Facing cancer together.
When Connie’s cherished, five-year-old mastiff and French hound mix, Leo, suddenly stopped eating, she had no idea it was the start of a series of events that would change their lives.
“I’d been going through some medical testing, and I thought maybe Leo could sense my concern,” said Connie. “I thought he was just worried about me.”
After a few days, Connie made an appointment with their veterinarian. Leo’s physical exam was normal, and he was given an anti-nausea medication in hopes of stimulating his appetite.
Eight days later, they returned to the vet. Leo still wasn’t eating. His veterinarian ran additional tests and also performed a fine needle aspirate of several of his lymph nodes.
As it happened, Connie also had an appointment for a biopsy that same day.
“My biopsy was first, so when we learned that Leo would also have a biopsy, it was hard,” said Connie.
“Going into his appointment, I was prepared for the worst for me, but the heaviest moment in all of this was when it hit me that it wasn’t just me, it was Leo too.”
The next day, Friday, Leo’s veterinarian confirmed that he had lymphoma. On Monday, Connie’s biopsy results returned – stage III breast cancer.
“I had the weekend to think about everything, and when I heard confirmation of my diagnosis, it was scary, but I quickly changed my mindset to, ‘What are we going to do to beat this?’”
Focusing on treatment
“Knowing what we were going through, our veterinarian made the call and set up the appointment for us at CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center – she was amazing,” said Connie.
“She felt CSU was the best place for Leo.”
At Leo’s first appointment at the cancer center, Connie and family learned that Leo had multicentric T-cell lymphoma. Based on his test results, they were presented with treatment options and discovered that Leo was eligible for a clinical trial. They decided to enroll Leo in the Chop Dose Escalation for Canine Lymphoma study. Through this protocol, Connie hoped they could achieve long-term remission for Leo.
The CHOP protocol involves treatment with the combination of chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and doxorubicin as well as the steroid prednisone. Leo began treatment the same day.
“Leo started chemo first, and he handled it so well, it gave me courage and empowered me to think positively about my treatment,” said Connie.
Other than fatigue, neither Connie nor Leo experienced any side effects from chemotherapy and fell into their new normal with Leo’s treatments every other Tuesday and Connie’s on Fridays.
After his first dose of chemo, Connie noticed a definite improvement in Leo’s energy and behavior, and happily, he achieved remission almost immediately.
A marathon, not a sprint
At the end of May, Leo’s cancer returned. Not willing to give up, Connie and her husband asked the clinical trials team for options and decided to enroll Leo in a second study. The TANOVEA-CA1 clinical trial offered Leo’s best option and also provided a beneficial financial incentive. Today, Leo is back in remission!
Connie anticipates finishing up her chemotherapy in mid-August and will then undergo surgery and radiation therapy.
“It’s been quite a journey so far with many ups and downs,” said Connie. “Although our cancers are not the same, we’re going through many of the same things. We’ve had echocardiograms, been on steroids, and even on two of the same chemotherapy agents. And now that Leo’s changed to a different clinical trial, we get chemo on the same day!”
Through it all, Connie has maintained a sense of humor.
“With the steroids, Leo went from not eating to eating everything in sight, but I totally sympathized because I was always hungry as well.”
And then she smiled and said, “Unlike Leo, I didn’t eat out of the trash.”
She added, “My husband likes to say that Leo loves me so much that get got sympathy cancer. While I wish more than anything that neither one of us had cancer, it helps to go through it together.”