCares does, so I will be utilizing my own services to help manage Gazelle’s cancer journey. I know my baby is in good hands, I’m feeling positive and crossing our paws that we still have lots of time together.

January 6
Right before Christmas I noticed blood in her urine. We ran a urine sample and did X-rays.  There was some bacteria in her urine and the X-rays showed some spots in her bladder which at the time Dr. Liz and I were thinking were just crystals that she would hopefully pass with ease due to her being a female. Gazelle finished her 14 days of antibiotics and day #2 after being off the antibiotics there was blood in her urine again.

I took her in to do another urine sample and this one we sent off to the lab and the pathologist confirmed that there were cancer cells. The good news about bladder cancer, its slow growing, it doesn’t really metastasize and I have known dogs that were diagnosed with bladder cancer and lived many years post diagnosis.

Just by looking at Gazelle you’d never know she has cancer. She’s still running around like a crazy dog, eating like a champ and still surfing stuff off the counter whenever she can. I only have to face reality when I see blood in her urine and with the snow, I can’t miss it and the reality of it all just smacks me in the face.

January 13
I’m going to get her an ultrasound just to know for my own peace of mind where her tumor is actually located and how large it is. This way, Dr. Liz,
Kris Payden and I will know what we are dealing with.  We’ll be keeping her comfortable with anti-inflamitories and using antibiotics when necessary.  Our own alternative therapies person Diane has already provided me with a cancer diet and Kris will be doing healing touch sessions.

February 12
My Gazelle still has it going on even at 15 years old and having the big C! Gazelle has always been a runner (I have SOOO many stories of her escapades) and she sure did seize that opportunity to bolt when Ken forgot to close the gate last night. She must have been running like the wind even with the lymphedema in her back right thigh because daddy ended up finding her at the end of the street. Naughty Gazelle but it’s nice to know cancer hasn’t slowed her down.

Gazelle’s back tumors – right side 4x larger than left

February 17
Gazelle doesn’t seem to mind that her lymphedema is acting up and that her back right hind quarter/thigh is 4X’s larger than her left. All she wants to do is run outside and play in the blizzard and have me fill “her” bird feeders (even though it has been explained to her a gazillion times that birds go nighty night when the sun goes down).

Although Gazelle is a stubborn patient and has been turning away warm compresses and massages to help the fluid move out of her thigh, we’re not giving up.  Kris is lending me some horse leg wraps and her heated towel secured in a zip lock bag that will be applied onto her leg so she can move freely.

Don’t get me started about her “needing” to eat from a spoon saga!  Her appetite is good, she just LOVES the attention of being spoon fed. She is truly my dog, Drama Queen all the way.

February 21 – part 1
I found out today that my Gazelle has two aggressive growing tumors. One on her inner right thigh (that explains the lymphedema) and one on her shoulder which keeps on moving towards her chest. Dr. Jeni Gaffney at
 The Visiting Vet did an ultrasound today on the inner thigh and her bladder and the frustrating part about this all is that her bladder tumor is itty-bitty.

The surgery to remove the other tumors would be awful on her. Her recovery would be painful and we wouldn’t be guaranteed that we’d get all of the tumor and we’d be back to square one with the lymphodema.

February 21 – part 2
I am a lucky girl to know and work with so many veterinarians.  I am also very lucky that our
JoyCares Specialized Care Manager, Kris Payden, has relationships with multiple veterinarians in the area. Also, I need to practice what I preach.  I ALWAYS forewarn clients who might need to get their sick critter into their vet before the weekend arrives.  There is nothing worse than it being late Saturday afternoon or a Sunday and you have to make a choice to go to the emergency clinic.

I had planned on taking Gazelle to see Dr. Liz at Gateway Animal Clinic on Thursday.  It was nothing urgent but I wanted her to see how the lump on her shoulder had grown and I wanted to discuss some stuff about her ongoing lymphedema.  Turns out, my schedule got turned upside down, Dr. Liz and I were playing phone tag and she was going to be at a weekend conference. We never were able to touch base. Little did I know that Gazelle was going to take a turn for the worse Friday morning.  I had let the pups out to potty and Gazelle was checking out the bird feeder.  I was getting their breakfast ready when Sinatra started throwing himself against the back door.  I opened the door to see Gazelle splayed out on the ground in the backyard.  Sinatra is pretty smart for a blind and deaf dog, he was trying to let me know that Gazelle was in trouble.

