Aug 282012
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Sasha’s back home from The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine after her third and final administration of ADXS-HER2 vaccine in the Mason Bone Cancer Study.

Liliana and I drove up to my parent’s home in Parkesburg, PA from Raleigh, NC on Monday, August 20 (Liliana’s birthday).  Many thanks to my mom and dad for helping us out with a place to stay and food to eat during our multiple stays in PA.  My parents have also welcomed two of our other dogs, Argus and Alli, into their home each time that we’ve made this journey.  The drive from our home in Raleigh to my parent’s home in Parkesburg takes about seven hours.  It isn’t all that bad, but after making the trip several times in the span of a couple months, each landmark becomes a familiar reminder of how much further we still have to go before reaching our destination.  It’s Ok, though, I travel with good company, and as long as I have coffee to drink and something to chew on occasionally, the trip is easily bearable.

Argus, Sasha and Alli on our way to Pennsylvania.

Sleeping the miles away to Pennsylvania.

Sasha resting before receiving her 3rd and last vaccine.

We headed to Philadelphia at around 7:30AM on Tuesday to ensure that we would arrive at UPenn by our 9AM scheduled appointment with Dr. Mason.  Anna, a fourth year student, greeted us and brought us back to an examination room.  During Anna’s examination of Sasha, Dr. Mason arrived.  She peeked into the room through the glass panel on the door.  Sasha noticed the Dr. through the glass and perked up.  I’ll never forget Sasha’s reaction to Dr. Mason entering the room.  She jumped up and darted toward Dr. Mason.  Her tail was wagging in a fashion reserved only for very special people.  I’m sorry to go on, each time I write, about the Dr’s. and Sasha’s relationship, but I cannot get over how well they get along, and how much Sasha loves Dr. Mason!

Tuesday 8/21 at Penn Vet. Sasha waiting for Dr. Mason.

Sasha’s clinical examination was unremarkable.  She was bright and alert, her temperature was normal at 101.5⁰F, and her vital parameters were all within normal limits.  Sasha does have a small lesion on her right foot, second digit, and a small area of dermatitis between the digits of the same foot.  Dr. Mason had seen the lesion on her toe during her last visit.  We all agree that the probable cause of this lesion is that the adjacent toe nail is splintered and rough, and rubs the other toe as Sasha walks and runs.  The dermatitis is new, but of little concern.

Prior to administering the final dose of the vaccine, Sasha’s blood was drawn, and a chemistry screen was performed.  Her white blood cells were just low of normal, but her red blood cells and platelets were within normal parameters.  A repeat cardiac examination was performed using an echocardiogram and an EKG.  The examination revealed no significant changes from previous visits.

On 8/21, administration of the listeria vaccine began at 12:20PM and lasted for 30 minutes.  Within a few hours, the effect of the vaccine on Sasha was apparent.  She appeared to be feeling ill and a bit depressed.  At about 3:45PM, Sasha vomited, but her vital parameters remained within normal limits.  Her temperature peaked at 102.6⁰F at about 5:00PM.  This is not high enough to be considered a fever.

We all hoped, as perverse as it may seem, that Sasha would develop a fever as a result of receiving the vaccine.  A fever is a sure indicator that her immune system recognizes the listeria as an unwanted intruder in her body, and mounts an attack against it.  Such a response from her immune system would suggest that her body’s defenses might also recognize any cancer cells in her body as agents of nefarious character, since both the listeria in the vaccine, and the cancer cells that caused Sasha all her grief to begin with, both carry the HER2 genetic marker.  Dr. Mason made it clear, however, that a fever is not unequivocal proof of efficacy; nor is lack of a fever proof of ineffectiveness.

8/22/12 – Sasha remained stable with her vital parameters within normal limits.  She was not interested in her usual food that we feed her at home, but this has become normal for her while at UPenn.  She seems to have figured out that by turning her nose up at her Wellness Core and Orijen food, she will be given something different (canned chicken and rice) by Dr. Mason.  She seemed slightly depressed and lethargic prior to eating, but then perked up after her meal.  Bloodwork on this day showed mild anemia and lower platelet count (from 278,000 to 109,000).  Something I found funny: In Dr. Mason’s remarks about an orthopedic evaluation performed on Sasha, she noted, “She had no neurological deficits but resented her right foot being pinched”.  It’s funny, because I think I might resent that too!  Actually, the reason Dr. Mason made that comment is because Sasha showed a little extra sensitivity on her right foot, but that is likely explainable by the dermatitis that she had between her toes during this visit.

8/23/12 – Sasha’s hematocrit level was back to normal and her platelet count rose to 141,000 (still slightly below normal).  Her serum biochemistry panel showed no elevations in liver enzymes.

During Sasha’s initial examination on Tuesday, we told Dr. Mason that Sasha seemed to be feeling a little lethargic.  She needed a little extra coaxing to get up and go outside for bathroom breaks, and she just seemed, overall, a little less active than usual. This had been going on for about a week previous to our arrival in Philly.  As a result of our observation of Sasha’s lack of energy, Dr. Mason decided to take some thoracic radiographs.  They revealed a 6.5mm soft tissue opacity in her right cranial lobe.  As you can imagine, Liliana’s and my heart stopped for a moment when we heard that news.  Radiographs taken during our first trip to UPenn were clean.  Dr. Mason explained to us that we should not be alarmed at the finding.  It is unclear what is showing up in the radiographs, and it could be any number of things.  More radiographs will be taken during her “re-stage” exam in three weeks, and we will have a better idea of what is going on.  Till then, we will cross our fingers and hope that a fly landed on her chest and went unnoticed as the film was exposed, or something else equally innocuous!

