At the beginning of last year, if you told me that I even had a chance at having cancer later that year, I probably would have told you that you are delusional. I must say I was living the good life. I just moved to Pittsburgh, we bought and were renovating our beautiful home, I underwent my major leg surgery and was just getting my life back. Johns life long dream was to have a house with a yard so he could get a puppy. He spent endless hours researching the perfect breed when finally we found our breeder. We reached out to them, and they had a rather large litter of puppies ready in June. Finally after much convincing, I was on board with the whole idea of having a pup as a part of our little family.
Truth is, I am a cat person if I had to choose between the two. In all actuality, I am not really a pet person at all! I dont like the responsibility, the hair, the vet bills… I just never really saw a point. I grew up with a dad who was deathly afraid of dogs and hated all animals in general. Therefore, all of my moms attempts at having a pet failed and we ended up giving them away.
Then came Izzy. When we went to pick out our puppy son at 3 weeks old from the other numerous yellow lab pups, Izzy caught our eye because he was the plumpest of the bunch and was a little more laid back than his other rambunctious brothers and sisters. I remember flipping him on his back and as I rubbed his little heff-a-lump belly, he began to nibble on my engagement ring, which at the time I found adorable. It was truly love at first bite and from that day forward, John and I were hooked.
We could not wait to bring Izzy home. Turns out once he was finally 8 weeks old, it was my 26th birthday! I will never forget walking downstairs that morning as John held Izzy in the living room with pink streamers hanging from the ceiling and a banner strung across the wall saying “Happy Birthday”. It was truly a picture perfect moment! My two handsome boys, how did I ever get so lucky.
Well, that picture perfect moment soon began to fade. On all those cute animal planet shows like “Puppy 101” they never quite show “real puppy behavior”. I mean, for a girl who never had a pup, I was in for a huge surprise! From house breaking, to separation anxiety from his mom and the other pups, to the puppy bites… I’m still convinced our little Izzy Monster is part alligator!
It was an incredibly difficult couple of months, but soon it clicked and Izzy seemed to be on the road to one day being the best, most loving, and well behaved dog ever (or at least in our dreams right;). Though we still needed to attend puppy training classes, and friends and family have a love/ hate relationship with our cherished puppers… We remained hopeful that one day he’d grow up to be the perfect family dog! 😉
In October I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that was when John and I decided to give our puppy son Izzy a forever pair of the best parents in the world. Not long after our magical wedding, I began my chemo treatments and prepared for the worst. With anticipation of nausea and whatever other awful side effects were to come… There was a part of me that just knew that I would make it through.
Though John was there initially for all my appointments and anticipated days that I would feel my worst… John wasn’t always the greatest at sitting all day on the couch or laying in bed when it hurt for me to move. It was amazing how my crazy, energetic, psychotic puppy somehow instinctively knew I wasnt feeling myself and he found a way to cuddle up on my lap. At times it wasnt in the most dainty of ways… But I knew his intentions, and I would pet him and he would fall asleep.
I remember my mother in law saying when we first brought Izzy home when I was very much anti having a dog roaming around my house, “he is going to attach to you”. Poor John, because he would dieeee for the attention that Izzy gives me. He typically gets the wild and crazy puppy tantrums because Izzy loves daddy play time.
So, as my treatments went on and Izzy became my new Best Friend, one day I was petting his chest and came across about a dime size lump. I immediately had John feel it because in my old age;) i’ve become somewhat of a hypochondriac… And he said it wasn’t anything to be too concerned about, labs are known to be a rather cysty breed.
As weeks turned into months I obviously asked anyone who came to visit to feel the lump and reinforce Johns idea of it just being a cyst. It wasn’t until finally our friend Greg said that he thought the mass was getting bigger. I finally made the decision to take the Izzy Monster to the vet.
Oh lucky me! So, John is obviously back to working fulltime so I had to play my motherly role in taking our son to the vet by myself (not the easiest of tasks being that our son is practically the size of a mini horse and as crazy and the Energizer Bunny!) I did my best walking him into the vets office on his leash, but he (like he’s done in the past) dragged me across the tiled floor and jumped to give kisses to every person he came in contact with.