I immediately got on the phone to try and get an appointment at Tremont Animal Clinic but no available appointments until Monday.  I sensed she needed extra pain meds and I was determined for her to see a vet before the weekend. Next plan…Kris connected me with Dr. Jeni who kindly agreed to see me, Gazelle and Kris in her office if I could get there ASAP. We made it! Gazelle was able to get more pain meds and was comfortable over the weekend. Dr. Jeni also suggested the possibly of utilizing compression stockings to help manage the lymphedema.

No trip to the ER for us!!

Thankfully I was able to lean on Kris and my own Special Care service so I didn’t go into panic mode.  That’s what Kris does, she formulates a plan, is there for you when you need her even if it is a phone call and she has many good veterinarians in the area that she can reach out to when needed. Take a lesson from me and Gazelle because you don’t think clearly and rationally when your pet is sick, support and a second set of eyes are priceless.  Plan ahead for weekend supplies and possible appointments. Your regular vet that you trust and normally use might not always be available.  It’s helpful to get to know different vets in your area just in case.

February 26
The lymphedema in Gazelle’s back, right leg was becoming hard to manage.  Kris and I had the bright idea to get Gazelle a compression stocking.  They use those on humans for lymphedema so why couldn’t we find something for a dog? Not so easy. I started looking for something specifically made for canines and almost 4 hours later…I found ziltch. Plan B; find a local place so I could visualize what we’d need to mix and match together that would actually work.

I found a PAWsome place in Westlake – AccucareTheir website stated that you needed to come in for an actual fitting of compression items.  I was going to call and make an appointment and “forget” to mention that it was for a dog but I decided to provide them with full disclosure.  The nice lady on the phone was VERY helpful and told me that Gazelle was more than welcome to come in and that we should ask for a gentleman named Gary.

Accucare – Gary, Kris & Gazelle

Gazelle and I got into the poop mobile for our adventure to Accucare.  Gary was WONDERFUL and Gazelle was so patient letting Gary and Kris try stuff on her.  As it turned out, there was no actual human compression item that could work…we needed something that would push the fluid from her paw up into her thigh so in turn the fluid would go back into her body but nothing fit he anatomy of a canine leg.

Gary did hook us up with a really cool moist heat item that can be tossed into the microwave, it helped and Gazelle enjoys it.  He also made her a special wrap & extra parts to keep her leg elevated while we chill on the couch together.

Gary and Kris discussed the possibility of using a compression pump. Gazelle has agreed to be our “guinea pig” because if it works we’ll purchase the pump and help future critters manage their lymphedema.

February 27
I am so lucky that our Specialized Care Manager, Kris Payden is certified in
Healing Touch for animals.  Over the years our clients have been having Healing Touch sessions with Kris and the feedback that I would get from them was always complimentary. They would let me know how well their critters would respond to the session, that they noticed they were feeling better and it was such an asset to be able to have Kris available to do this for them in their home.

Healing Touch therapy
Supervising resident, Dr. Dude kitty

I never used Healing Touch on any of my animals…..until Gazelle. She had her first session today.  It took her a while to settle down but Kris worked her magic and she really enjoyed it! Dr. Dude felt the need to “supervise” Kris all the while sending healing vibes to his pal Gazelle in his own special way.
Gazelle was having a bad day that day and I could see the difference in her later that night.  She ran in the yard tonight and was egging me on to fill her bird feeders so she could chase them. Seeing the magic on my Gazelle combined with our positive client feedback, I am now a fan of Healing Touch.

March 1
All I have to say is thank DOG for Pam Alerine and
Style Mutt Dog Boutique! Pam and her shop have been SO helpful with providing me a variety of food that Gazelle can eat to keep weight on plus keep her appetite up during this journey.

Gazelle’s special vittles

Since Gazelle had her fistula issues about 4 years ago she’s been on a special diet.  She can’t have meat and we try to stay grain free so she eats an assortment of canned fish products (Pam actually has in stock) mixed in with her prescription kibble. However, Gazelle was getting bored with all of it so Pam found a dry kibble that was salmon based and grain free. Bingo! Gazelle has a new bowl of tasty vittles. Another new Gazelle favorite, raw goat’s milk, she LOVES it and it’s good for her tummy. Pam even has special treats that Gazelle can have, her favorite are the veggie chips! Bonus for Gazelle, Pam also orders special fish “rawhides” so Gazelle doesn’t have to feel left out when Sinatra and Avalanche are enjoying deer antlers.

