My Personal Experience at the Veterinary Cancer Center - by Paul M. Potenza, DVM

We first welcomed Daisy into are home in May of 2003.  She was my youngest daughter’s first puppy and my eldest daughter’s second.  Our first puppy was 4 at the time and was also an Aussie, like Daisy.  It was so much fun having the two dogs together, and they bonded immediately.  I discovered that it was just as easy and twice the fun having two dogs in our home at once.  The children learned to love dogs, and since that time, we have had at least two dogs in our household and as many as four, and I can honestly say that our family life would be incomplete without them. 

I had already developed a good working relationship with The VCC as a referring veterinarian when my first Aussie developed osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, I brought her there to be treated.  As luck would have it, she passed away only a month before we diagnosed anal sac adenocarcinoma in Daisy.  Our groomer noticed a lump in that specific area and brought it to my attention.  I immediately removed it and sent it in for histopathology, hoping it would be just a benign growth and I felt that I had removed all gross evidence of the mass.  I was disappointed to find that the mass was indeed an anal sac adenocarcinoma, but I knew that I had access to excellent oncology care very nearby.  I performed the necessary screening tests to look for metastasis and when I found none, I made an appointment with The VCC.

I was willing to do whatever the doctors recommended because Daisy was a part of our family and my daughters and wife were still not over the loss of our older Aussie.  Dr. John Farrelly, the radiation oncologist, recommend first a three week course of radiation therapy at the site of the mass and associated lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy for approximately 4 to 6 treatments, then long term on oral medication.  There were two very good pieces of news in all of this: first, the new and current location of the VCC had a radiation unit.  In times past, the options for radiation therapy were essentially limited to visits to the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, and although I had clients who had made the trip every day for 3 weeks, they always swore they’d reconsider doing it again because of the time and distance.  I for one would have been unable to travel there every day, and so without VCC Daisy would be unable to receive the care I wanted for her. Second, with this protocol, her mean survival time was expected to be approximately her remaining life expectancy. If she survived beyond the mean, she would live well into old age, essentially cured of her cancer.      

As I expected,  Daisy’s daily visit s to the VCC for anesthesia and radiation therapy were the most difficult part of her treatment, but the short distance, brief treatment time, and flexibility of the staff in terms of pick up times made the 3 week period relatively easy to work into my schedule.  She had some discomfort from the radiation during her treatment, but most of her discomfort came approximately one week after the treatments were completed.  She experienced a second degree burn on her skin and anus in the area of the radiation, but the doctors and staff were very supportive in helping us to cope with that.  Although we were well advised that she might have trouble defecating at some point or another, she never did, and she never developed any significant lomng term side effects in the area.  After approximately four days of treatment for pain, the irritation gradually resolved.  She lost hair in the area as well, but as of this date, it is starting to grow back vigorously.  The following chemotherapeutic treatments consisted of short outpatient visits with no associated complications whatsoever.  In fact, and in contrast to what we often experience with our loved ones undergoing human chemotherapy, neither of my dogs showed evidence of illness during their respective courses.  As of today, we are ready to start Daisy on oral chemotherapy, and I am very glad to say that thanks to VCC we probably have saved her life. 

My overall experience with VCC has been an exceedingly pleasant one: the staff is very polite and professional, and I say this not only because they treated me well because of my professional association with them, but also because I saw how they interacted with other clients who were there when I visited.  In addition, I feel obligated to inform the reader of the amazing credentials and professional accomplishments of the doctors who work there.  We are truly fortunate to have such a facility at our disposal in lower Fairfield County.

To others with a pet who receives the same diagnosis, I would first consider other health issues your pet may have before considering the treatment. My dog was in perfect health otherwise, and I had no concerns regarding other debilitating or life threatening issues with her.  Second I would consider the cost associated with the treatment.  The radiation machine is a several million dollar piece of equipment and it requires significant training, and maintenance to keep it in service.  As such, and compared with the same level of therapy on the human side, the cost of care is a bargain, but it still is a significant expense that must be borne solely by the client.  As often as is possible, the VCC enrolls its patients in funded trials it conducts, and so the reader can be sure that the doctors and staff strive to provide the excellent care they do at the least expense possible.  If the expenses can be managed, I would wholeheartedly recommend this kind of treatment for this cancer since the VCC can manage the entire case in conjunction with your referring veterinarian and, thanks again to the advanced treatment options available at the VCC, there is a very good chance of a cure.   

                        

Paul M. Potenza, DVM

New Canaan Veterinary Hospital