They took us back into a treatment room pretty quickly most likely so Izzy didn’t disturb the peace of any other puppy patients coming into the vets office that hour. Our vet Dr. Vana entered the room and after not seeing Izzy since he was neutered she immediately said “hes wayyyy too fat!” Um… Excuse me, im the mother here! My son is perfect the way he is;)
From that minute forward the poor Izzy monster was placed on that dreaded thing we all know as a Diet! Anyways, back to the story… We got Izzy on the scale and he weighed in at 85.6 lbs at 9 months old. She felt the “lump” and truly wasn’t overly concerned other than the fact that he is so young and shouldn’t really have lumps. She was pretty certain it was was she called a “foreign object”. Basically because he’s part psycho, he may have jabbed himself with a stick or thorn, we never knew because the lump never bothered him, and his body natural built a fat deposit all around it rather than pushing it out of his body.
She gave me options, 1. Leave it alone (but we all know where that got me after I listened to my gyno) 2. Perform an aspiration needle biopsy where there is only a 50% chance she actually grabs cells, or 3. Perform an excision and tumor removal then send away for a full biopsy. In my mind there was absolutely no question. I made his surgery appointment for the following week as we awaited the biopsy to return.
A couple days later I got the call we weren’t overly concerned about getting. I was actually in the hospital room with my grandma after her thyroid stopped working a few days prior. As im awaiting Dr. Vana to start laughing because Izzy had a thorn or stick or something even more bizzarre shoved into his chest… She followed with that dreaded phrase. The phrase that was told to me when my biopsy result had come in. “Well, theres good and bad news… The good news is hes young, the bad news is he has cancer”…
What in the world?! Hold up, so your telling me my 9 month old son, my baby, my best friend has cancer too?! How can that be. I started to instantly cry, just as I did when I received my own news a few months prior. I instantly looked at my mom and with a crackling voice said “Izzy has cancer, how can this be”. As I half listened to what the doctor had to say, my mind literally just replayed that phrase “he has cancer”.
I started jotting down some notes on my grandmas hospital room dry erase board. Words like, “cancer of the blood vessels”, “cutaneous hemangiosarcoma”, “rare”, “oncologist”, “could spread to kidneys or liver”, “chemo”…
My mind literally was doing more round off back handsprings than I could ever do when I was a cheerleader. I honestly couldn’t wait to just hang up the phone and call John. I felt like I was in a a nightmare. I looked at the time and it was 3:00pm, John just texted me maybe an hr prior to tell me he’d be working 2 hours of overtime. But… I needed to tell him!
I called the first time and got his voicemail. I called back immediately and he answered. Through my muffled tears and crackling voice I got the words out “Izzy has cancer”…
We decided we would talk once I picked him up from work. My heart was broken. My mom and I said our goodbyes to my grandma (who by the way was discharged home the next day and doing fine), and drove straight home to my Izzy baby. I let him out of his play pen and just like any other time, he greeted me with his mid prance, overly excited, tail wagging self that he greets us with whether we were gone 10 minutes or 10 hours.
Izzy and I went to pick up John and as I pulled up to his job site I just see a worn out young guy sitting up against a brick wall with tears and dirt stains pouring down his face. He got in the car and did not say a word. That drive home both of us simply cried to ourselves as Izzy cuddled up on Johns lap and the days news just replayed through our heads. The thick silence spoke more words than could have ever been said between John and I.
We cannot lose him. Izzy is our son. He was supposed to teach our kids all the bad things he does now as a puppy. He’s supposed to grow old with us and get us so mad because he eats our shoes, or rolls around in mud puddles and tracks it all through my perfectly cleaned house. He’s a baby, he’s only 9 months old, how can we put him through chemo after knowing what it did to me?
Then there is the reality of the situation. He is a dog, i’m going through chemo, i’m not working, bills are coming in for my own health issues… How are we going to afford treatments for a dog?!
Fast forward to the next week and Izzys first appointment at the pet oncologists office. BTW, who would have ever known 1. Pet oncologists exist, and 2. That they actually have chemo and radiation for dogs! #mindblown! Anyways, John was unable to take off work so his brother Davey and cousin Jen came along to listen and control the Izzy monster in this new territory.
