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Facing canine cancer with Peggy and Toby

Dawn Swinehart-Jones

We often think of cancer as only affecting humans, but you might be surprised to learn that canine cancer is very prevalent. One out of three dogs develop cancer; of those, half will die from it. Though a sobering thought, there is hope for a cure. Funded by the National Institute of Health, researchers have mapped out the entire canine genome sequence, giving them a huge advantage in putting an end to canine cancer.

Peggy after surgery to treat her cancer
Dawn Swinehart-Jones

Of course, cancer treatment does not come without a price. But for those who think of their dogs as family, no price is too steep.

Take Atlanta resident Dawn Swinehart-Jones, for example. Her beloved black Pitbull mix Peggy was diagnosed with mammary cancer in early March. Poor Peggy had already been through the ringer early on in her life. As a puppy, Peggy broke with the deadly Parvovirus, and was too young to be treated. With Dawn determinedly using herbal treatments, Peggy miraculously pulled through the sickness. Understandably, Dawn and her family have quite the attachment to Peggy. “Peggy is the official ambassador of our household,” Dawn says. “We have now volunteered and fostered for several years for a large rescue in the metro Atlanta area and Peggy excitedly welcomes each new foster as if to say, ‘Come on in, don't be afraid. All dogs are safe and loved here.’”

Dawn and her family have been suffering financially, and Peggy’s cancer came at a very hard time. Dawn lost her job in January and has been struggling to find work. She and her spouse have been selling anything of value to get by; they are even facing possible eviction and have had to part with several of their foster animals, which has lowered morale even more. But Dawn will do anything to ensure her babies, her animals, are taken care of.

Despite all the gloom, Dawn had some exciting news to report. “The pathology report came back and the doctor was able to get all of the tumor and confirmation of clear margins on all sides! So Peggy is now officially cancer free! The results came in over the weekend and we found out during an afternoon vet appointment yesterday! Since it was a mast cell tumor, there can always be more in the future just like a human with a tumor. But right now, there is no reason to believe that there are any others lurking around in her body anywhere.” This is extremely relieving, but there is still a large amount to be paid for the oncology services Peggy received. If you can help in any way, please visit Dawn and Peggy’s Youcaring website, and contribute to her treatment. Dawn does so much to save lives and help others, and now it’s time for her to receive that help back.

Let’s consider another incredible rescue volunteer who is also doing all that she can to help treat her dog's cancer. Gwinnett resident Mary Leonard has had her seven-year-old Black Labrador/Great Dane mix Toby since he was a puppy. Because of him, Mary became active in pet rescue. She describes him as a gentle giant, man's best friend, and her protector. “He loves everyone he meets!” Mary describes of her beloved big boy. “He rules the house with a quiet but commanding authority. They call him a ‘celebrity’ at GVS Gwinnett because everyone one there loves him! His oncologist is Dr. Regan and she loves him like he is hers, and so does her assistant, Liz. When I took him on Monday because his lymph nodes had gotten huge over the weekend, she hugged him for a long time when I left and told him she loved him.”

Toby was diagnosed with lymphoma in September of 2013, when Mary had brought him in after noticing he had stopped eating and that his lymph nodes had become enlarged. She took Toby to a regular veterinarian, and then went to Georgia Veterinary Specialists for him to see an oncologist. Toby had to have eight weeks of chemotherapy. He was hospitalized after his first treatment because it took a toll on him, but then he began to do better. “Doggie chemo is nothing like human chemo - it does not affect dogs the way it affects humans. You wouldn't have known anything was wrong with him,” Mary explains. Toby was in remission, and his treatments were reduced to every other week for eight weeks. Unfortunately, he came out of remission. The oncologists are trying a different chemotherapy treatment now which will take place every three weeks. “It is anywhere from $100-$500 every time we go,” Mary laments. “I have spent at least $5000 on his treatments, and I can barely afford anything else. But I will spend every last dime I have on him!”

Mary is to be married at the end of April. She’s juggling all of this the best that she can. In addition to working full-time and part-time, she also volunteers and fosters for rescue. She has a giving heart, and it would be wonderful if others gave back to Mary. If you can help in any way at all, even by sharing, please visit Mary and Toby’s Youcaring website.

Although cancer can be discouraging, there is always hope. You are not alone; don't be afraid to reach out. Explore your options, and as always, do your research.