Late October 2020, while giving our 2 year old boy neck scratches, we found 2 lumps. I instantly knew it was his lymph nodes and my heart sank. We were seen the next day by Dr. Jennifer Newhouse who tried to help us stay optimistic yet realistic, listing the other possibilities for such a young and otherwise healthy dog. On Nov 2nd I got the call. It was lymphoma. We were absolutely devastated, still are. Dr. Jen was wonderful at answering all my questions and helping us decide out next steps. Since he was so young and had no other symptoms, we decided to get an Oncology consultation and go from there. Many tears were shed over the next few weeks while we waited for his appointment. During that time we knew it could only be weeks left we had with him so we prioritized hikes and spoiled the heck out of him. Not the easiest to do with a 4 month old tiny human at home but I would strap him in the carrier and out we went daily. During the waiting period, his back lymph nodes started to become large and his back legs would swell. Thankfully hiking actually helped the lymphedema and with Dr. Jen calling to check in we started him on some Metacam because he couldn’t sit comfortably anymore. Things were happening fast and his oncology appointment felt too far away.
On November 17th we met Dr. Patten at Toronto Vet Emergency Hospital to review our options for what was diagnosed as minimum Stage 3a multicentric large cell lymphoma.
Since it was an incidental and was otherwise in good health, they felt he would do very well with chemo. While this would never change the outcome, he was optimistic we would get many more months- a year of good quality of life with him. We talked about the effects of chemo and how dogs tend to tolerate it better then humans. We would have supporting medications to help with nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea but Dr. Patten’s goal was that we would never even need to use them. We could stop at anytime if we felt it was too much for him and switch to palliation. As much as I hate it being a big factor of the decision, we had to discuss costs. Thankfully it was pay per treatment which meant we paid over a 25 week period. He gave us a ballpark range which we were comfortable with. After that we started the 25 week CHOP protocol that day. It was a combo of 3 types of chemo that we rotated through.
He seemed okay for the first day or so but then over the course of the weekend he became super lethargic, wouldn’t move or even lift his head, would yelp when trying to go up a single step. Refused to eat, my husband slept on the sofa beside him making sure he at least drink some water. I would hand feed him bites of cooked chicken and try to coax antinausea meds into him. By the Sunday morning, HD had us so worried we brought him to the TVEH ER. I thought that was it, we weren’t coming home with him and cried the whole way there. Kicking myself for making his last few days uncomfortable because we were too selfish to say goodbye.
The ER vet diagnosed him with a possible infection and a muscle sprain in his back leg. Gave him a shot for pain and nausea then sent us home with antibiotics, appetite stimulants and muscle relaxants/pain meds. The next day Dr. Patten called. He saw that Harlow had been in and knew exactly what the problem was. A rare side effect of the Vincristine, an ileus, which would resolve and we could prevent in future doses with a simple and inexpensive medication.
After that once big hiccup, the rest of his chemo went off without a hitch. Each week for 5 weeks, I would load up the baby and him and we would head out for his treatments. Due to Covid, I was not allowed in so we hung out I the truck for the duration of the appointments. After only 2 treatments he had achieved full clinical remission and was pretty much back to his old self. Never missing a hike or resisting the urge to steal food from the baby (who conveniently was starting solids and dropped food often). We got to celebrate his 3rd birthday, something we didn’t think we would see and by round 2 when he started going every other week for chemo, he was wrestling again with out other pup and wanting to play with toys again! Harlow was a complete and total rockstar!
At times he would be a little picky with kibbles and I would have to get creative to get him to eat but that was the only challenge the rest of the time. So I changed up types often, added cooked meats or baby formula to his meals to help.
The team at TVEH became like family. They were so kind and caring. Jennifer and Dr. Patten there would always come down to say Hi to the baby and give us updates. All the while Dr. Jen from TRAH would call to check in and see how we were doing (even though she had the email reports, she still would take the time to personally check in).
We are beyond thankful for all the support we have received and still receive from both TRAH and TVEH. Our Harlow graduate from chemo on May 13th and celebrated with his usual post chemo cheeseburger! He just had his first recheck on June 7 and passed with flying colours! Graduation was bittersweet. Everyone who has met Harlow always says the same thing “we just love him he is such a sweet boy!”. Whenever I call to make his appointments he’s famous at both TRAH and TVEH for being the sweet cuddly big guy.
While we know it’s just a matter of time before it comes back and we have to say goodbye. We are beyond thankful for the extra time we have had so far and hopeful for many many more months with our sweet goofy cuddly boy.
A big thank you to Harlow’s family for sharing his story.
He is the biggest cuddle bug you’ve met and we are so happy he is doing well.
We love you Harlow!!
Graduation from Chemo May 13th 2021
7 month group shot Feb 21st 2021. Halfway through the whole protocol.
Birthday Dec 25th 2020, done his first round.
Truck picture end of March starting his last round of chemo.
Picture with baby Easter weekend. Finished 2 rounds, 1 left to go.