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Dogs give us their all.
It's the best deal man has ever made. 
 

- Margery Facklam 


  In late September 1998, I happened to notice that my Sheltie, Sander, had a lump on the roof of his mouth.   It was unusual enough that I took him to the vet as soon as I noticed it.  The vet said that he would cut into it to see if it was a foreign body, and to biopsy it if it wasn’t.  The biopsy was done on September 28, 1998; Sander was 7 years old.

  Three days later I called for the results.  I never expected to hear the “C-word” — what a funny place to find cancer, on the hard palate.  Who ever heard of that?  Well, on October first of last year, I heard of it.  That afternoon  I went into the clinic for a discussion with the vet.  I didn’t bring Sander.  I couldn’t even look at him yet.  This dog was so healthy, so happy, so full of life and so indispensable to me, I couldn’t accept this news.  The vet went through all the options.  Chemotherapy and radiation typically don’t work on bone cancer, which is what the biopsy report said this was.  Surgery wouldn’t get the cancer and might make the tumor grow more.  There was nothing to do.  I’ll never forget his words as he hugged me:  “Go home and have fun with him, Con.”

  Fun was not something I could have at that point.  When I went home I called Marina Zacharias.  I had no idea if any natural substances or dietary supplements could help Sander, but I sure wasn’t going to do nothing and watch him die.  I repeated to Marina the prognosis of the vet:  six weeks, probably less.  She suggested that we think in months instead. 

  It’s now one year later and the tumor in Sander’s mouth has shrunk noticeably.  Slowly but surely, it’s gotten smaller.  Will it go away altogether?  I have no idea.  Will it double back and return with renewed vigor and kill him next month?  That’s not very likely.  More likely is that he will live with this tumor for a long time still, maybe years.  Will he eventually die of cancer?  I don’t know, but we are doing everything we can to prevent that.

  It never rains but it pours.  Sander did agility for five years, and was never a speedster but did pretty well, bringing home a few second and fourth-place ribbons.  The agility career ended at the same time the cancer was diagnosed, because when the biopsy was performed I also had x-rays done, and they revealed some pretty horrible stuff too:  Sander has hip dysplasia and lumbar spondylosis and some very arthritic elbows. 

  The first week in October 1998, though, I was more concerned with the cancer than with the arthritis.  If the cancer killed him in weeks, it wouldn’t matter that I hadn’t given him any treatment for the joint disease.  I wrapped pill after pill in tiny slices of meat and put them down Sander’s throat twice a day.   I brewed Essiac tea and poured it down him twice a day, tying a dish towel around his neck to catch the spills.  We switched vets, and started seeing a holistic vet who also did acupuncture on Sander for his arthritis. 

  Toward the end of October, I felt heavy-hearted and could see that Sander was very tired and had lost his sparkle.  The tumor had grown a little bit, out of the biopsy incision, but the vet said that was not unusual.  I spent a lot of my time searching for treatment options and reading about chemotherapy, cryosurgery, and radiation.  Everything I learned reinforced my conviction that those were not for Sander.  They seemed invasive, painful, and frightening.  I was afraid that if I put him through that, he would give up and die.  Frankly, I still thought that he had only a few more weeks with me anyway.  Both the acupuncturist and the chiropractor were seeing Sander every two weeks, “to maintain quality of life up until the end.”  The vet told me consoling things about the deaths of animals who had been treated with holistic modalities, how they suffered less and did not decline so dramatically.  I still woke up in the morning and thought first about Sander’s cancer, and felt overcome by sadness, but I was doing my best to control my grief around him.  I did at one point talk to him and tell him that if he was in too much pain he should not stick around for me—the closest I could come to giving him permission to die.  He gave me an enigmatic look.

  Thanksgiving came and went.  Sander seemed to be feeling a little better and consumed his share of the holiday turkey.  He drank his Essiac tea from a bowl and seemed to enjoy the taste, so I no longer had to pour it down him.  The chiropractor routinely adjusted his head and neck, working out the kinks that were the side-effects of having a tumor in the skull. 

  Christmas came and went.  Sander was definitely feeling better, but still he had headaches, when his skull was warm to the touch and there was visible swelling behind the maxillary bone.

  The new year came.  I found hydrotherapy facilities for dogs in our area, and took Sander to the clinic to meet the physical therapy vet, who said that he would benefit from walking on a treadmill in the heated pool.  I signed him up for a series of ten visits over the next three months. And every day the pills and the tea, the droppers and the powders mixed into the food.

