Anal Sac Adenocarcinoma
Treatment: Surgery

Zeus was adopted from Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue in May 2013. A happy and healthy boy, he never showed any signs of discomfort or illness and went for regular veterinarian checks. His only medical need was to have his anal glands expressed due to structural issues and their subsequent inability to express on their own. He continued to go on annual check-ups, and on a March 2017 check-up, his primary veterinary technician was busy and our regular veterinarian decided she would express his anal glands, trim his nails, do a blood draw and conduct a regular wellness examination. After his check-up, our veterinarian came out to talk to us in the waiting room with a somber look on her face. She had found a small growth in Zeus’s anal gland and she said it looked suspicious. Immediately, I burst into tears without knowing any further information. I had a gut-feeling that it was bad… call it “mother’s intuition.”

It was a Monday afternoon and I remember leaving in a panic. I felt a sense of urgency, and quickly returned home and started calling all the canine oncologists that my primary veterinarian had recommended, desperately trying to get an immediate appointment. One receptionist told me an appointment was two weeks out, and another oncologist was booked for over a month. 

I cried on the phone. I begged for a prompt appointment. I told my story, but despite my pleas no one could accommodate me. After several hours, I decided to call the oncologists again, asking to be put on wait lists, or to come in and wait in the waiting room in case there was a no- show for an existing appointment. They likely thought I was crazy, but I was scared and I felt that each day of inaction delayed Zeus’s treatment. 

By the next morning, I was not taking “no” for an answer and my persistence paid off: I got an appointment. I had to wait one long day before his appointment. That evening, Zeus fasted in preparation to possibly be sedated for his examination the following day. On Wednesday, we met with a surgeon and she examined the growth, also remarking that it felt suspicious. We agreed to have Zeus sedated so they could do an X-ray and an ultrasound to ensure that everything looked good (lungs, lymph nodes and major organs) before we proceeded with surgery. All came back clear, meaning if the growth was cancer, it had not spread throughout his body. 

Next, surgery was required to remove the growth, and he was already prepped and ready to go. Remember, I wanted to get him an appointment fast, but I was not prepared for the surgery or the recovery. Several hours later, the surgery was complete and Zeus was ready to come home. They removed the growth and the anal sac where the tumor was located to try to get clean margins.

I was definitely not prepared for the recovery, the pain, the discomfort that Zeus had to endure. I will spare the details, but essentially, it was 10 days of no sleep, warm compresses, an inability to have a bowel movement, lots of blood, and he could not run, jump, play, or sit comfortably. I slept on the floor with him for seven days and nursed him back to health.

After Surgery

During the course of those seven days, I received the call we all dread: my dog had cancer. Zeus was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma, a very aggressive cancer. They felt they had secured clean margins with the tumor removal and suggested radiation. I had done my research on radiation therapy for his ailment, and I was afraid to expose him to radiation in that specific area as the side effects could be irreversible. We opted to take the risk of not doing any additional therapy and let Zeus recover at his own pace. 

Our initial follow-up examinations with our veterinarian were uneventful, until three months later, another growth appeared on the same side as the original tumor. My heart sank, my gut twisted, and tears flowed … I thought, “this just could not be, only three months later?” We decided to wait and monitor the growth, and if it grew at all we would swiftly notify the surgeon. Zeus and I were at the veterinarian office once a month for evaluations (thank goodness I have an understanding, patient and compassionate veterinarian!). Months passed and the growth never increased in size, and the veterinarian determined that it must be scar tissue from the surgery.

It has been two years since his remission and Zeus is happy, healthy, and loving what now amounts to his third lease on life after being rescued and overcoming cancer. Now, I have him re-examined every six weeks. I think once you have a dog in cancer remission, you will always have that lingering dark cloud of worry about if and when it will come back.

I learned many lessons from my experience with a dog diagnosed with cancer. My first lesson was that once I stopped treating him like he had cancer, his personality and activity improved. My stress and sadness really affected him and his temperament. My second lesson was to make sure to have a good, solid support team that you trust treating your dog. My next lesson was to follow your intuition. My intuition, excellent medical care and extensive research into canine adenocarcinoma left me equipped with the steps I was willing to take with my dog. Making medical decisions for your dog is a very personal choice, and no one should judge you. Always look at all your options and choose the best one for you and your dog.

– Melissa Rupoli-Katz 2017