What we won't do for our pets......
The morning before the big surgery.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving I happened to be at the right angle to see something weird growing in Rey’s mouth. I got him into the vet, and they said it looked like he had a cancerous tumor in his mouth. They scheduled him for surgery the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to have the tumor lasered out and biopsied. I did a little research over the weekend and read that if it is the type of cancer that our initial vet thought (the worst type, of course) that it spreads quickly and the more you cut away the better. The regular vet said that if the tumor came back as positive for cancer that he would have to have half of his top jaw removed. They seemed unsure what they were dealing with, which made me uncomfortable. I decided to get him an appointment with the surgical specialist to get a second opinion. They are our emergency vet and I have been really impressed with them.
So on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Steve brought Rey to see Dr. Roy at the Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson. She said that it didn’t look good, but unlike our (now previous) vet, she did a chest x-ray and felt his lymph nodes check if it spread. I guess that if it is in the lungs that there is not use in doing surgery because it is too late. Anyway, it had not spread, so they decided to remove the tumor on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (must have been a popular surgical day) and biopsy it and also do an x-ray of his jaw to see if it had gotten into the bone. We were told best case, it is nothing, worst case he will have to have a small part of his jaw removed. So, so glad that we got a second opinion. Not only are the specialist/emergency vets completely awesome and thorough and competent, but they are cheaper, too! Our vet was going to charge $850 for the surgery, and the specialty vet charged $900, but that includes his visit and the x-rays.
Rey was in and out in one day for the laser surgery and was good to go for the weekend when we went to visit Kali, Shawn, and Kalden in Albuquerque. The x-ray did not show it spreading to his bones, but the Dr. said that if it is a malignant melanoma, that it doesn’t really matter because there will be nothing that they can do. We also learned that his teeth were filthy (we know that) and that his cracked canine on the other side is slightly infected and needs to eventually come out. She said he wasn’t in pain, so we decided that if the biopsy came back ok, then we would schedule him in a couple of months to have the teeth work done. If it came back as bad, we wouldn’t do anything. If it came back as slow growing cancer, that will require part of his jaw to be removed anyway, and they would do the tooth work at that time. Basically his teeth were too dirty to do bone surgery unless they are cleaned first. I guess the bacteria on them would be problematic with exposed bone.
Last Wednesday we got the results back for Rey. The cancer is/was a melanoma…the worst kind…but for some reason he has a very rare type that does not act normally and he has a 90% survival rate if we removed part of his jaw. I guess that the cells were not dividing like a normal melanoma, which is very, very lucky. So, last Friday he went in for surgery. Dr. Roy removed a portion of his jaw bone, including nasal cavity, from between his middle teeth to past his second molar on his right side. They also removed skin from the inside of one of his cheeks to graft over the hole. In all he has 150 dissolvable stitches.
He also had his cracked canine on the left top removed. The doctor didn’t charge us to have his teeth cleaned, which is nice. That saved us some money. During our consultation, she said that the change to his appearance will be minimal and that the only side effect will be a little breathing problem in the one nostril where the nasal cavity will be gone. There is a 10% chance that the cancer has metastasized, but she feels good about it. After Christmas we will go to talk to an oncologist at a different vet to get information about an experimental vaccine that supposedly kills any remaining cancer cells. They are not sure that this will be necessary in this case. We’ll have to see how much it costs.
On Saturday we were able to pick up our boy. We were really, really nervous to see him. Dr. Roy was right! We could barely notice the difference. He is swollen and has a fentinol pain patch and is on doggy ibuprofen and antibiotics for a while, but you would never know. I took him on a normal walk this morning and have already caught him chewing on tiny rocks in the house. We will go in for a follow-up on the 19th to discuss the results of the biopsy from the bone and tissue that was removed. Hopefully this whole thing ends up being a close call and Mr. Stinks makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest dog.
One day after surgery. It is the left side of this picture where the top jaw was removed.