|Beanny's Cancer Story
|Beanny was a 6 1/2 years old rottweiler in good health when he started limping on his right leg. He had
been limping slightly on his left leg about 9 months earlier which was diagnosed as arthritis. Because of
this, and because I didn't see that Beanny had sustained any trauma to the right leg, I was not overly
concerned, thinking that the arthritis must have developed in the right leg as well. However, over the next
couple weeks, the limp got progressively worse and Beanny was not
A trip to the animal hospital confirmed my worst nightmare, osteosarcoma. The x-rays had looked
suspicious and a bone biopsy had confirmed the diagnosis. A chest x-ray was performed and there
|was no evident metastases to the lungs. Fortunately I live near Boston which is home to two great animal hospitals. Both
hospitals provide comprehensive oncology care but had different protocols for disease management of osteosarcoma including
differing recommendations on the type of chemotherapy drug (carboplatin, adriamycin, cisplatin, experimental drugs) and type
of amputation (total, partial with a prosthetic, or limb salvaging). It was heart wrenching for me to have to make this life altering
medical decision as to which course of treatment to pursue because I have no significant clinical training. Plus, the decision
needed to be made quickly because Beanny's front leg was in danger of breaking due to the amount of bone deterioration
Complicating matters was that Beanny was a 135 lb. dog who had two previous surgical cruciate ligament repairs in each back
leg. The front leg that would remain after the amputation, he had some arthritis. With amputation, it is usually easier for a dog
to adapt to three legs if they retain the front two because the front legs bear more of the body’s weight. Most dogs adapt very
well to life on three legs but in Beanny's case it was a concern because of his other medical conditions.
After several sleepless nights, consults with three vets, and hours of surfing the web desperately seeking an answer, I decided
to bring Beanny to Tufts Veterinary Hospital in Grafton, MA. Tufts was working with a major pharmaceutical company to place
dogs with bone cancer on an experimental oral drug after the usual course of chemotherapy.
The decision to amputate was made after carefully weighing all the options. The amputation of Beanny's front leg occurred in
July 1999. I thought I was prepared for how he would appear after the surgery because I had been through this before with my
previous rottweiler, Puma. Still, it was heartbreaking to see him. I’d estimate that 20% of his body was shaved and he had a
massive stapled and raw looking incision stapled together. He was trying to run to me but kept falling on his face time after time.
My first thought was that I had made a huge mistake and that how could I have been so selfish as to do this to him.
We took him home and undoubtedly the first two weeks were very difficult as Beanny learned to adapt to life as a tripod dog.
The healing process was slow and there was a time when I didn't think he'd ever be able to walk more than a few feet on his
own. During this time, he'd stumble often and look very embarrassed and frustrated, but we assured him he could do it and
bribed him with food as encouragement (fortunately, he was a chow hound!). Gradually, the muscles in his legs grew stronger
and he was able to walk and run in short distances.
Short distances, however, were not good enough for us. Because I also had Weenie, Beanny's brother, I needed to be able to
take Weenie for long walks. It wasn't fair not to get Weenie out for his usual romps through the forest and Beanny got upset
when I left without him. That's when I started searching for some sort of wheelchair or stroller for Beanny. The Doggy Tote from
Cycle Tote was the answer to my prayers (see picture at top of page). It's an extremely well crafted cart for dogs, even ones as
large as Beanny. Once he got accustomed to getting in and out of his cart there was no stopping us. Beanny went everywhere
and when he grew tired, he'd just jump in his cart and I'd push him the rest of the way. He loved it! At first, I got some pretty
strange looks from people and it sure was a conversation starter. After I explained the reason for the cart, and they saw Beanny
with only three legs, people understood and cheered for him.
Beanny's conventional cancer treatment included 5 doses of adriamycin (doxorubicin) every other week. Because his lungs
were still clear after the 5th dose, he was put on the clinical trial for the experimental 'Drug J'. I don't know if Beanny actually
received the experimental drug or a placebo because it was a double-blind study and half the dogs participating in the study got
the real drug and the other half received a placebo.
While this was happening, I researched non-conventional cancer treatments as well as the nutritional needs of canine cancer
patients. I worked with a holistic vet to formulate an all-natural, non-processed food diet to boost his immune system to help
combat the cancer. I supplemented this diet with Essiac tea and a variety of vitamins and supplements. I stopped using fertilizer
on my lawn to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and I didn't give Beanny any vaccinations so his immune system could
concentrate on battling the cancer instead of diseases he was very unlikely to contract.
