The "C" Word

Girly Girl greyhound-my fashion plateI’ve made no secret of the fact that the loss of my heart dog Girly Girl has been a devastating event in my life. Every day has been tough without her but for 4-5 weeks before her birthday in February and again before the day I lost her in mid-October, my heart always reminds me of just how broken it is. Sometimes I don’t even realize at first why I start crying more. Why I feel so much more sad than normal. Then somewhere in those weeks I figure out what anniversary is coming. The flood gates open for a while. During Girly Girl’s cancer battle, I spent a lot of time on Grey Talk. I distinctly remember one lady telling me that 10 years after the loss of her heart dog, she was still greatly affected by it. I recall thinking that is a long time to actively grieve for any living creature, even a heart dog. But here approaching anniversary number two since her passing, I have no doubt that I’ll be in the same place at year ten. I have learned for myself that there are some things that you just never get over.

Canines and cancer have not only been on my mind, but they have also been much in the news lately. There have been a couple of interesting study results published that give me hope. The Ohio State University Greyhound Health and Wellness Program in collaboration with Dr. Carlos Alvarez of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital have sent for publication the results of a study they had been conducting on cancer genes in greyhounds. They were able to isolate a particular gene that, when carried by a greyhound, pre-disposes them to osteosarcoma. That in itself is not a cure but knowing about the gene, we can now test dogs to see if they carry the gene. We can apply everything we know about prevention and stack the deck in our favor. Breeders can make informed choices based on the presence of this gene. Not too much further down the road, they will develop gene therapy which will target the cancer at its genetic source. Possibly, even further down the road, we will find a way to simply switch that gene off so it will never be expressed. It’s a first step with a long way yet to go, but paraphrasing Lao Tzu, every journey must begin with a single step.

Girly Girl greyhound in one of her many sleeping posesThe other study done by two veterinarians from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine took dogs diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and gave them compounds called PSPs derived from a type of mushroom called Coriolus versicolor. This mushroom is more commonly known as Yunzhi. The dogs who received this compound had the longest survival times EVER reported for dogs with hemangiosarcoma. This is a particularly pernicious cancer that affects blood cells and is incredibly hard to treat. Prognosis for the unfortunates with hemangiosarcoma is dismal even with treatment. The possibility that the time we get to spend with our babies can be extended, potentially significantly, just by adding a mushroom supplement to their daily regimen is incredibly hopeful. This may end up being a step that is inexpensive and within the reach of most of us even when expensive surgeries and chemotherapy are not. I remember the feeling of helplessness in the face of cancer all too well. I was lucky at the time to be able to give Girly Girl all the treatment available. The thought that I don’t have that option any longer should Blue or Bettina get the dreaded diagnosis keeps me up at night. Here is something that we can all easily do which can prolong the quality and length of time we get to spend with our companion animals.

Though this mushroom has only been studied on canines with hemangiosarcoma; there is also every possibility that it will have similar effects on other types of cancer as well, including osteosarcoma and lymphoma. Further studies are planned to confirm the results of this study and compare the results from using the mushroom to groups receiving conventional treatment.

The fraternity of loss due to canine cancer now has these two things to celebrate. The pace of research and discovery is picking up. The Morris Animal Foundation, the AKC Canine Health Foundation and many other groups are funding scientists so that by the time I reach the 10th anniversary of Girly Girl’s loss, we won’t be having this “C” word discussion about any more of our beloved companions and I’ll have to find something else to write about every October.


  1. It's been five years since Treat died, on Cinco de Mayo, and I still feel sad every time that holiday rolls around. She had a spinal tumor and from the time we first found out about it until she was gone was only five weeks, and it was such an emotional roller coaster. I think with time, it's not such an acute pain, more like an ache in the heart, but every time I read about someone else losing their dog, I remember all too well how much it hurts.

    OSU is such a great program! Dr. Cuoto was so generous with his time and advice when Blueberry had her cancer, and I've been so grateful for that. I support them whenever I can, either by donating photos to the art book every year, bidding in auctions (even though I never win), or buying the Hope for Hounds collars. I hope there's a day when no humans or hounds have to deal with cancer.

    P.S. Bunny says that her backpack came from Wolf Packs, http://wolfpacks.com/, and it does indeed come in purple! It's pricey, but we're certain that Bettina feels she's worth it!

  2. Glad to hear they are making some progress. I think if I had the choice to redo my graduate studies, I would study canine genetics instead of human genetics.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. It is good that you talk about it-I am sure it helps others who are feeling the same.


  4. Everyone I know has had a hound with cancer, or knows someone who has. It seems to be a deal we make when we adopt these wonderful creatures. The Big C touched our lives last fall, when I lost my dear Emma to a tumor in her spleen. Now my Daniel, sweet sweet Daniel, is being treated for Lymphoma (successfully, thank Heaven). The thought of what you went through with your Girly Girl makes me want to cry.

    Dr. Couto's program at OSU is near and dear to my heart. I helped found Greyhounds Rock Fredericksburg seven years ago, and our reason for being is to raise money for Dr. Couto. We work hard all year to put on our annual "Take a Bite Out of Canine Cancer" benefit gathering. (on November 3 & 4 this year.) It is a time to celebrate our hounds, learn a bit at the seminars, receive an update on canine cancer from an oncologist (usually Dr. Couto himself, but he will be out of the country during our event this year), bid on great things during our auction, listen to a famous dog lovers during the Saturday evening Dessert Party and Sunday Brunch (This year we have Fabien Cousteau on Saturday and Jim Nelson of Tripawds on Sunday). I love this event because we meet such wonderful dogs (and their humans) and we all work together to make a difference ... to support work that may one day make canine cancer a thing of the past. (Go to www.greyhoundsrock.org for all the details.)

  5. A animal-assisted therapy involved a 45 minute session once a week. Activities included getting to know animal and its handler, grooming, cleaning up, basic obedience, and agility. It developed in the garden when the elements was nice, and in living room inside when it was rainy. As well as individual sessions together with the animal and handler, there were group sessions with others participating in the program.


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