Sasha Update

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Jun 202012
 
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Several weeks have passed since I last posted here about my dog, Sasha.  My husband and I brought Sasha to our local veterinarian on March 6 because she was showing lameness in her right arm.  X-Rays revealed that Sasha had a growth on her humerus bone.  Our veterinarian explained to us that the growth  was a tumor and was the result of osteosarcoma.  Osteosarcoma is the most common and aggressive type of bone cancer seen in dogs.  The tumors usually occur in the limbs of large breed dogs.  The prognosis was not good.  We had three options (with slight variations of each) of how to proceed.  The first would be to do nothing.  Sasha would be in extreme pain for the rest of her time with us, and would likely not live beyond two months.  The second option would be to amputate her arm, which would provide her relief (after recovering from the surgery) from the pain caused by the osteosarcoma.  The positive thing about moving forward with the amputation, besides pain relief, would be that Sasha would be with us for longer.  The median survival time for dogs with osteosarcoma after limb amputation and no further treatment, is six months.  The reason for this is that once an osteosarcoma tumor has been found, the chances that the cancer has already metastasized to another part of the body – usually the lungs – are extremely high.  The third option would be to have the limb amputated, and then follow up with chemotherapy treatments.  Taking this option meant that we might have Sasha, pain free and happy, for 6 months to a year, or possibly longer if we are lucky.  We decided to go with option three.

Since we learned of Sasha’s diagnosis, we have been researching osteosarcoma, reading about experiences of others with dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and exploring additional and alternative treatments that might help our beloved dog.  On May 8th, via the Facebook page, Chase Away K9 Cancer, I learned about a new vaccine available for bone cancer.  Since then, my husband and I have been looking into enrolling Sasha in the clinical trial in which the vaccine will be used for the very first time with dogs.

We spoke with Dr Mason, the doctor who is heading the trial, and a superbly nice person, and she explained to us that the patients would be injected with listeria bacteria.  It would be a very low-potency (for lack of better word) listeria bacteria, but the idea is that the listeria would hone in on a certain gene marker in Sasha’s tumors, and then her body’s natural defenses would attack the bacteria, and by association, the tumors.  It is a novel approach to treating osteosarcoma in dogs, but it has been used in mice and in humans with some remarkable success.

In order for Sasha to enroll for the trial, she would need to meet certain criteria:

  • She needed to be diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and the tumor site had to be one of her limbs.
  • Her affected limb had to be amputated
  • She needed to undergo four treatments of chemotherapy with carboplatin
  • She needed to have the her2/neu gene

Sasha met, or would soon meet, three of the criteria necessary to qualify her as a potential patient in the clinical trial.  The only thing that we needed to find out was whether Sasha’s tumor expressed the her2neu gene.  To find this out, we needed to contact the lab where Sasha’s tissue block had been sent off to for analysis.  Dr Mason had told me that for the sample to be viable, it needed to not have been decalcified.  I was so happy to hear that the lab still had her tissue block after over a month, but I was dismayed to learn that it had been decalcified.  Because of my high hopes for the clinical trial, I was very upset to hear that the tissue sample was no longer viable.  I sent Dr Mason an e-mail informing her of the bad news.  I was surprised when she responded, and said that she would be happy to test the sample, even though it had been decalcified, to see if she could determine if Sasha’s tumor sample expressed the her2/neu gene.

A few days later I received and e-mail from Dr Mason.  She explained that tests had been performed by multiple people, and they were all confident that Sasha’s tumor did, in fact, express the her2neu gene.  This was such happy news for us, as we felt very positive about the Mason bone cancer clinical trial.

It is now, June, 19, and Sasha completed her final carboplatin treatment on the Monday June 11.  We will need to take her to our local veterinarian’s office on the June 25th and again on July 2nd, to have blood drawn to make sure that her immune system is strong and ready for the listeria injection.  If all goes well, we expect to drive up to Philadelphia the second or third week of July.  Sasha will need to remain at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, for three days.  There, she will be constantly monitored by Dr Mason and her team to ensure that everything goes well.  Dr Mason explained that she expects Sasha to feel flu-like symptoms and have an elevated temperature – similar to what people experienced who underwent this same treatment.  Her temperature should be back to normal levels by about the twelve hour mark after administration of listeria.

Thank you for reading this update on my dog, Sasha.  She is doing very well now; full of life and spunk!  Sasha still enjoys going to parks and running after her favorite toy, a red Kong frisbee.   She also loves to go swimming, and does just as well as she ever did in the water – no life vest required.

I will post again to keep you all abreast of Sasha’s progress.

Wish her luck!

 

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    […] trial that our dog, Sasha, was enrolled in at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, more on that here.  Read Sasha’s experience in the Mason Bone Cancer […]

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