“If she’s deaf, I’m keeping her.”
Those were Michelle Beston’s words to her husband as they waited for their latest foster assignment from a local boxer rescue. Beston had adopted and fostered dogs throughout her life and always hoped to bring a deaf dog into her home.
When Fiona arrived, the three-month-old pup with one blue eye and one black eye was deaf and found her forever family with Beston.
The pair connected immediately. Fiona followed Beston closely, and she quickly learned hand signals to follow directions. From the beginning, Fiona was just a happy girl.
“She loves everything and is always smiling,” said Beston. “She especially loves people – you can’t have a bad day when she’s around.”
While she loves everything, she’s obsessed with coffee. “You’d think I would learn after all of these years, but she still manages to sneak up and spill my coffee all over.”
Happy girl receives a sad diagnosis.
In May 2019, at the age of eight, Fiona began having seizures. As the seizures increased in frequency and intensity, Beston brought Fiona to a specialty practice where an MRI showed she had a brain tumor, which was suspected to be a glioma. Beston was devastated.
“When I first found out, there were lots of tears,” said Beston. “I had lost a dog a year prior to a brain tumor, and all I could think was I was doing something wrong.”
“I was aware of the prognosis, and I was scared. My initial thoughts were that I was not going to have Fiona much longer.”
Beston planned to pursue radiation therapy for Fiona, but the CT equipment required for radiation planning at a local veterinary oncology specialist was down for maintenance. Not wanting to wait, Beston contacted the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University.
Clinical trial “was meant to be.”
Beston intended to pursue radiation therapy at the FACC and spoke with radiation oncologists about three different treatment options. Then, another interesting option was presented: a clinical trial using a vaccine to treat dogs with gliomas.
The study evaluated the use of a tumor vaccine which is a form of immunotherapy. The vaccine targets cancer stem cells which are the precursor cells that migrate and mature into active tumor cells with appropriate biochemical signals. These cancer stem cells are thought to be responsible for the inevitable recurrence of gliomas. In addition, combination treatment with Palladia, losartan, and propranolol is also given with the vaccine. Those drugs are thought to modulate the tumor microenvironment and contribute to the anti-cancer activity of the vaccine.
“Gliomas are generally really aggressive tumors, in both boxers and people,” said Dr. Kristen Weishaar, clinical trials director at the FACC. “We are hopeful that this therapy will help activate the patient’s immune system to give more quality time with their families.”
“I hadn’t planned on enrolling Fiona in a clinical trial; in fact, we weren’t planning to be at CSU, but when I learned about the clinical trial, I decided that this was meant to be,” said Beston.
After a biopsy confirmed that Fiona’s tumor was a glioma, she received her first dose of the vaccine in July 2019. Fiona receives the vaccine monthly and has had very few side effects.
“I’m so grateful we ended up at CSU and in this clinical trial,” said Beston. “You would never know she’s ten years old and has a brain tumor because she runs and plays like she did when she was two years old.”
According to Weishaar, Fiona’s periodic MRIs show that her tumor has remained stable. “We’re thrilled to see that she’s doing so well and grateful that she’s helping us learn more about treating this type of cancer.”
Beston says she would encourage anyone who has a dog diagnosed with cancer to investigate a clinical trial to help their dog and other dogs and maybe people with the same cancer.
“She amazes me, and I cherish each day I have with her. In the beginning, I was sure that someday, the brain tumor would take her. Now, I feel that it might not be the tumor but rather old age that eventually takes her from me. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
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