  Every month meant more time bought, more error in the original prediction.  Sander had good days and bad days.  Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was feeling down from the cancer or from all the arthritis.  (I added arthritis supplements to his regimen in November, deciding that he wasn’t going to die that week and we should work on the joint discomfort.)  In March we went to the veterinary clinic at the state university.  The tumor was not behaving like typical osteosarcoma, even the flat-bone variety.  Maybe it was something else.  The pathologist at Champaign opted for the malignant fibrous histiocytoma diagnosis, which is another giant-cell cancer of the connective tissue.  The oncologist wouldn’t predict anything.  X-rays and  an ultrasound exam were done, and there was no evidence of other tumors or any metastasis in his lungs or abdomen.  That was very good news; it meant that we were still dealing with the primary tumor only, and it seemed to be contained for the time being. 

  I took Sander home from the clinic, having refused their offer to do radiation on his head,  and did something I had been thinking about for months:  I switched him, and my other Shelties,  to raw food.  I eased them off the super-premium dog food that I had fed for 5 years, and started putting raw vegetables and raw ground turkey in their food bowls.  I braced myself, and with horror stories from my former vet ringing in my ears, I fed them raw chicken wings and turkey necks.  They loved it, of course.  And more importantly, Sander started to get noticeably better.  He became barky and obnoxious again, his old Sheltie self.  He even ran a bit, after squirrels and rabbits, though his back end is pretty clumsy.  He squabbled with the puppy with renewed vigor, and adopted a policy of refusing to let Sundance (then 8 months old) ride on the back seat of the car with him, making him ride on the floor.  Sander the Boss was back in charge.

  Since then it’s been almost nothing but good news.   In May 1999 I looked at the tumor for the first time in a while, and thought that it looked a bit smaller.   The holistic vet pronounced it diminished and said that we could expect that to continue.  The conclusion we draw from this is that we have boosted Sander’s immune system to where it is capable of recognizing the tumor as a problem, and capable of dealing with it, i.e. trying to get rid of it. 

  I was disappointed that the entire tumor didn’t disappear over the next week, but then I read Marty Goldstein’s book and the chapter on cancer, in which he explains that when tumors go away, they do so very slowly, so as not to overload the animal’s liver and kidneys with the released toxins.  That makes sense to me and I am content to let Sander’s body take its time restoring things to normal.  As it does its work, I assist it by not letting toxins of any kind into Sander’s system.  Of course, he will not receive any vaccinations again  (he shouldn’t have received as many as he did, but I didn’t know any better).  I decided against giving him heartworm preventive this summer and  I use herbal concoctions to repel fleas. 

  He still sees the chiropractor, but only every month or two.  He still gets acupuncture occasionally, for the arthritis.   He can’t do any agility, but he goes to agility class each week with Sundance, and socializes with the other dogs and their people.  He’s started tracking classes, and he loves the work.  He’s happier – and healthier—than he’s been in years.  He sometimes is tired, and I hope that it’s because his system is continuing to “detox” and working on eliminating the poisons—the malignancy.  Only time will tell. 

  In August 1999 the chiropractor announced that Sander’s head is now ‘staying on straight’ which means that the tumor has shrunk enough that it no longer causes his skull to torque.  This is amazing, but Sander seems not in the least surprised by it.  I try to be as accepting as he is.

  The best thing I ever did was turn my back on the conventional course of treatment, or non-treatment, and refuse to accept the vet’s outlook as immutable.  By searching for solutions for Sander, I opened my mind to knowledge that is helping not only Sander, but my other dogs as well—and me!  I finally quit smoking cigarettes after 25 years, because it felt too silly to be smoking while Sander was beating back cancer.  A month later, I joined a gym.  A month after that, I started taking vitamins myself.  I have made more positive changes in my life this past year than in the ten years before.  Every day, I thank Sander for that, for all I have learned from him and because of him, and for being here to share it all with me.

A Y2K Update:

 In January 2000, I took Sander to see a veterinary oncologist, hoping to find out more about malignant fibrous histiocytoma and how that cancer typically behaves. To my delight, the oncologist found Sander 'amazing' and his response to the cancer without precedent in her experience. He has lived with the tumor for more than 16 months now, and there is still no detectable evidence of metastasis and no visible sign of tumor growth. The tumor looks pretty much as it has since last fall.

The oncologist took x-rays of Sander's lungs, which is where the cancer would likely metastasize to first, and his lungs are wonderfully clear. His lymph nodes, on physical examination, are normal (except for the one by his super-arthritic elbow, which is always elevated because of the joint inflammation). In short, Sander is accomplishing something astounding here! His protocol remains essentially unchanged from the day Marina Zacharias first prescribed it, in September 1998.

