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Jake

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By Mike Blake

July 13, 2009

As featured on KUSA 9News.

Mike and Jake on the 4th of July in Vail.I chose him because he was the standout in the litter – he had the softest and whitest hair. I knew I could identify him when it came time to pick him up. He came home on September 10, 2001. I had recently lost my mom after a long illness, so in addition to having a new puppy in the house a few weeks after she was gone, we also had a welcome diversion from the sad images that dominated the media following 9/11. Jake has always managed to take the sting out of any bad situation.

As a puppy Jake was bad! His energy level was off the chart. He destroyed landscaping, chewed up furniture, shoes and toys. Anyone who has had lab puppies can attest to the fact they are the simultaneously bad and cute. He scored high in both categories! Jake was also smart. He was so quick to pick up verbal commands and housebreaking. The fact that he was there for me unconditionally made me really love him. He always meets me at the door with a big smile and wagging tail regardless of what I am going through or how I am feeling. He has been there for me through the loss of a parent, the end of a long term relationship and a recent layoff from my job.

In April I noticed a lump on his right wrist among several others on his body. I took him to Dr. Laura Hedlin, his vet since he was a puppy. She aspirated all of the masses. As soon as she came back Jake in yardin the room her face told me “this is not good news.” They were all benign except the one on his wrist. She referred us to an oncologist for further diagnostics and to review treatment options. Tests were conclusive for grade 3 soft tissue sarcoma that had already spread to the lymph node. The prognosis was only 2 to 3 months, although we might get a year with amputation and aggressive chemotherapy.  Then we learned about a clinical trial for soft tissue sarcoma patients at the CSU Animal Cancer Center called liposomal clodronate, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation. One consult call to CSU told us he was a candidate.

Dr. Hafeman, one of his vets at CSU, told us the goal of the treatment is to kill the white blood cells that hide the tumor from the immune system. In theory once those cells are dead the immune system will attack the tumor. Hopefully the tumor and lymph node will shrink with this 6 treatment protocol. He did great with the treatment, usually only experiencing some GI side effects and fever on the first evening. Now that the protocol is done, we can investigate other options with his oncologists including conventional chemotherapy and surgery. What we learn from the clinical trial will help other dogs in the future and maybe even people.

Getting the news that Jake has cancer was heart wrenching. I had been through a long terminal illness with my mom and learned you can’t change the end result but you can always control how you react to it. When we knew our time with her was limited, my siblings and I took turns flying to see her each month in Florida. We took her out to eat at her favorite restaurant on the beach, Jake on rockwent shopping and spent time with her. I have great memories of those visits. Now I’m trying to do the same thing with Jake. I’m actively searching for a new job but I’m fortunate to have a lot of free time to spend with Jake. We started a website called That Soft Dog and a Blog where we document our journey each day with stories and photos.  Sometimes we go to well-known landmarks like Red Rocks or the Big Blue Bear sculpture downtown. Other times, we stick to something simple like a restaurant patio or new park. I’ve even taken Jake to my barber before. I write about how we are feeling, who we meet, reflect on the past and what the future might bring. The process has been amazing.

Jake also recently became a pen pal to a child fighting cancer through the Youth and Pet Survivors Program (YAPs Program) at the Children’s Hospital of Denver, as seen on KUSA 9News. He (through me) writes letters to a child about treatment, feelings about having cancer and the activities he participates in. It is such a cool program and it adds one more dimension to Jake’s life.

Jake and Colorado bucking horseIt’s funny – there are so many positives that can come out of a bad situation if you look hard enough for them. I bet most people don’t think cancer and opportunities are synonymous. For us they are. I took the lesson I learned from the experience with my mom and decided Jake and I were going to have a fun with whatever time we have left. Amazingly doors are opening up that I could have never imagined. Jake and I are contributing to cancer research, meeting many new friends, loving life and documenting it. He has a remarkable health care team and is part of cutting edge science. On top of that, we are getting to know a great kid who is going through a lot of the same things Jake is. There are some things that are inevitable in life – you win by making the most of what you can control. We have no idea how long this will last – but we are going to make the most of every minute of it!

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Jake's Journey as seen on KUSA 9News.

 

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