Note: I was not able to actually post for the last few days, but wrote up my blog posts on the days and am back scheduling the posts.
If you are like me, and have any interest in research in general AND/OR if you want to know what’s going on with Chakotay, please keep reading – if not, you will have no interest in the post so feel free to skip it!
Today Marc and I got up early to get on the road. The GPS told us it would be about a 2.5 hour trip, and we wanted to be there plenty early in case we had trouble finding where we were going when we got to Ithaca.
The woman who coordinates research studies had told me that Chakotay would have his initial appointment and then need to come back 1-2 days later for follow up testing. So we made camping reservations in advance. With the car loaded we headed down.
After arriving in the hell that is Ithaca traffic and not be able to find the building in what felt like HOURS, we finally got where we needed to be and entered this huge animal hospital.
While we waited, I took this pic – Archer would be more upset and anxious about the whole day than Chakotay:
We first met with a veterinary student who gave Chakotay an exam and got a detailed history from us about when we noticed he had a problem and how he had been acting. Oh! And by the way, this student? A huge Star Trek fan who ALSO has animals named for Trek characters!!! What are the odds??!!
It was then time to meet the vet who is in charge of the trial, Dr. Hume. I guess I thought that since it is such a large hospital and they see SO MANY animals, that Chakotay would be treated like a research subject and not much more. Boy was I wrong. Everyone there was so amazing and caring with us and Chakotay (and Archer, too!)
Dr. Hume then told us about the study they are doing. It is in conjunction with Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. If you aren’t familiar with Strong, it is a leading cancer treatment center for humans.
I have been lucky enough to not need to keep up to date with cancer research. So, to make something very long and involved and complex very short, I will give you my understanding – apparently the new wave of research in cancer treatment is using ANTOBIOTICS to treat cancer rather than chemotherapy.
Antibiotics – in a much higher dose than typically used for standard infections - are showing promise in many different cancers, including breast cancer and, of course, lymphoma – which brings us to this clinical trial.
The goal is to extend the quantity and quality of life. One objective is to determine what dose is high enough to KILL the cancer, without being so toxic that it kills the liver (or other organs). Finding that “sweet spot” is where the research is right now. Are you with me?
So, Dr. Hume explained the risks and benefits with pursuing traditional treatment for lymphoma in dogs – chemotherapy which is tremendously expensive, may or may not work at all, and almost always the cancer comes back 12-18 months later. Marc and I had already discussed this at length and had pretty much decided not to put him through this. At any rate, the clinical trial using the antibiotic treatment lasts about 5 weeks and at the end, we could then decide to start any alternative treatment – the risk would be that he could be much worse or actually die during this time.
We decided to let them start the testing to see if he would qualify for the trial. The doctor said that she believed she could get all the testing done in one day, so we left him there and went to set up camp. It broke my heart to leave him there, but he was certainly in good hands.
We arrived to set up camp after 2PM. I hadn’t eaten all day. That was a bad idea, as hunger + stress led to me stuffing my face with wheat thins and trail mix as fast as I could shove it in my mouth.
We got the call that the initial test – the blood work – looked great. All levels looked normal. So with that test passed, it was time for x-rays and ultrasounds.
This took a long time, and we finally arrived back at the college at 6:30 PM. First off, we were told that Chakotay was so well behaved – he had to be flipped onto his back for the ultrasound and they didn’t even need to sedate him – which is apparently very unusual – because he was so compliant.
So the good news was that there was no sign that cancer had invaded his organs. The bad news? They lymph nodes are severely swollen internally, showing signs of pushing/blocking his lungs. There are also severely swollen nodes in his chest area near his heart.
So, he qualified for the trial if we still wanted to go through with it. Dr. Hume explained everything in detail and didn’t treat us like idiots which I appreciated. The reason not to go through with the study would essentially be if we wanted to pursue the more aggressive and traditional route of chemo, which, as mentioned, we had pretty much decided against.
So, after many signatures we left the center with a bag of meds and some hope.
Back at the campsite we were exhausted physically and emotionally. But that was only the beginning…