In late 2019, Lacy, a then 12-year-old Cavalier King Charles was diagnosed with two cancers. Her owner, Cheri Milner, took her to a nearby oncologist. “His basic advice was, ‘These are terrible cancers; we could do chemo, but I don't know why you would put her through that because she only has three to four months to live, and you just need to take her home and enjoy her,’” says Cheri Milner.
Fortunately, Milner wasn’t ready to give up hope.
Lacy’s primary care veterinarian, Dr. Sills, and his team had discovered two very serious metastatic cancers – tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma and an anal sac apocrine gland tumor. Milner consulted a second oncologist who started Lacy on intravenous chemotherapy, but the cancer was traveling to her lymph node.
Then Lacy’s veterinarian suggested Dr. Philip Bergman, an oncologist at Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center and Director of Clinical Studies for VCA, who he said was supposed to be the best. “When she brought Lacy to come see me, she was diagnosed with two very difficult tumors, one of which is on my top 10 most-hated list,” says Dr. Bergman.
While Dr. Bergman communicated how serious the cancers were, he said there were options and they would do whatever they could. “He [Dr. Bergman] was a saint and I never left there feeling anything but hopeful,” says Milner.
They ended up putting Lacy on an oral drug called Palladia that Dr. Bergman felt might be able to help and likely wouldn’t hurt her in a major way. Milner administered the drug herself from her home. “She [Lacy] never acted like it bothered her. She took that chemo in stride,” says Milner. “It was like giving her a treat.”
Lacy ended up responding favorably to the anti-cancer agent and after a handful of months, she was in remission.
“It's a devastating diagnosis but remain hopeful…Your dog can still live a long life with cancer if you have the right person beside you. Just don't give up and don't give up finding the right fit for you.”
“I never gave up on her and she never gave up on herself most importantly,” says Milner. “I really feel like with this cancer, we went to war together. I learned so much from her through this because I just never thought she would fight like she did.”
While Lacy passed away in February 2022, a few months shy of her 15th birthday, she ended up living two and a half years after that first oncologist had given her just a few months to live. Additionally, she had no significant quality of life issues until the end of her life.
“Remarkable dog, remarkable owner, the kinds of relationships you live for as a specialist because it was perfect on every level,” says Dr. Bergman. “Female cavies are some of the most gentle souls in veterinary medicine; they're just remarkably sweet dogs that don't have a bad bone in their body. She very much was 110% that and interestingly, it recapitulated the personality of her owner and her family. They dearly loved her and would do everything possible for her.”
Milner hopes Lacy’s story inspires other pet owners to not give up when their animal receives a serious diagnosis. “It's a devastating diagnosis but remain hopeful…Your dog can still live a long life with cancer if you have the right person beside you. Just don't give up and don't give up finding the right fit for you.”
Dr. Bergman believes pet owners should arm themselves with as much information as they can. “I could not encourage clients more strongly to please go see a specialist in that area because there are always things that we can do, even when there's the most horrible prognosis… You can at least feel better that you've seen a specialist and they've hopefully then also empowered you with the information that you need to know, so you can make the right decision for you and your pet.”
Additionally, the field of veterinary oncology is everchanging, with new and better therapies continually being developed. This makes it all the more important to see a specialist versus only a primary care veterinarian, because the primary care doctors may not be aware of all current options available to pets.
While results aren’t guaranteed, Milner believes pet owners are their voice and advocate, and “sometimes that means going to three oncologists before you find the one… I just really feel that dogs ask for nothing from us but to love them and to care for them, and being their advocate is really important.”
To find a hospital and veterinary specialist near you, click here.