Bitsy And Guinea Pig Lymphoma
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After a 2-month fight with lymphoma, Bitsy passed away May 18, 2012. She will be greatly missed from the Happy Cavy herd. RIP Lady Bitsy.
THIS IS PART #1 IN A 5 PART SERIES:
PART 1: Bitsy And Guinea Pig Lymphoma
PART 2: Bitsy Goes for Radiation Treatment
PART 3: Bitsy’s Guinea Pig Radiation Therapy, Part II
PART 4: Bitsy’s Cancer Treatment: Prednisone & Elspar
PART 5: Bitsy Has Crossed The Rainbow Bridge
In Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), Baz Luhrmann’s says: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blind-side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.”
The afternoon of Tuesday, March 6 was no exception.
On that day at 4 PM, Bitsy and the HappyCavy Humans made a visit to the guinea pig family vet to address what appeared to be blood in her urine (a UTI, perhaps?). What luck that the we live so close to a wonderful exotics expert!
You see, Bitsy was diagnosed with an “atonic bladder” last year, which means that she can’t wee (and sometimes poo) on her own. Since then, the Humans have been diligently expressing (“squeezing”) her bladder every two to three hours to help the little fuzzy “do her business”. (Wonder why Bitsy disappears so often on the webcams? She’s going potty!) The Humans are now really good at helping Bitsy wee, but sometimes even the smallest amount of left-over wee can irritate her bladder and aid in the development of a urinary tract infection.
So the Humans thought:
“We’ll take Bitsy to see the good doctor, get some antibiotics, and she’ll be fine in a week.” And that’s pretty much how the first half of the appointment went. The friendly doc performed a urinalysis, which confirmed the presence of blood, and prescribed antibiotics to treat the suspected UTI.
But when the doctor was half-way through Bitsy’s exam, as he began to palpate her body, he paused when he got to her neck. It was a long pause. Then a concerned look cast over his face. “Uh oh. Hmmm…”
The HappyCavy Humans felt their hearts drop. “Wha-What’s wrong?” asked Human #1.
The vet described what he was feeling: two growths near her throat, possibly enlarged lymph nodes. The doctor explained what it could mean: cancer, a benign growth, or an abscess. Within minutes, the Humans had authorized the vet to have a small portion of Bitsy’s neck shaved in order to perform a fine needle aspiration on one of the growths. The aspiration was performed, a few slides were prepared, and the sample was sent to a pathologist for examination.
After the aspiration, the good doctor spoke with the Humans on what treatment options to consider if the pathologist found cancer. After going over several of the options, the Humans were advised to wait a few days for the pathology test results to come back. Nervous yet hopeful, the Humans did just that. They took Bitsy home, began her antibiotic treatment for the UTI, and waited. They waited for 3 days, hoping that the growths weren’t what they could be.
On Friday, March 9, the Humans got a call from the vet. The results were back, and they confirmed some bad news: lymphoma, a cancer that attacks a type of white blood cell found in a guinea pig’s immune system.
So, along with a UTI, Bitsy is now facing a disease that, although “slow growing”, could send her to the Rainbow Bridge much sooner than anyone would want.
We want to share Bitsy’s story in the hopes that it might help others who are just learning or have dealt with cancer in their guinea pigs before. So we will be documenting the HappyCavy experience with lymphoma; this post will be updated frequently with her medical information, visit dates, and treatment costs as they arise.
Please start sending positive piggie vibes Bitsy’s way, she’ll be needing the extra ♥ LoVe ♥.
Bitsy’s First Vet Visit
March 6, 2012 – Cost of Care: $249
What Was Done: Exam, urinalysis, Baytril (antibiotic), fine needle aspiration, pathology review
Bitsy visited Dr. Mark Burgess at Southwest Animal Hospital after the Humans noticed blood in her urine the weekend of March 3.
The first vet appointment was Tuesday, March 6 at 4 PM. Baytril, a common antibiotic used for guinea pigs, and probiotic (for gut health) were prescribed by the vet after a urinalysis confirmed the presence of blood.
During the last half of Bitsy’s examination, the vet felt two enlarged masses in her neck and throat area during a routine palpation (feeling her body with his hands). The masses were hidden behind some majorly overgrown chin fuzz, which prevented the Humans from seeing them sooner.
A tissue sample was taken via fine needle aspiration from one of the marble-sized growths, leaving Lady Bitsy with a small patch of hairless skin where the doctor took his sample just underneath her chin. The sample was sent to a pathologist for further examination and conclusive diagnosis. The Humans got a phone call from the vet on March 9, hoping to hear that the growths were benign. The diagnosis: lymphoma. Cancer. *sigh*
The Humans are now in the process of weighing Bitsy’s treatment options. They were informed by Dr. Burgess that conventional treatments for lymphoma include Cortisone/Prednisone, Cortisone combined multi-drug treatments, and (surprisingly) radiation.
Bitsy’s Humans are fortunate enough to live in an area with a wealth of medical resources for animals. But the suggestion of radiation for a guinea pig was a big surprise, to say the least. Because the cancerous tumors were caught early, the vet informed the Humans that there is a good chance that small doses of radiation could kill off enough of the cancerous tissue, giving Bitsy a chance at a cancer-free life.