Making the special diet (click here to view this anti-cancer diet) was time consuming and somewhat expensive but I was willing to
do anything to try to help Beanny. I was boiling chicken and cooking rice every couple of days and brewing Essiac tea weekly.
After all I had read, it made sense that by giving the body the resources necessary to boost the immune system, it would be
better able to fight the cancer itself. Since chemo depletes the immune system, I felt it was my job to build it back up. Beanny
tolerated the chemotherapy relatively well.
Many people wonder if dogs lose their hair during chemo, but they don't. Chemotherapy also has a cumulative effect so the last
chemo might be harder on the dog than the first. Beanny was scheduled for chemo every other week and always on a
Thursday. He'd show no symptoms until Sunday when he would lose his appetite and become lethargic. This lasted for 2-3
days and then he'd feel better and resume eating. He would occasionally get diarrhea, which is a common side effect. After 5
chemotherapy treatments, a chest x-ray was done to see if the cancer had spread to the lung. Fortunately it had not, so we
didn't have to return for three months unless a problem developed.
It felt strange to be out of contact with the oncologists for three months since it felt as if I practically lived at the animal hospital
for the last several months. I was worried that a lot could happen in three months and the cancer could spread without
knowing. But, I knew that even if it did spread, there was nothing more I could do.
So, every three months Beanny returned to Tufts for a chest x-ray and blood tests to determine if the cancer had spread. With
osteosarcoma, the most common place for the cancer to metastasize is the lungs so a clear chest x-ray was important. Each
time we'd go to Tufts I'd pray that we'd get good news but knowing that the odds were stacked against us, I braced myself for the
worst. Each time, the report was the same - Beanny looks great and no indication of cancer. Tears welled in my eyes and I
couldn't believe how lucky we were. The oncologist pulled us aside on the second to last visit to say how surprised they were at
Beanny's success because this form of cancer is aggressive and quick to spread, especially in Rottweilers for some reason that
was not clear to them. I told the vet about the Essiac tea and the special diet I placed Beanny on, but he dismissed it saying that
statistically, one positive outcome was not clinically significant.
Through February 2001, it had been 19 months since the amputation and Beanny was doing great. He spent his days taking
long naps, going for rides in his specially engineered 'wheel chair', swimming, and brightening my life. He loved his special diet
which benefited him immensely. His eyes were bright, his coat was shiny and he was the picture of good health. He was clearly
enjoying life as a pampered pooch.
The winter of 2001 was snowy in Massachusetts and in late February, Beanny slipped on a patch of ice and was unable to walk
unassisted. After consulting numerous veterinarians, including oncologists, neurologists, and orthopedist to diagnose why
Beanny was unable to walk, a decision was made to perform knee surgery on one of his hind legs. A bone scan had ruled out
the spread of cancer and a mylogram had ruled out neurological problems. At that point, a local orthopedic surgeon believed it
was a cruciate ligament problem. Since Beanny previously had both cruciate ligaments repaired, I didn't think I was facing
anything life threatening and the surgeon thought that although Beanny only had three legs, he would recover relatively easily,
especially compared to the cancer he had dealt with previously.
I was told the surgery performed on Monday went well and he was recovering nicely. However, just as I was going to pick up
Beanny to bring home on Friday, he unexplainably collapsed while being walked at the animal hospital. After stabilizing him and
running various tests, the vet couldn't explain what happened but thought Beanny may have developed a cardiac problem and
suggested we bring him to an animal hospital better equipped to deal with the situation.
Beanny was taken back to Tufts on Saturday. Upon arrival, he was examined and it was apparent that Beanny had developed
an infection in the wound but other tests were needed to determine what else might be wrong with him. Later, an orthopedic
surgeon there said the screws and plate put in Beanny's knee were 'functionally not adequate' and that at least one of the
screws was bent or broken. A cardiac ultrasound proved that he didn't have a cardiac problem, but rather he had collapsed
because of the severe pain he was in which had caused a heart arrhythmia.
