...by Sylvia F
When I first sat down to write about Banjo’s story, it was such a sad documentary about a life well lived. Anyone reading this and anyone who has come to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching School to have their pet treated, knows how it goes. No need to go into the sadness, frustration, exhaustion, anger, confusion, struggle, etc., one goes through when cancer strikes a family member, be it a human being or a pet. I thought about Banjo and the only way I could really honor him was to try to write his story the way he was – energetic, happy, and full of life – and how he handled his cancer. He had such a huge personality – thinking of his facial expressions is making me smile as I write about him. We liked to say that Banjo in one word was ALIVE. Banjo lived hard, loved hard, ate hard, slept hard, played hard and in the end, Banjo fought so, so very hard.
Banjo was diagnosed with a possible glioma on 24 April 2017. Looking back, there had been subtle signs beginning October/November 2016. He out of character and unprovoked growled at his littermate, Sally, and made some weird leg motions when going to the bathroom. These incidents only happened occasionally, and each time I brought him to the doctor with no apparent problem found. At the time, Banjo was 11 years old, sight challenged with cataracts, and on the border with Cushing’s Disease. Other than that, he was as healthy as could be. Some of the odd behavior could have been attributed to any of those things. The one thing no one thought about was the possibility of a brain tumor. In March 2017 it became very evident that something was very wrong with Banjo. He stopped playing, and Banjo was all about playing. I could hear a difference in his gait and it seemed his hind legs were a little weak. His voice changed. Lab work came back normal. But I knew something was wrong with my boy and the doctor quickly arranged for Banjo to have an MRI. That’s when the tumor was discovered.
After a lot of research and soul searching, I reached out to WSU to see if Banjo was a candidate for radiation therapy treatment. A month later, on 24 May 2017, Banjo started four weeks of treatment. Sally and I kept him company the entire time. My experience from the time I checked into the hotel, met with Dr. Fidel and her staff, during Banjo’s treatment until the last day there was nothing short of outstanding. Everyone seemed to go out of the way to accommodate and help make a very stressful, scary and emotional time somehow better. The gratitude I feel for Dr. Fidel and her staff, the receptionists, Kay, and even the hotel staff cannot be measured in words. It will be an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
On 21 June 2017, Banjo received his last radiation treatment and we headed home the same day. There were no guarantees – there just isn’t enough data out there – as to what Banjo’s outcome would be. My main goal was that he not be in pain and be comfortable for whatever time he had left on this earth. At the time of diagnosis, he was given only one to two months without any treatment. Banjo did improve from the radiation treatment, not by leaps and bounds, but enough that he could have a pretty good quality of life. I would say he actually improved the most the three weeks after his last treatment. Banjo tried to play, jump up on me and wagged his tail – major milestones considering how much the tumor had affected him. After that, though, it seemed he regressed a bit – not enough to be like he was before the radiation treatment but enough to see that he was not improving and losing some of what he had gained back. Banjo still got up, participated in the goings on around the house, greeted visitors in the best way he could and had a healthy appetite. With that in mind, I started him on hydro and massage therapy, acupuncture, etc., anything to help strengthen his atrophied limbs. We were going full speed ahead.
On 13 September 2017, Banjo had his three-month post radiation treatment MRI. The results indicated that the treated tumor was either gone or shrank so much it could not be seen on the MRI. There was concern about brain atrophy – there was shading on the MRI that could not be defined. It was the first time in months that I allowed myself to be completely happy – the tumor was gone!!!!!! So, I endeavored to also work on strengthening his atrophied brain with brain games and making arrangements for hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
Still Banjo, didn’t seem to be improving but we lived everyday the best we could. Things took a major turn 25 September 2017. Suddenly Banjo could not keep his balance and was starting to list to the left when he was walking. I took him to the neurologist that day and titers for brain infections were taken. Banjo was put on antibiotics but he continued to deteriorate to the point where he couldn’t get up anymore and had to be handfed and watered. Test results came back negative. After several desperate trips to the ER and doctors, the end came.
On the morning of 4 October 2017, Banjo had a seizure, the only one he had during his cancer ordeal. I took him to the ER where I was informed he was no longer aware of his surroundings. Arrangements were made to take him to his regular doctor to be euthanized. Banjo wasn’t expected to make it to that evening. Sally was already at the doctor’s office getting ready to have her teeth cleaned. Fortunately, she wasn’t sedated enough to not be aware of what was going on, so our little family helped Banjo go over the Rainbow Bridge. He can once again run after squirrels and chase his tennis ball like the champ he was!
Because of the scarce information concerning gliomas in animals, and because I didn’t want Banjo’s battle to have been in vain, his last gift was to have a necropsy done at WSU. If his tumor and the study of his brain can help someday save the life of another animal, Banjo will have checked out of this world as only he knew how –in a very big way.
I am honored to have had the privilege of loving and caring for this magnificent dog. I miss my lover boy terribly and always will.
Photo: Banjo, Taken by Sylvia F.