Our Wonderful Boy
August 21, 2000 - November 9, 2012
We lost our Scottish Terrier, Duncan, to Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC). He was a wonderful animal companion for all of the twelve years and two months of his life-from the time he arrived as a small Scottie pup with seemingly too-long ears until he left us as a happy and gentle mature dog. Everyone who met Duncan fell under his spell. People stopped when we walked Duncan to say how handsome he was, and to comment on his determined and confident Scottie walking style. In winter they smiled at his snow-covered black muzzle, and chuckled at him in his monkey sweater-complete with monkey ears. We always felt so proud to be Duncan's Mommy & Daddy and he brought us joy every day we spent together.
Duncan's health was generally good until November, 2011, when an ultrasound, ordered to investigate his Atypical Cushings Disease, unexpectedly revealed TCC of the bladder. We were devastated. At the recommendation of Duncan's oncologist, he began receiving one 25-minute chemotherapy treatment every three weeks. And like most dogs, Duncan tolerated them very well, never experiencing the loss of hair, nausea, or weakness that people usually get during chemotherapy.
However, we knew that chemo could only keep the cancer in check for so long. We began researching other treatment options for Duncan. On a TCC cancer blog, we learned of the procedure invented by Dr. Dean Cerf of the Ridgewood Veterinary Hospital to de-bulk TCC bladder tumors using an ultrasound-guided laser procedure ("UGELAB").
In June, 2012, we made our first trip to consult with Dr. Cerf. He performed an ultrasound on Duncan while we watched the monitor with him; he explained that his UGELAB procedure would not cure Duncan's cancer, but might be able to postpone urinary blockage; he carefully outlined all the risks involved; and he encouraged us to postpone the procedure until Duncan was very close to being blocked so that we would feel no regrets if the procedure was not successful. We could not have had a more thorough and meaningful discussion with any doctor-for animals or for people. Dr. Cerf inspired confidence and trust, explained complex medical information in layman's terms, displayed concern and affection for our Duncan, and empathy and understanding to us as "parents" of a wonderful little dog whom we loved with all our hearts.
By late September Duncan began having major difficulties urinating. Dr. Cerf scheduled him for the UGELAB procedure on October 2nd. Dr. Cerf spent four and a half hours doing laser surgery on Duncan and he came through the procedure really well. Dr. Cerf showed us a video of Duncan's actual procedure, where we could see the tumors being vaporized and his urine flow reinstated. Most importantly, after the UGELAB Duncan was peeing better than he had in months!
Unfortunately, our happiness did not last long. Duncan's health took a turn for the worse two days after surgery. Testing showed that Duncan's kidney values were wildly inflated and he was headed for kidney failure. Pre-admissions testing had not identified any problems with Duncan's kidneys, yet that was the serious life-threatening situation he was facing. Dr. Cerf placed Duncan on intravenous fluids to flush out his kidneys and get them functioning again.
When Duncan's kidney values still remained high after 7 days of treatment we began to feel that the situation was hopeless. But Dr. Cerf encouraged us to stay positive and not to give up the fight. He urged us to see hope in the fact that Duncan's behavior was normal even though the test results weren't, and told us that he had seen dogs pull out of this situation before. Dr. Cerf was right. After 8 more days, Duncan's kidney values returned to the normal range. And we were able to return to Pittsburgh with our Duncan after three weeks in Ridgewood.
The first week at home went really well. Duncan was happy to resume to his normal activities. But during the second week Duncan began to get weaker, ate less, and developed tremors in his rear legs. We consulted Duncan's Pittsburgh oncologist and Dr. Cerf to try to identify the source of the problem. The two doctors worked together to find the cause, since neither the kidneys nor the bladder cancer was causing these new problems. Duncan's health deteriorated and on November 8th he could no longer stand on his back right leg, and he could walk only a few steps. It appeared to Dr. Cerf that Duncan‘s cancer had spread to his spinal cord.
Since Duncan had persevered and had overcome both his bladder obstruction and his kidney failure, we were shocked to realize that our little TCC Warrior had finally encountered a health problem that he would not beat. So on November 9th we did the hardest thing we ever had to do: we put Duncan to sleep. We buried Duncan in a pet cemetery overlooking a pond filled with geese and ducks that he would have enjoyed chasing. It reminded us of the duck pond in Ridgewood where we walked Duncan on our visits to Dr. Cerf, and where we found solace ourselves during Duncan's three week hospitalization.
Although the progress of Duncan's TCC made the final outcome very sad, we have absolutely no regrets whatsoever at having had Dr. Cerf perform his UGELAB procedure on Duncan. We knew from the start that the procedure didn't guarantee that his TCC would be contained, but we knew it was a chance we just had to take to try and prolong the life of our wonderful boy. The whole process of working with Dr. Cerf and his staff at Ridgewood Veterinary Hospital was one of the absolute best experiences we have ever had. Dr. Dean Cerf is a highly skilled, capable, caring, and giving person, who treated the three of us like family. And all the hospital staff-doctors, client care representatives, veterinary technicians, hospitality attendants, as well as veterinary, exam room, and animal ward assistants-provided the best health care experience we have ever encountered. They did everything they could to help Duncan and to help us during this difficult period. Although we lost our wonderful boy to TCC, we feel proud and blessed to have met and worked with the many truly exceptional and wonderful people who staff Ridgewood Veterinary Hospital.
Ronaele Novotny & Marty Fruendt