We pulled up to Pittsburgh Vet and Emergency Services and it literally looked like John Hopkins for dogs. It was ginormous, with a ton of different speciality departments for animals. The last time I was at a vet speciality clinic was when my cousin Jody had to put her rat down. Although it was heartbreaking seeing him struggle to breath and making the decision to end his distress, it was unreal to me that people pay so much money for their pets, and that these vets or specialists are so compassionate… Almost more compassionate than human doctors!
Anyways, the oncology wing was filled with a ton of other older dogs with their rather depressed looking, stone faced, very serious owners. Izzy runs in with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth and lunging in attempt to play with someone in this strange place. Thankfully for Davey and his muscles 😉 he took Izzy outside awaiting his name to be called.
The vet assistant “Chris” called Izzy’s name. We ran out to grab him and he was more than excited to walk to the back conference room. We made our introductions then Izzy was taken into the back room for testing as we awaited the vet. Dr. Erfourth entered the room and ever so professionally went into detail regarding Izzy’s unfortunate diagnosis at such a young age, described treatment options, and the most depressing part but the main question on all of our minds… prognosis.
- First things first Izzy had to undergo a whole slew of testing including chest X-ray and abdominal ultrasound to be sure the cancer has not spread to his other organs. Good news is, his liver, kidneys, and lungs are fine! They did find 1 enlarged lymph node in his abdomen but at this time aren’t entirely concerned that its cancerous.
- Izzy will be undergoing another surgery on his chest. Typically if the vet would have suspected his mass to be cancerous they would have taken a wider area of tissue to be sure to take out as many cells as possible. This surgery is planned for 3/14/2016.
- About 2-3 weeks after Izzy’s surgery he will begin chemo. Izzy’s chemo will consist of Adriamycin (which oddly is known as the “Red Devil” and was used for my very own chemo regimen). He will have to undergo 5 treatments 2 weeks apart.
- After his chemo rounds there will be ongoing radiology and with prayers and positivity he too will kick cancers ASS*
You may be reading this and have finally said to yourself WOW! This 26 year old girl has breast cancer and now her 9 month old puppy had a tumor on his breast and was diagnosed with blood vessel cancer… WOW is right!
I have to lay this one out for you because it is just entirely too similar to be creepy! Check out this timeline…
- Izzy: born April 29th 2015
- Meghan: major leg surgery and reconstruction April 30th 2015, around May Meghan initially felt her lump in her breast.
- Meghan and John: brought Izzy home the night of June 26th
- Meghan’s birthday June 27th
- Meghan: Diagnosed October 2015 with stage 2b breast cancer, +tumor right breast and 1 enlarged lymph node
- Meghan: Began chemo in November, started with 4 treatments of Adriamycin then switched to Taxol
- Izzy: Meghan felt a lump on Izzy’s right breast in November/December
- Izzy: was taken to vet February and underwent first mass resection and biopsy– later diagnosed with cutaneous hemangiosarcoma stage 2 cancer
- Izzy: further testing was conducted finding 1 enlarged lymph node
- Meghan:From the beginning of treatment has numerous reactions to medications however in the Month of February she began significant allergic reactions to chemo treatments
- Izzy: Underwent ongoing testing and was placed under mild sedation and had allergic reaction
- Izzy: Will undergo one more surgery in March then begin Chemo Adriamycin in April with possible radiation
- Meghan: Will undergo bilateral double mastectomies in April followed by radiation…
**Another weird coincidence, when I first began my journey I needed a slogan. Those of you that know me personally know my love for anything that sparkles or shines. I chose the phrase “SPARKLE ON” to guide me through my fight. A co-worker pointed out to me that SPARKLE ON can be turned into sBARKle ON for Izzy and I! HOW WEIRD IS THAT!!!!
Our stories are just too strikingly similar to be a coincidence. Some have said Izzy is an angel brought into this world to guide me and keep me strong, others have tossed around the idea that something spiritually is going on here along the lines of “a life for a life” and Izzy is my spirit animal… I guess we will never truly know for sure. So we are left with one thing… to fight this awful disease and in our own ways, both Izzy and I will not just SPARKLE ON… we will sBARKle ON together*
PS: If anyone would be so gracious and compelled to help us with Izzy’s cause— feel free to donate through IZZYS DONATION PAGE and also follow Izzy on Instagram (because he is practically famous at: izzyelliot412