In June 2002, a furry 3-month-old pup wandered into Julie’s backyard and into her life.
“I checked around to see if anyone was looking for her,” said Julie. “When no one came forward, I decided to keep her.”
Part Chow, part Border collie or Aussie, Julie welcomed the puppy into her home and named her Zena. She’s been Julie’s constant companion ever since, following her wherever she goes. “She just loves human contact,” said Julie.
Growing up in the country, Zena had plenty of room to roam. For years, Zena’s routine has included long daily walks, car rides into town, and lounging on the front porch. The highlight of each year is an elk hunting trip with Julie.
When Zena was eight-years-old, her veterinarian, Dr. Troy Thompson, diagnosed Zena with a soft tissue sarcoma. Julie, a cancer survivor and former veterinary technician, supported Zena’s treatment, which ultimately included three surgeries to successfully remove the entire tumor. Zena enjoyed three cancer-free years before Julie noticed a growth in the same area in 2014. Dr. Thompson monitored the tumor for a year without noticing much change. In the spring of 2015, the mass was more well-defined, and Dr. Thompson suggested Julie bring Zena to CSU for further evaluation.
At CSU, Flint Animal Cancer Center’s medical, surgical, and radiation oncology team reviewed Zena’s case and provided a few options, including surgery or radiation. A biopsy of Zena’s tumor indicated that she was a candidate for a soft tissue sarcoma SRT (stereotactic radiation therapy) clinical trial. She received three doses of SRT over three days. At her six month recheck, doctors determined that the tumor had decreased in size, and FACC surgeons felt they could now successfully remove it. Following surgery in late January 2016, Zena felt well, but her wound was not healing, likely due to skin damage from radiation treatment and prior surgeries. After several months, with Julie’s persistence and careful monitoring by FACC faculty surgeon, Dr. Deanna Worley, the wound finally healed.
During the healing process, Julie and Zena frequently visited FACC and developed relationships with many staff members, including surgical oncology nurse, Deanna Williams. “Deanna really made a difference during that time,” said Julie. “I contacted her several times with questions or concerns, and she was always friendly and available.”
In December 2016, Julie brought Zena to the FACC to check on a growth on her right cheek. Biopsy results indicated another soft tissue sarcoma. Zena’s care team presented Julie with several treatment plans, including Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (SRT), surgery followed by radiation therapy, palliative radiation therapy, or surgical excision of the mass. Julie agreed to surgery followed by chemotherapy.
Zena started chemotherapy in February 2017, and visited the FACC for monthly rechecks. In mid-summer, Zena stopped eating and was lethargic. Given her disease had not progressed, her doctors decided to end chemotherapy. Fortunately, Zena’s appetite returned, and she went back to doing what she loves, in fact, she recently returned from another elk hunting trip with Julie!
At fifteen years old, and after battling cancer multiple times, Zena is a true story of hope. Julie’s goal now is to keep Zena comfortable, and give her a good quality of life. “I’ve had many dogs, but I think if you’re lucky, you get one really special dog, and for me, that’s Zena. I am grateful for the time I’ve had with her.”
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 Zena. Please join our team of hope. Together we can make a difference; together we can work toward a cure.