Meet Murphy – a 7-year old Golden Retriever who enjoys chasing squirrels, soaking up the afternoon sun on the deck, and digging a hole in the same spot in our back yard every year that requires between 5 to 10 bags of top soil to refill (we’ve even dug deeper to see what he’s looking for, but have never found anything). He, like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, has “his” spot on the couch and if you choose to take it, he will stare you down until you relinquish it to him. Murphy has many roles in our house, but perhaps the most important one is being the superhero sidekick to my nearly 3-year old daughter, Lucy.
Lucy loves superheroes and over the summer decided that she and Murphy would be Batman and Robin for Halloween. At the time, we had no idea how influential or life-changing that declaration would become. It was around this same time that our chinchilla, Chico, went in for surgery for a lump on his tummy. When the pathology report came back, it was the outcome we feared: cancer. Chico was an unbelievable fighter and when Halloween got closer, Lucy decided that he too needed to be recruited for her Justice League. Not knowing if he’d be around to help her celebrate her favorite holiday, I made him a cape (as requested by Lucy) well in advance. He, however, preferred that we hang the cape on the side of his cage.
Halloween arrived and Bat Lucy and Robin Murphy made their first public appearance. They were a hit around the neighborhood and I fully expected that to be the end of the Dynamic Duo for a while. But a month later, all of us were called upon to summon our super powers and we learned that Bat Lucy and Robin Murphy would be around for quite a while.
The first week of December brought a lot of change and heartache to our household. On Monday of that week, Murphy had to go in for surgery to remove what we (and the vet) believed to be a fatty cyst. Surgery went well, but as he was recovering the next day, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put Chico down. He had fought an incredible fight and no one expected him to make it as long as he did. But unfortunately, it was time to retire the Superman cape and give Chico the peace he so desperately needed. I knew that this would be hard on me because he’d been a part of my life for ten years and a huge part of my daily routine, especially toward the end when he required a lot of extra care. But I never anticipated the effect it would have on Lucy and Murphy. Lucy still asks for him and two weeks after he passed, I found her carrying a suitcase through the house. When I asked where she was going, she said “to the doctor to get Chico, he’s been there too long.” Murphy didn’t go in Chico’s room for a month and doesn’t like to be left alone anymore. It was obvious that there a huge hole in our Justice League.
But, only three days after Chico’s passing, while the grief was still fresh and raw, Murphy’s vet called with the pathology report from his surgery. I honestly hadn’t thought anything of it and when the doctor began speaking in a low, sympathetic tone, I knew something was not right. My stomach dropped to the floor and then he delivered the news I hoped to never hear: Murphy’s tumor was cancer.
Murphy had a low-grade subcutaneous hermangiosarcoma. We got incredibly lucky, he explained, because this type of tumor typically presents on the heart or spleen and you never know they have it until it ruptures and they bleed out. The fact that his was somewhere near the skin where we could feel it and have it removed was somewhat of a miracle.
Two weeks later, we were meeting with an oncology team at the University of Minnesota to determine the extent of his cancer and decide upon the next steps. By this point, Lucy had made the conclusion that when you go to the doctor, you don’t come back. So when she heard that Murphy was going to see new doctors, she not only demanded that she come along, but also requested that she be Batman and Murphy be Robin. So I made her a promise. I explained that she would need to go to school that day, but that I would absolutely put Murphy in his Robin costume for his appointment. And that’s just what I did. The University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center is an amazing place. They do incredible work and they are so wonderful with the animals. And when I walked in with a dog dressed up as Robin, no one in the building thought anything of it. When people asked, I explained it was the request of a 3-year old and every single person just nodded and got tears in their eyes. His team of doctors all fell in love with Robin Murphy and requested that he wear his costume for every appointment, which he has.
From the surgical report, it appeared that all traces of the tumor had been removed, but the problem with his type of tumor and its location is that it’s in the blood vessels and the chance for spreading throughout the body is high. So his doctors at the U of MN did a full round of blood work and scans of his internal organs to determine what we were dealing with and how to proceed. The week before Christmas, we received another small miracle – the cancer hadn’t spread. However, if left alone, they explained he had a good chance of the cancer returning in 6 months. So they recommended a year-long course of low-dose chemo to inhibit growth of the tumor.
We begin chemo this week. The doctors have explained that the side effects are minimal and there’s only one reaction we need to look out for. My heart is full of hope and I am trying so hard to be 100% optimistic. But the reality that I’m administering chemotherapy to my dog set in this weekend when the pills arrived. A little part of me kept hoping this was a bad dream and that there was still time to wake up. But in those moments of panic and fear, all I have to do is look to my amazing little girl and my beautiful dog and I know that everything will be O.K.
Murphy is a special dog and he has had a lot of people sending him good wishes and asking for updates. So I decided to create this blog to chronicle the next year of our journey. This is meant only to share his story and the medical information I provide here is but a brief recap of much larger and in-depth discussions with his doctors. If you believe your dog might have cancer, please seek the advice of a veterinary professional. There are many helpful online resources and as I do more research, I’ll post links to those sites on this blog.
Thank you for being a part of our journey and thank you to all the people who have sent us love and support. Murphy sends his love right back and if you come to our house, he might even let you sit in his spot. Well, maybe not that, but he’ll let you scratch him all over and give him lots of hugs. And he’ll even let you help him dig for buried treasure in the backyard.