Beanny went through knee surgery again in an attempt to correct the leg situation and to flush out the infection that had
developed. Suction drains were put in the leg to further try to get the infection out. The surgeon was cautiously optimistic but it
would be 2 days before the culture came back that determine the exact type of bacteria in the infection. Beanny was on
antibiotics but they couldn't be sure it was the correct one to deal with the bacteria until the culture results were in. The culture
results indicated that e.coli was the bacteria in the infection. This form of bacteria is resistant to all but one antibiotic, which he
was switched to immediately. However, Beanny refused to eat and had developed a cough. When I visited him that night, he
was very tired but still perked up when he saw me. However, Beanny not eating was not a good sign. I thought maybe he just
wasn't getting much sleep in the ICU because it was a noisy and busy place and maybe he was just homesick. A chest x-ray
done the next morning showed the infection had invaded the entire lung cavity, and it was thought that Beanny would not
survive. The infection was most likely systemic at this point which is a terminal condition.
I received the call updating me on the situation on Friday morning, March 30th. Beanny had been placed in an oxygen tent to
assist him with breathing. By the time I arrived at the animal hospital that day, Beanny looked terrible. I can't explain the sick
feeling I had at seeing him in what looked like a glass cabinet, sealed so the oxygen would not escape. He had a cast on his
leg, an IV drip in his neck, a urinary catheter in place, and draining tubes coming out of his legs. A good portion of his body
had been shaved because of all the tests that had been performed on him. I was able to visit with him briefly but did not want to
stay long in the oxygen cage because he needed the air. I sat on a stool outside of the glass walls so he could see me. I sat
there for hours just watching him, hoping for a sign that he would live, searching for a reason to keep him alive because maybe
he could pull through after all. I could barely contain myself I was so grief stricken at seeing my sweet boy in that condition.
In the few hours that I was there with him, I could see him deteriorate. His breathing had become more labored despite being in
100% oxygen and he occasionally whimpered. I met with his veterinarian and we discussed all the possible options of which
there were few. He was kind and patient and told me that whatever I decided, he'd give it 110%. However, he advised me that
there was really no hope for recovery with an infection that was systemic and to keep him alive for a few days would only be
postponing the inevitable and would result in a painful death. I knew that it was time to let Beanny go, as heartbreaking as that
was. The vet administered the drugs to euthanize Beanny, and he died quietly and peacefully in my arms on March 30th.
One of the conditions of the clinical trial that Beanny was on, was that after he died, they required an autopsy to study the
cancer. The autopsy results indicated that there was no cancer in his system. He had beaten the odds. Was it pure luck, the
Essiac tea, the special diet, the chemotherapy or Drug J? We’ll never know, but I do know that my father also has been battling
cancer (Lymphoma) for which conventional chemotherapy was not effective. He was put on a clinical trial for an experimental
drug for a short time, and has drank Essiac tea each day for the past 5 years. He remains cancer free to this day, much to the
surprise of his physicians.
It's difficult for me to understand why Beanny was able to beat the cancer only to die of an infection as a result of knee surgery
gone badly. Perhaps there is a lesson in this that you can't be too careful about the veterinarian you put your dogs' life in. I
didn't know the vet well who performed the knee surgery but I sought care in that animal hospital because they offered physical
and hydro therapy post-surgery. I called the vet when this was all over to ask what happened and he said he believes the
surgery went well but perhaps something happened while the techs were taking Beanny for a walk. I suspect they dropped him,
which is why the screws in his knees were bent. He couldn't explain why he did not see the infection that the other vets spotted
right away, albeit too late, nor had an adequate explanation for why a bandage or some type of support was not placed on the
leg to keep it stabilized. I will never know exactly what happened, but based on the comments of the vets at Tufts and my own
gut feeling, I believe Beanny received poor medical care, bordering on, if not outright negligence. How heart wrenching it is to
know how far we had come with the cancer, only to lose him to something that should have been controllable.
I've replayed the sequence of events many times in my mind and would give anything to be able to turn back time and have
another chance. If only I had taken him to a vet that I knew and trusted. I lost my best friend and can only hope that he forgives
me for putting his life in the wrong hands. I pray that we will meet again some day and that he is playing in heaven and running
on all 4 legs. I was lucky to have had Beanny for as long as I did, but it never seems long enough. Until we meet again, rest in
peace, Beanny. I love you.
|Read about our Beanny and many
other stories of animal courage in
this new book!
|Beanny in his Cycletote.
|Information and Inspiration when you need it most