Here is, perhaps, the biggest understatement of the year: I’m pleased to report that Molly is doing well.
Previously, on Keeping up with Molly (insert video montage here)… Our sweet dog Molly’s digestive issues plagued her since the day we brought her home. After about a year of failing to find the right food for her, we found that she had inadvertently been ingesting gravel from our backyard. After three weeks of medication to help the grit move out naturally, which didn’t work, she was down to 36 pounds from her previously healthy 43. So in she went for surgery to clear things out. While there, they found tumors on her pancreas and liver. The official diagnosis is that it’s gastrinoma, an extremely rare neuroendocrine cancer. (We’re talking so rare that Dr. Rosenberg, who heads the Veterinary Cancer Group of Los Angeles, told me she had seen only two other cases in her thirty-plus-year career.)
Not enthusiastic with the treatment options provided by two oncologists — and certainly not content with their estimate of “she has one or two months to live” — we started working with Dr. Palmquist, our hero holistic veterinarian. Our first order of business was getting her digestion under control, since, according to Dr. Palmquist, the tumors were caused by her digestive troubles. We transitioned her to a diet of cooked ground pork, beef bone broth, and organic pumpkin, and it very quickly turned things around.
We’ve now settled in to a routine of this combination for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (recipe below). Amazingly, it’s the first time she’s eaten the same food for more than a few weeks…and she still loves it.
At this point, nearly four months after surgery — and two months past her expiration date — Molly has gained all of her weight back. Her coat is soft and shiny. Her eyes are bright and attentive. She is vibrant and full of energy. We now go on two walks a day — typically at least an hour each time. (Most of that time is spent pulling me from tree to tree in the park, seeking out every squirrel. She’d keep going all day if I’d let her. It eats up a lot of time, but I figure it’s good for both of us.)
In short, if we didn’t know she has cancer, we’d have no idea she has cancer.
Last weekend I took her to Catalina Island for a quick getaway. She loved being on the boats, fetching sticks in the ocean, and taking in every single scent around camp. She was having so much fun, in fact, that she was clearly grumpy when it was time for bed (late – at 11pm!). She then woke me up at 2:30am, licking my face. She never wakes us up in the middle of the night, so I figured she must have been desperate to go outside to pee. I wearily threw on a jacket and pants and took her outside. And what did she do? She started sniffing around, wanting to look for foxes or cats or, well, anything that smelled good. She totally played me!
Now I was the grumpy one as I dragged her back to bed. She begrudgingly went to sleep — but only until 6:30am, when she decided we had both slept enough and it was time to go out and explore again. She was truly a tireless, super-excited kid at summer camp.
There are still two minor issues that we’re troubleshooting: She has a bit of urinary incontinence and a throat irritation of some kind. I hope they’re unrelated to the cancer, and are a mere annoyance. However, on the chance that one of you reading this has a brilliant idea, I wanted to mention it here. Had it not been for your suggestions of removing rice from her diet, and for the recommendation to see Dr. Rosenberg, who referred us to Dr. Palmquist, I’m quite certain that Molly would be dead right now. This blog quite literally saved her life.
On Dr. Palmquist’s recommendation, we’ve been adding ground, raw pumpkin seeds into her food, and giving her Bladder Strength pills. They may have helped, but neither has solved the issue. I then started to wonder if it might be a side effect of one of the other medications she’s on. Sure enough, after consulting Dr. Google (which I only recommend doing with a great deal of skepticism), I found that incontinence is an uncommon side effect of metoclopramide in people. We’ve reduced the dose to one-third of what we had been giving her, and it seems to have helped…Now she tends to leak only after it’s been hot and has exerted herself a lot, and is then back home and napping. Next week I’m meeting with Dr. Palmquist and I’m hoping we can discontinue the metoclopramide entirely — with any luck, that will solve the incontinence inconvenience.
The second issue is the cough. It’s actually more like a gotta-clear-her-throat kind of thing, and is, as with most things Molly, intermittent. We have had her on one Chinese herb, Er Chen Tang, for a while, which we give every third day with lunch. It’s supposed to help reduce phlegm and balance the Qì. (She also gets Pepcid twice a day, to help reduce stomach acid levels — possibly elevated by the activity of the tumor — and manage gastric reflux.) We don’t know if the phlegm is related to the cancer, or if she just, well, gets phlegmmy sometimes.
So that’s our life right now. Molly is the most energetic and happy she’s been since we adopted her. We walk a lot, and we cook a lot of ground pork (it’s impossible to buy ten pounds of ground pork at Whole Foods without being asked, “Whatchya making??” And then when you tell people, “It’s for our dog,” they definitely raise an eyebrow…).
At this point, we have no idea what the tumors on her liver are doing. They could have grown, they could have spread to other areas, or they could have — dare I say it — disappeared. I don’t want to say she’s “cured” or “healed” because we really don’t know, and I do get a wee bit superstitious about these kinds of things (who doesn’t?), but I like to remind myself that the liver is the only organ that can regenerate; it’s possible that the tumors are actually gone.
We haven’t done another ultrasound yet because we’re not sure we want to know the answer. If we do, what will we do with that information? If the tumors have grown, we’ll be tremendously deflated, and Molly will certainly pick up on that. If they’ve stayed the same, we’ll be disappointed, but will likely just stay the course. And if they’re gone, then we might become complacent and not be as meticulous with her food, walks, and playtime (and if we stop any of the medications and herbs, might the tumors return?).
So I don’t know what the future for our sweet girl will bring, but I sure do hope that we’ll be spending many more years together, doing our best to keep up with her.
We get our pork and beef marrow bones from our local Whole Foods, and always choose the highest "step" rating as possible. I try to buy the most humane, sustainable, healthy meat we can, both for the sake of our dog and for the animals that she's eating.
- To make a batch of pork: In large skillet, add approximately 2 to 3 pounds of ground pork. It works well to break it into "burger-sized" pieces, and just cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes - turning just once. Once cooked through, remove from pan and place on paper towels to absorb excess fat, and to cool. Once cool, add the pork to a food processor and pulverize into fine bits. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Make the bone broth according to directions here, and store in glass jars in the refrigerator (can also freeze).
- Grind the pumpkin seeds in small batches in a spice grinder or powerful blender or food processor until reduced to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Using a kitchen scale, mix together the pork, pumpkin, and bone broth.
- If ingredients are cold, warm in the microwave for about 30 seconds, to take the "edge" off the temperature (it should not be hot).
- Add the pumpkin seeds, and stir. (I don't like to microwave the pumpkin seeds, since they're supposed to be raw.)