Phone Consultation With Vet Oncologist
March 12, 2012 – Cost of Care: $80
What Was Done: 30 minute phone consultation with Dr. Juliana Cyman of Portland Veterinary Oncology Center
Bitsy was referred to a local vet oncologist for radiation consideration. Though surprising, the idea of radiation interested the Humans who had never heard of it being used on guinea pigs. So they called the oncologist and had a telephone consultation.
The oncologist suggested a course of treatment consisting of 2 whole-body radiation treatments of 1/2 unit for each treatment. Because using radiation as a guinea pig lymphoma treatment is rare (if never done before?), the dosage and pre-care treatment will be checked and double-checked to minimize side effects.
When explaining the possible side effects of radiation, Dr. Cyman listed vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. She also mentioned that there is a chance it can cause damage to the intestinal lining. Since there is so little data on radiation use on guinea pigs, the side effects are still unknown for certain. And even though the risks are great, it is possible that radiation used in this way can put Bitsy’s cancer into remission. And at this point, it seems the side-effects for cortisone and other treatment alternatives are nearly as bad but without the implied assurances that the cancer will even go away. So while a final decision has still not been made, the radiation option is still being explored through consultation with Dr. Burgess, Dr. Cyman, Dr. Curt Nakamura, and Dr. Jörg Mayer who has had success treating a guinea pig named Big Boy with Elspar and other cancer-fighting drugs.
Whatever treatment is decided on, it must happen fast, as lymphoma can become aggressive and health can deteriorate very quickly. In fact, Bitsy will most likely start to receive some form of treatment by the end of this week, whether it be radiation or drug therapy.
The road will be filled with many difficult decisions, yet the Humans know that their main goal is to keep Bitsy as happy and healthy for as long as possible. We will keep our wonderful readers updated with details as they arise.
Love & Life ~ Hammy & Friends
Bitsy’s Second Vet Visit
March 14, 2012 – Cost of Care: $164
What Was Done: Urinalysis and blood test in preparation for radiation treatment
The Humans have decided that radiation therapy is Bitsy’s best option for fighting off the lymphoma.
Bitsy’s first diagnosis with lymphoma was on March 9, less than one week ago. Since that time, the Humans have been on the phone every day with the vet oncologist and the HappyCavy exotic vet expert to determine the best protocol for Bitsy’s treatment. The doctors have each been consulting with vets from across the country — vets who have had experience with cancer treatment in guinea pigs — to help give Bitsy the best fighting chance against this terrible disease.
So far, the Humans have learned the following:
“Chemotherapy, while marginally helpful in isolated circumstances, does not provide much hope for a guinea pig with non-aggressive (slow-growing) lymphoma.”
If Bitsy were to be treated with chemotherapy (multi-drug treatment), her best prognosis was one or two months.
On the other hand, the benefits of radiation seem promising. While experimental for guinea pigs, radiation is considered one of the BEST options for treating lymphoma in both Humans and animals since lymphoma is very receptive to radiation therapy. To go even further, the Humans have been told that radiation treatment provides a significant chance that Bitsy’s cancer would remain in remission. (There is also a good chance that she will develop super-powers, perhaps an even stronger SuPeR-sOnIc wheek. But these results have not yet been confirmed by any specialist or anybody anywhere.)
It is clear that action is needed quickly. The tumors have been getting bigger at a faster pace than first expected. Poor Bitsy has also developed a limp; she seems to have little to no mobility in her front right paw. Something needs done…and done fast! It’s time for Lady Bitsy to put her paws up and fight this cancer head on.
So here the Humans and Bitsy are at the vet, Wednesday, March 14.
We visited the vet to check if Bitsy’s UTI has cleared up, since she cannot undergo radiation therapy while taking antibiotics. The Humans play an all-too-familar game of taking a blood test from Bitsy and hoping for results that show no blood in her urine.
Out goes the test, wait for the results. Five minutes in the waiting room feels like forever. But the HappyCavy Humans wait and wait…
Minutes after testing her wee, the urinalysis results come back: No blood. This is great news! But the doctor advises Bitsy to stay on the anbitiotics until the end of her course which will end about a half week later, on Monday, March 19. The doc wants to make sure Bitsy’s UTI is completely gone, since radiation treatment with a compromised immune system can have deadly effects.
The blood test results took a little longer to return. But when they did, it was good news: No lymphocytes in her blood, which means the cancer had not yet metastasized (spread). More good news: Bitsy is a prime candidate for radiation, and can proceed once her antibiotics course is finished.
So What’s Next?
Well, once Bitsy is finished with her antibiotic regimen, the Humans will arrange for her pre-radiation medical treatments and a final consultation with the vet oncologist to plan a treatment schedule.
More updates on Bitsy’s fight against lymphoma are coming soon! You can stay tuned to the BLOG for more updates.
Love & Life ~ Hammy & FriendsBitsy And Guinea Pig Lymphoma,
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