As we were walking out of the hospital, Dr. Mason led the way, but when she turned right and we continued straight ahead for the exit doors, Sasha came to an abrupt stop.  She looked at Dr. Mason as to say, “Aren’t you coming with us?”  She would not budge an inch until Dr. Mason told her, “Go ahead, you can go home now.”  Sasha knows the phrases, “go ahead” and “go home”.  This was just another example of the closeness that Sasha feels to Dr. Mason.  Sasha only behaves with Liliana and me, the way that she does with Dr. Mason.

Argus and Sasha sleeping on our way back to Raleigh.

Alli bored and tired on the long ride home.

Now that we are all back home, Liliana and I need to decide whether we will bring Sasha back to Philadelphia for her 3-week follow up, or if we will bring her to see Dr. Hauck at North Carolina State University.  Sasha made her vote very clear; she wants to see Dr. Mason!  Liliana is starting a new job (Congratulations!), though, and the trip to PA is wearing on all of us a little.  Sasha will need to go in for bimonthly checkups after this first three week post treatment checkup, so we will definitely be going up North for many of those.  We’ll let you know what we decide.  Until then, thanks for reading, and be sure to come back.  We’ll be posting more updates on Sasha and the other dogs enrolled in the trial.

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  12 Responses to “Sasha’s Third and Last Vaccine in the Mason Bone Cancer Study”

Comments (12)

    Thank you for the update. You are a good person for bringing Sasha those long distances to try and save her life. I sure hope this works for Sasha. I know the feelings of not being able to do anything for a loved pet. May God give you and Sasha strength and bless ADXS with success in curing cancer both in humans and Sasha’s all over the world.


      Hi Ed, thanks for stopping by = )

      When I learned the study would be taking place in Philadelphia, I did not question making the trip. Even though at that time both Carlos and I were unemployed, the trips were not impossible. We’ll always do everything we can for our dogs, they are our family.

      We have high hopes for the vaccine, and hope to have Sasha with us for a long time = ) Thank you for your well wishes, I really appreciate them.

      ~ Liliana


    Thanks for the very thorough update. We hope and pray that the radiograph was nothing of concern. We are on vacation and Molly is staying with my Aunt Terry(one of her favorite people) She is being spoiled with filet mignon dinners, many walks, and belly rubs.


      It sounds like while you are on vacation, Molly is enjoying time at a retreat! I laughed when I read, “one of her favorite people”; it’s funny how dogs find ‘favorite people’. Our dogs have their special humans, too.


    Sasha is such a pretty girl, what a shame you have to go through this. That’s wonderful that she has such a close relationship with the vet though, that’s how you know you’ve found a great vet! Wishing best of luck for Sasha’s health in the future!


      Thanks for stopping by, Kate! The whole ‘cancer thing’ has been rough, but we feel so fortunate to still have Sasha with us. Our regular vet here in Raleigh, Dr. Nuenschwander (and his entire staff), is a wonderful man, and Dr. Mason at UPenn has become a friend to us and Sasha. We are indeed lucky to have such wonderful people helping us through this trying time.


    Thanks for the update! I will continue to pray for Sasha and especially that the x-rays turn out to be nothing serious. Abby didn’t get her 3rd chemo as planned, her white cell count was too low. She got antibiotics and rescheduled for chemo on Tuesday. Abby also had x-rays to check her lungs which were clear 11 weeks ago. Dr. Berdoulay did see a very small dense spot on the x-rays but suspects it to be cartilige. He’s going to get a second opinion from Dr. Puglisi, Abby’s surgeon, and let us know. Other than the low white count, her labs were normal. So we just hope and pray that it is indeed nothing more than cartilige. Give Sasha a big hug and kiss from Pat and I and another from Ziva and Abby. We will be wishing the best for Sasha as well as all the other dogs in the study. Hopefully Abby will be in Philadelphia sometime in October.


      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you! We have faith it’s nothing serious. Sasha went through what Abby is going through – her third chemo had to be rescheduled due to low white cell count, and she was out on antibiotics. The 4th chemo treatment was also rescheduled for the same reason. You’ll see, the spot will turn out to be nothing. I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to worry (too much). On September 13th, one of us will be heading to Philadelphia for the three week post vaccine check-up. After that, the bimonthly check-ups start and we’ll be doing some of them here in Raleigh at NC State’s Veterinary School. Sasha got her pats = ) A big hug to both your girls from everyone in the Ruano house (6 dogs and 2 people!!).



    I had the honor of meeting Sasha during two of her visits to Penn Vet. She is such a lovely dog, I got kisses and gave lots of pets. I was honored to be able to meet her and will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.


      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for the comment. Sasha is a sweet girl, and she does love to give kisses = ) I am glad you got to meet her. Thank you for stopping by!

      ~ Liliana


    Hi, it’s been a while since I dropped in to see how Sasha is doing. It all sounds quite good so far and it is wonderful to see her have such a wonderful bond with Dr Mason. The treatment is that much easier when our dogs look forward to visiting the vet.

    I hope things continue to go well for you. I really hope this vaccine proves successful.

    Karen (Spirit “Princess” Magnum’s mom from Tripawds)


      Hi Karen, thanks for dropping in. Sasha is doing well, and she is in good spirits. We are hoping for more good news when she goes in for her follow-up examination in a couple of weeks.

      Thanks again, and give Spirit Magnum a hug from all of us!

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