Chad and Dia adopted Bella Mia, Bella for short, a Catahoula mix, from a rescue in Brighton, Colo. when she was four months old. Bella was there with all of her littermates from New Mexico. She joined older brother, Spencer, a chocolate lab. Together, the family of four love to spend time at their family’s cabin in the mountains. When not at the cabin, Bella loves to chase squirrels from her backyard.
On a trip to the cabin for Christmas in 2015, Bella yelped in pain while running and playing outside. At the time, Chad didn’t see an obvious injury. Following that incident, Bella limped occasionally, but was still active, so Chad and Dia thought it may have just been a sprain. In mid-January, Bella’s front leg still seemed to cause problems, so they decided to have her checked out by their veterinarian. X-rays of Bella’s left front leg showed a lesion on one of the bones and they were given a preliminary diagnosis of osteosarcoma. The veterinarian prescribed pain medication and suggested they schedule an appointment with a veterinary oncologist.
Chad and Dia decided to bring Bella to the Flint Animal Cancer Center at CSU. Doctors aspirated the lesion, and testing confirmed that Bella had osteosarcoma. With conventional treatment, the median survival rate for patients with this form of cancer is 12 months. Bella’s doctors provided a variety of treatment options, including amputation, limb spare surgery, and limb spare via radiation, and also mentioned clinical trials. But first, doctors felt that Bella should have a PET Scan, an advanced imaging technique. The PET Scan would help assess the extent of the cancer in her leg and also if it had spread to her lungs, a common location for metastasis, or other parts of her body to better inform treatment decisions. The couple agreed to the PET Scan, and scheduled an appointment for Bella a few days later.
The results of the PET Scan showed extensive bone damage, which ruled out limb spare via radiation therapy due to the risk of fracture. After considering the other options, her family decided to have Bella’s left leg amputated. They also learned that Bella was eligible for a clinical trial, and decided to enroll Bella in the study. “We liked the idea of participating in the clinical trial and knowing that Bella would have regular checkups and monitoring,” said Chad.
A few weeks following surgery, Bella started the COXEN clinical trial, which uses the individual patient’s tumor characteristics to determine the best chemotherapy treatment for that patient. The COXEN approach has been validated in humans with cancer and FACC’s clinical team is studying this approach in dogs to determine if it can also improve canine patient outcomes. Before starting chemotherapy, the FACC clinical team evaluates which drugs are most effective against the patient’s tumor in the laboratory. From those results, the patient receives the drugs the tumor is most sensitive to. Bella received alternating doses of Doxorubicin and Carboplatin over the course of four months.
“Bella was the perfect trials patient,” shared Kara Hall, clinical trials nurse. “She was so easy to work with and never stopped wagging her tail!”
Since ending chemotherapy in June 2016, Bella has visited the FACC every two months for rechecks. To date, they have received great news each time – no new cancer!
“We are really encouraged by Bella’s progress and will learn a lot from her participation in this study,” said Dr. Kristen Weishaar, clinical trials director. “Bella has done so well and has surpassed the expected survival time for dogs with osteosarcoma. She is a rock star!”
As of November 2017, Bella is still cancer-free! She’s spent the last 12 months camping and going on long car trips with her family.
“She’s such a happy little girl,” said Chad. “And it doesn’t matter if she has four legs or three, she still loves to run squirrels out of the backyard.”
Your gift to the Flint Animal Cancer Center will support our mission to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer in beloved pets like Bella. Please join our team of hope. Together we can make a difference; together we can work toward a cure.