Hal's Story: Our Experience with Osteosarcoma (page two)

The surgery took a long time because the first tissue samples were clear of cancer and so it looked as though Plan A (saving Hal’s leg and his life) might be possible; but then later tissue samples showed cancer and so Plan B was ultimately carried out. I cried my eyes out at the thought of poor Hal. It comforted me to know that he was given something similar to morphine for the pain, and to know that the nerve endings recede fairly quickly. 
But I still wondered if we had done the right thing for our big boy. My greatest fear was that he would come home defeated and in pain. The next morning the student called to tell me that Hal was doing okay, but that he couldn’t figure out how to stand up without help -- this made me cry. But she assured me that several students were there to help him, with a sling under his stomach. I asked her when Hal could come home and she couldn’t tell me at that time. Imagine how surprised I was when she called later that afternoon and said that Hal was ready to come home! The effects of the anesthesia had apparently just taken a while to wear off. 

Linda Spadie (now Dr. Spadie), one of the students who took care of Hal

The day we picked Hal up.

Hal sunbathing after surgery.

We picked Hal up the next day. My fears that Hal would be depressed and defeated flew out the window when I saw him. He charged right into the room, licked me in the face, licked my husband in the face, then ran to the door and looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “This is the way out of here!” He was like a puppy again, pain-free and getting around wonderfully. My husband and I had our guiltiest feelings when we realized how much pain he had been in before the amputation! I also fully understood at that time that animals do not think like people do -- a person might have complicated feelings about the loss of a limb that would include anger, shame, loss of esteem, worries about the future, and so forth. Hal was just glad to be out of pain, glad to see us, glad to get home, and glad to see his food bowl! That’s part of what we love about our pets, isn’t it? They have that enviable ability to live in the “now” -- whether we’ve been gone 5 minutes or 2 days, our pets are just as happy to see us; when we’re impatient with them, they always forgive us and rarely hold a grudge; it’s that ability that make them such staunch friends -- that was never brought home to me so clearly as then. 
Hal had staples and so we used an e-collar for a few days to keep him from licking the stitches. The same week we brought him home, he again climbed the stairs and jumped onto the waterbed, even managing that balancing act with little trouble. He ate well. He was more playful than he’d been in months...we realized that what we had attributed to “getting older” was actually pain from the cancer. Without the leg to drag around, he was so much happier -- his tail wagged constantly 

Hal with his e-collar.

Hal and Laika.

Hal & his feline buddy.

Ever vigilant.

Sun bathing.

And he was the same, undefeated, noble creature, too. He still ran to the fence and barked and postured at any passing dog (or mailman). He seemed totally unconcerned about the missing leg. After a few weeks, he developed a new gait, moving his 3 legs in a different pattern and putting his remaining front leg in the center -- from a distance, you would never know that Hal was missing a leg...he could still outrun me, my husband, and our other dog. He continued to chase stray cats, to fetch a stick, and to play with his toys. When my daughter read over this account she said that I should tell you that Hal’s dignity was so unaffected that after a few days, he even figured out how to once again raise his leg when he urinated! I never heard a single whimper or whine from him. I am sure there was pain involved in the amputation, but I believe that the pain of the cancer was so excruciating that having the amputation was a blessed relief for him.

After a few weeks, it was time to begin the chemotherapy. I wondered if Hal would lose his hair and if he would be sick. I again wondered if we were doing the right thing. The Oncology Department at NC State Veterinary Teaching Hospital recommended using carboplatin, but the cost was beyond our means; we chose cisplatin which was available at that time at a discounted price. The cisplatin treatment took all day -- several hours of fluids, then the cisplatin, then several more hours of fluids. Then Hal was ready to come home. Maggie, in Oncology, had warned us that Hal might be sick, but he never was. He was off his food for a few hours, but after that, he gradually resumed his hearty appetite. He rested more than usual for a day or two. He had moderate diarrhea, but was able to make it outside and had no accidents indoors. And I found out that Hal didn’t lose his hair as a human cancer patient might. In fact, within a very short period of time, new hair grew over the scar until at the very end, the missing leg looked almost like a genetic defect rather than the result of surgery. 

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