“Case of the Month” – October 2017

When Chance, a 12-year-old male golden retriever, was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, his owner Lauren Patterson knew she had to do everything she could to save him, for he had saved her a decade before when the same happened. 

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, Ms. Patterson enlisted Chance to be her hero through the ordeal. He was given permission to accompany Ms. Patterson to her appointments and was a source of encouragement during her fight. While she credits her doctors with saving her, of course, Ms. Patterson doesn’t dismiss the healing powers Chance held for her during that time.

When she was going through chemotherapy treatments, Ms. Patterson was worried that Chance’s high energy level would result in him jumping on her like he normally did. Her compromised state was not going to be able to handle his rambunctiousness. 

“It was remarkable,” said Ms. Patterson. “I would lay down on the sofa, and he just laid next to me. He was still his high-energy self with everyone else, but with me it was different. Part of the gift of Chance is that he has been a great healer to me, which is why it was so important for me to be a great healer to him. And the only way I could do that was by taking him to UC Davis.”

Ms. Patterson, now in remission from her cancer, was determined to help Chance achieve the same outcome. A few months prior, the Neurology/Neurosurgery Service performed an unrelated procedure to relieve pain in his compressed spinal column that was resulting in rear limb lameness. During that surgery, faculty member Dr. Maggie Knipe and resident Dr. Devin Ancona discovered a tumor that turned out to be an aggressive cancer. Chance underwent two more surgeries—performed by faculty member Dr. Phil Mayhew and resident Dr. Rebecca Hersh-Boyle of the Soft Tissue Surgery Service—to remove multiple tumors determined to be malignant liposarcoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Using wide margins to remove the tumors, microscopic elements of the disease were left behind which needed radiation therapy to eradicate.

“The radiation oncologists were just incredible,” said Ms. Patterson. “When this happened, there were so many things to worry about. That last thing you want is any question whatsoever in regards to the doctors who are caring for him. I trusted everyone at UC Davis in a way I’ve never trusted doctors.”

“My trust came from three places,” Ms. Patterson continued. “One, I knew I was in the best hands at UC Davis. Two, the time they spent with me and the thoroughness with which they used the diagnostic testing to inform what they were doing; their knowledge base was so current. Finally, they just really cared about Chance as a dog and me as a person. That trifecta was a huge blessing. If I would have done this closer to home, part of me would have always thought, ‘I’m not giving him the best possible care because we’re not at UC Davis.’”

Dr. Alain Theon of the Oncology Service took the time to answer all of Ms. Patterson’s questions and address her concerns about radiation. According to Ms. Patterson, the most difficult part of her cancer treatments was the radiation, much more so than the surgery or chemotherapy. Dr. Theon explained what people experience with radiation and what dogs experience, which can be vastly different. The overwhelming majority of dogs tolerate radiation well.

“Dr. Theon cared about Chance so much,” said Ms. Patterson. “Without him thoroughly explaining the radiation procedure to me, it would have been very distressful for me to have Chance receive radiation.”

Chance underwent 17 rounds of radiation treatments in a 24-day period to kill any remains of the cancerous cells left after surgery. Radiation therapy is conducted on UC Davis’ state-of-the-art linear accelerator. Installed nearly four years ago thanks to generous donors to the school, it remains the most advanced accelerator anywhere in veterinary medicine.

Results of testing conducted at Chance’s recheck appointments showed him to be cancer free.

Chance’s oncology treatments were made possible, in part, by a generous grant from the Blue Buffalo Foundation’s support of the Petco Foundation pet cancer treatment program at the UC Davis veterinary hospital. The grant helps support treatments for domestic companion animals suffering from cancer. The project is designed to support pet parents of modest means or pet parents whose pets provide a service to others.

“When they told me Chance needed radiation, and I knew I couldn’t afford it, it was a very difficult time for me because I wanted to do everything I could to help him,” said Ms. Patterson. “He’s got this amazing personality that he shares not just with me, but with everyone he meets. He’s not just a gift for me, he’s a gift for everybody.”

When Ms. Patterson was told that Petco was going to cover all the expenses of his radiation treatments, she was astounded.

“This was the gift of life from them, and I’m so grateful.”

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See more photos of Chance and Lauren