Style Mutt also carries cat food so I could just make it a one stop shop to get Gazelle and Sinatra food as well as food for Dr. Dude. If you have a critter that is hard to please or a critter that needs a special diet I HIGHLY recommend Style Mutt. Pam knows her pet food and is always searching for new, healthy products that your pet will like.

March 5
Today my heart was crushed, today was the day that my precious Gazelle crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

I came home to find Gazelle collapsed and unresponsive in the foyer.  I immediately called Kris because I was hoping and praying that she was a little loopy from her pain meds.  I KNEW what to check for but I was in such a panic that I couldn’t think straight and I needed Kris on the other end of that phone. She told me to get her into the vet, I was very lucky that Christy was right around the corner doing a visit and she was at my house within minutes.
We rushed her to Tremont Animal Clinic. Kris had called ahead to let them know that we were on our way. Dr. Sara met us at the door and we immediately got her in the back and they started assessing her condition.  I knew deep down in my heart that my Gazelle was going to leave me, that I was going to have to make that painful decision but I just didn’t think it would be today. Dr. Sara was very kind, she knew I knew what was going on but gave me my options. She patiently explained to me that Gazelle was unresponsive because it was more than likely the cancer had spread to her brain. Dr. Sara was getting a line into her for some fluids, she let me stay with Gazelle so I could love on her through every step. They did blood work which was normal so I became a little more hopeful and opted to have xrays done of her abdomen and chest. Unfortunately, Dr. Sara came back with the devastating news, she had a large mass by her liver and a large mass by her heart….I understood what I needed to do. I had to make that dreaded decision. I needed to practice what I preach – that when the time comes the biggest act of love you can ever show your pet is to give them peace.
Kris had arrived and Ken was on his way to be with our girl. I laid with her on the floor. We spooned like we always did every night while we would fall asleep with me holding her paw. There are no words to express that I was beyond devastated to realize that this was the last time that I would ever be able to do that with her. I sobbed and begged Kris to please let us figure out a plan so that I could take her home for the night.  But we both knew that the masses in her abdomen and chest were tumors that could rupture at any time and she would suffer in pain and bleed to death. The good news was at that moment she wasn’t in any pain, she was calm and comfortable and I could tell that she was letting me know that it was time for her to go. Ken arrived and we spent time together hugging her, petting her and telling her how much we loved her.
When we were ready, Dr. Sara came in and administered the euthanasia drugs so she could cross into heaven. Gazelle passed with me spooning her, holding her paw and she was surrounded by love. My sweet Gazelle is gone.  She was my heart.  She made me giggle, she loved me unconditionally and I will be forever grateful for the love she gave me and all the happy memories.  I was truly blessed to have such a great companion for 11 years. She will always be in my heart and I know she’s watching out for me as she’s playing at the Rainbow Bridge and stealing meatloaf from the ovens in the clouds.

March 14
I brought Gazelle “home” today. It’s always hard picking up the remains, although sad there is also something comforting about it.
Paws Awhile was wonderful in caring for my Gazelle and providing me with some of her fur, a paw print and a beautiful box for her ashes.

Gazelle’s ashes

They say that it takes time to heal the hurt and pain of losing something that you love so dearly and it eventually becomes a dull ache.  I know that to be true and I’m sure I’ll figure out something that will memorialize Gazelle.  I’ve decided that I’m going to work on some projects that are near and dear to my heart that will do good for others and not only memorialize my Gazelle but my other critters that have passed (Max, Pete and Bailey)

Flowers from friends & Gazelle’s collar

I also want to thank everyone for their love and support during this difficult time.  The calls, emails, facebook comments, flowers, cards and gifts gave us much comfort. Gazelle was not only loved by us but loved by many….I know she’s smiling and doing her happy dance at the Rainbow Bridge because she knew how much everyone adored her.

Gazelle’s and mine cancer journey is over…  I am very blessed to have the support of my wonderful Specialized Care team, numerous vets and everyone else who helped us manage and navigate these past months, weeks and days. I understand what it is like to care for a pet that you love dearly and would do anything to make them comfortable and happy after they’ve been given a terminal diagnosis. Please know that myself and my team are always there for you too……you never have to do this alone.

Run free Gazelle!
Run like the happy soul that you are, you will be with me forever and we’ll meet again.

Golden Girl Gazelle


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