After work, Baxter seemed much more enthusiastic about food and play. While we were playing fetch, he decided to go into the woods behind our neighbor's house and he wouldn't come back. I suppressed memories of Marley and Me and coaxed him home with his tennis ball and treats.
When Bax wasn't excited about breakfast or playing the next morning, we called Georgetown Veterinary for an appointment. I've done this kind of appointment before...they squeeze you in between people with wellness appointments, the perceived issue is found to be nothing major, and everyone chuckles about how worried we get over our furry friends. I full expected the same and apparently Baxter did, too. As soon as we walked into the waiting room, he turned around and went to the door to leave.
The staff was pretty sure we were dealing with a tick-related disease after hearing me list my concerns, so after the basic exam, they took a blood sample and we sat for about 20 minutes for the results. We were almost shocked that the test for Lyme and another tick disease came back negative. The blood work showed two things that were very slightly off. Baxter was very slightly anemic and his platelet count was just a smidge low.
At this point, the vet suggested we do an ultrasound. I have to admit I wasn't really concerned when the machine rolled in. I think I joked about Baxter having puppies (clearly impossible).
But after a few minutes, the jokes stopped. The vet announced that there was a problem. He saw a large mass on Baxter's spleen and it was actively bleeding. At this point, the vocabulary changed a lot and things got very scary. We went from joking to crying in a matter of seconds.
As much as 60% of golden retrievers get bone, lymph, or blood cancers. The life expectancy for golden retrievers has gone down from 15-16 when I was a kid to 11-12 years today. Announce that your dog might have cancer and you're likely to get a dozen emails, messages, and comments on social media from friends who have experienced the same thing. As you google and research, the amount of information is overwhelming.
We were told that we could send Baxter in for a spleenectomy, but that was a gamble since evidence of cancer on other organs might prompt the surgeon not to wake him up.
Our vet gave us so much time to think and talk about our options, but also encouraged us to make a decision quickly since it was Friday and we would need to get to a specialist by the end of the day to do the surgery. We tearfully went through the options over and over again.
While we were trying to decide what to do, we asked if Baxter's favorite vet tech was in the building so he could see her. I was honestly thinking that he was saying good-bye to her. When she walked in the door and knelt down, he buried his head in her neck and wagged.
We asked for a better ultrasound and a chest x-ray to see if any evidence of cancer could be found on Baxter's liver, lungs, or heart. We moved to a different part of the building for this next phase. Baxter looked pretty pathetic after his shave.
The second ultrasound didn't show any issues with other organs and one of the staff members quietly said "good catch" to me. We were still warned that there are things you just can't see on an ultrasound and with a golden retriever, we had to be prepared for the possibility that cancer was in other parts of Baxter's body.
By this time, the vet we usually see for check-ups had arrived and he visited with us for a little while. He's a surgeon and was optimistic about a successful spleenectomy, but also told us that a specialist would do the procedure more quickly than he would because of their sophisticated equipment. The specialist was also able to do a blood transfusion in case things didn't go well. (Did you know there are animal blood banks? They told us that retired racing greyhounds are often donors.) We decided to go to the specialist's office.
I don't have pictures from here. We had been in the vet's office from 9 AM until about noon. Then we were at the specialist's office from noon until about 4:30 PM. Baxter made it through the surgery and the surgeon didn't see cancer in other areas of the body. A lab will analyze the mass that was on the spleen and report back about whether it was just a hematoma or the dreaded hemangiosarcoma (cancer).
The specialist's office allowed us to take Baxter home on Saturday morning, but warned us that it was quite early to be taking him. We didn't care. We wanted him home.
We took a few pictures on Saturday since we were in better spirits. Our exam room on Friday had a sign for us...a picture of my friend with one of the dogs from the SPCA, where she volunteers.When we first got there on Friday, I decided this was sign that we were in the right place.
The discharge papers were a little overwhelming.
The vet said he wouldn't eat for a few days, but two hours later, he ate from a spoon and then nudged that spoon out of the way so he could get his nose into the bowl of food from which I was feeding him.
He still has a lot of recovering to do (we pretty much babysit him, making sure he doesn't exert himself or show interest in his incision) and we could be hearing about cancer again at some point, but we are so happy to have our sweet dog home!