When we welcome a furry family member into our lives we also sign up for having to make tough decisions for them – decisions about preventative health care, medical treatment and also end of life care. 

A week ago we found out our chocolate lab Diego (for some reason us chocolate lab owners always have to specify the chocolate part as if somehow that makes them even sweeter than they already are)… I digress … We found out Diego had a large “splenic mass” – approximately the size of a football. When I heard this I was like “oh…ok…like the size of one of those footballs for babies?” (this is called denial). I was promptly corrected “no, like the size of one of those footballs for grown ups” – this was not good. 

We were not ready for this mostly because Dr. Google told us that his evening hacking cough and slightly distended belly (yeah I said slightly) were due to something else that although not great was not an immediate life threatening condition. Dr. Google lies. 

And so began the agonizing decisions – what is this thing and what are we going to do about it? There were really only two possibilities – a benign tumour or a malignant one. There are a lot of fancy medical words for the different types of tumours of the spleen but I won’t confuse you with that. Basically none of them are good – some blow up while inside and are fatal, some spread to other organs and are fatal, some keep growing and squeeze other organs and that becomes fatal. We had some tests done but nothing conclusive came from them, biopsy wasn’t an option because of the blowing-up part. What we did know was this: if benign the “cure” is surgical removal,  malignant ones are aggressive and at best you can get more quality time if removed – cure is unlikely. And the other thing we knew is that Diego is 12 years old.

Diego on the way to his ultrasound appointment.

We opted for surgery the next morning. The night before and early morning that day was an awkward internal battle of trying to be optimistic while at the same time wondering if this was his last supper, last walk, last belly rub…. We made the heart breaking decision that if when they opened him up and it was “bad” (spreading all over) he should be put to sleep right away. We stayed by his side through sedation and until they were ready to anesthetize him for surgery and then I kissed his head and instead of saying “goodbye” or even “see you later” I managed to squeak out a “you got this buddy” before we turned around and walked away.

Time seemed to go horrendously slow after that but every minute that went by without a call from the vet was a good minute. Two hours later when the call came we were told he had made it through the surgery and that an 8 pound tumour had been successfully removed from his abdomen. That’s the size of a large newborn baby (or a small one with a baby-sized football in its hand). 

Diego is now at home recovering. We know there is a significant chance that tumour was malignant but we also know that he deserves a fighting chance at more quality time no matter how long that is. He’s strong and he’s a fighter and therefore so are we. 

If you are interested, here are a couple things that helped us make our decisions: 

  • A vet that we trusted 
  • Diego was an otherwise healthy 12 year old 
  • Diego had money in HIS bank account for this. This wasn’t the deal maker or breaker but it helped. We all know veterinary care is expensive; however, we personally are not fans of pet insurance – it’s expensive, most policies are full of loop-holes for things like genetic predisposition, pre-existing conditions and the list goes on … So instead we started putting away the equivalent of two pet insurance premiums in a separate account for both our dog’s vet care (confession time: we have occasionally dipped into it – once to help pay for patio furniture but they sit on it more than we do so it was justified.) 
  • Most importantly, Diego has lived his entire life being powerful, strong-willed and proud so he deserved a fighting chance.