Sander is a busy guy. He has other dogs to boss, bones to gnaw on, walks to take, and naps to enjoy, which he does lying upside-down with all four paws in the air. He takes all his pills daily and slurps his herb tea, and he cleans his dinner dish in minutes. He's very much with us, large as life and twice as barky-- and even though it's been nearly a year and a half now, I never forget to appreciate him every single day!
 
UPDATES! 

Sander's Two Year Anniversary-September 2000 
We now treat the anniversary of Sander's cancer diagnosis as his "other" birthday. On September 26, 2000, we celebrated two years since the discovery of the tumor in his mouth. We marked the occasion with a trip to the doggie bakery (where Sander thinks we really ought to spend more time). Sander continues to do well. His raw diet has been fine-tuned and he now eats primarily venison and fish (mackerel and salmon); he continues on the regimen of supplements advised by Marina in 1998. His arthritis is slowly worsening but he still has complete mobility-although the squirrels he chases certainly have nothing to fear! The tumor seems not to have gotten any larger. Blood tests this summer returned results that were all well within normal range-ironically, he seems healthier than he has been in years. Two years on, Sander just keeps on keepin' on! 

June 9, 2001:  Sander Turns 10! Sander celebrated his tenth birthday in style, with a cake from the doggie bakery that had a cream-cheese frosting and his name on it in big red letters.  The theme of the gifts appeared to be "The Smellier The Better" and he received freeze-dried cod, liver biscotti, and dehydrated pork liver from various human and canine friends.  When asked for the secrets of his health and longevity, Sander indicated that he believes in eating well, getting plenty of rest, barking when he has something to say, and keeping friends and family at the center of his life.  We hope for many more birthday celebrations for the SanderDog!

Update- Spring 2002
Sander continues well:  the tumor remains in his mouth, but there are no signs that the cancer is anything but dormant. He will be eleven in June, and is quite creaky in the joints, but not so creaky that he can't manage the hour-long exploration of the dog park every other week or so. We've expanded the family, taking in a rescue Sheltie boy who is about Sander's age, and also a girl Sheltie puppy, who came from a natural-rearing breeder to our home last fall.  Sander, of course, stays right in the center of all the activity in the house. His protocol of supplements and diet remains the same, as does his wonderful appetite. He could stand to lose a pound or two, but there's more of him to hug this way! 

Update- October, 2003 - 5 years! Sander arrived at the 5-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis in late September 2003.  He’s twelve now, and very arthritic, and definitely a “senior” dog.  His body’s had so much to fight in the past few years that he seems older than twelve.  I think his hearing’s going; either that or he’s choosing to ignore things he doesn’t want to hear.  :)   Well, he’s entitled…he’s definitely the elder statesman of my clan, and still the head of the pack.  

 The tumor’s grown a bit.  It’s probably a third larger now than it was when we first found it.  Even so, this cancer has progressed, an oncologist told us recently, at a pace that is about 100 times slower than what’s typical.

Sander is officially a Statistical Anomaly.  I’m so proud of him!  I remain a non-smoker (4+ years) and more firmly committed than ever to a protocol for all my dogs of natural diet and few (if any) vaccinations.  Sander has been a great teacher.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you, SandMan.

Sander’s 14th Birthday:  June 9, 2005

My creaky old Sander turned 14, and he and the other Shelties had the most elaborate cake that his friend Deb could prepare.  Sander had a tough time this spring (2005) and I thought that he might be getting ready to leave us; but with the warm weather, he rallied, and is now as present and vital as ever – that gleam in his eye is still bright!  He’s very hobbled by his arthritis, and thank goodness (again) for his chiropractor, who performs amazing feats every month and keeps Sander adjusted enough to get around.  The tumor is still there, a little larger, but not more of a factor in his life than it’s ever been, really.  Marina checks on him regularly.  His appetite is still excellent, his bark is still strong, and he’s still teaching me what really matters in life!  
 

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The Nature of Animal Healing : The Path to Your Pet's
Health, Happiness, and Longevity 
As an accomplished doctor of veterinary medicine, Martin Goldstein is well respected for his 25 years worth of experience in the field--experience he effectively utilizes in conjunction with his expertise in holistic medicine in his new book.   Goldstein's expert advice, inclusion of inspiring real-life cases, and thorough resource "compendium of holistic books, newsletters, Web sites, veterinarians, and associations" make this book a valuable addition to any pet owner's library. Click here to read more or order this book online.
 
 


 
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