Go Non-Toxic


Please use non-toxic stuff. I can't stress its importance. We suspect Simon's cancer catalyst was an bottle of anti-weed spray that the previous residents left and we used on our backyard, where Simon lounged, played and grazed. It contained a substance we later discovered was a known carcinogen.

Look for toys made of non-toxic materials and azo-free dyes. Do not buy toys your dog can easily ingest. Even non-toxic things are not meant to be ingested and you don't want to add yet another bout of illness for your dog. If your dog is an avid chewer, don't get toys your dog can easily tear or break off pieces. If possible, monitor all toy-play sessions.

Pollution, indoor and outdoor, is a problem. You don't know if poor air quality is the catalyst to your dog's cancer, but you know it isn't healthy. Walk your dog before morning traffic and late-night. Use non-toxic substances at home. Open windows (preferably overnight) to air out your house. Open windows when cleaning your house.

On the one hand, you don't want to add to your dog's health problems by withholding vaccines and risking infection. On the other hand, you don't want to over-vaccinate because over-vaccination may be linked to cancer. Rabies vaccination is a particularly touchy subject. The vaccine's effect has been shown to last in the body for seven years, but most jurisdictions require vaccination every 2-3 years. Ask your vet to administer a titer test to check the rabies antibodies in your dog. If the antibodies are abundant enough, your dog doesn't need the vaccine and you should have no problem with your city government dog license.

We had no problem with flea control. The key is to buy a reputable brand from a reliable company and stay away from anything that sounds excessive. We tend to use European and Canadian standards as guidelines; we stay away from substances banned there.


The Food that Swallows the Chemo that Swallows the Cancer

A BASIC GUIDE (quantities and doses for a 50-60lb dog)

*Immune System Supportive Diet*
- makes approximately (21-24) 1.5c servings
- 3 meals/day

2c uncooked red (or regular) organic lentils
1c uncooked organic brown rice
6c washed organic fresh spinach
6 large organic sweet potatoes
2-3 lb wild caught salmon
2-3 lb washed organic carrots
filtered water

*SUPPLEMENTS (during chemo)*
- with breakfast (daily): 1 B-Complex, 1 CoQ-10, 1/4 Selenium, 1 tbsp Flaxseed Oil, 1 D3, 1 Papaya
- with breakfast (W-Su): 1 B12
- 2h after breakfast: 1/4c apple tea (see below) + 1/8 tbsp Chlorophyll, 1 Probiotic, 1 Cell Forte, 1 Milk thistle
- 2h later: Echinacea (1-450 or 2-250)
- 2h later with lunch: 1 Papaya
- 2h later: apple tea mix
- 2h later: Echinacea
- 2h later with dinner: 1/4 Selenium, 1 Papaya
- 2h later: Echinacea

1. B-Complex (Solgar/Megasorb 50mg): for normal cell division & building new red blood cells
2. CoQ-10 (Solgar 30mg softgels): for heart, thyroid, tissue health
3. Selenium (Solgar 200mcg): antioxidant
4. Flaxseed Oil omegas (Flora refrigerated): for nervous system, skin, cartilage, immune system health
5. D3 (Nature's Life/Solgar 400IU softgels): for bone health
6. Papaya (Country Life chewable wafers): for digestive enzymes
7. B12 (Twinlab 500mcgs dots): for heart health
8. Chlorophyll (Sunny Green natural flavor): detoxifier for digestive system lining protection
9. Cell Forte (Enzymatic Therapy tablets): antioxidant for liver & immune system health
10. Milk Thistle (Solaray/Vitamin Shoppe 350mg caplets): for liver health
11. Echinacea (Nature's Herbs/Twinlab herb & root, 1-450 or 2-250): for immune system
12. Apple tea & compote: peel 6 Gala apples quartered, boil in 4c filtered water with 1 piece peeled organic ginger root, 4 bags organic peppermint tea & 4 bags organic (decaf) green tea; after cool, separate juice from mashed apples & refrigerate

*SUPPLEMENTS (after last chemo session)*
- 1h before breakfast (daily): 2 oz prepared FlorEssence tea diluted in 1-2 oz filtered water
- with breakfast (daily): 1 multivitamin, 1 CoQ-10, 1 Quercetin
- 2h after breakfast: (weekdays) 1 Milk Thistle, (daily) 1 probiotic
- with lunch (weekdays): 1 D3
- with lunch (MWF): 1 B12
- with lunch (TuF): 1 Artichoke Extract, 1 tbsp Flaxseed Oil mixed into food
- with lunch (Th): 1 Turmeric
- mid-afternoon (daily): 1 probiotic caplet
- 2-3h before bedtime (daily): 2 oz FlorEssence tea as above

1. CoQ-10: give indefinitely for heart, thyroid, tissue oxygenation
2. Quercetin (Solaray non-citrus caplets): give for 3+ months as anti-inflammatory for respiratory system
3. Milk Thistle: give for 2-3 months for liver
4. Probiotic: give 2/day for 6 months then 1/day indefinitely
5. D3: give indefinitely for bones
6. B12: give indefinitely for heart
7. Artichoke Extract (Enzymatic Therapy tablets): give for 2-3 months for gallbladder
8. Flaxseed Oil: give indefinitely for nervous system, skin, cartilage, immune system
9. Turmeric (New Chapter Turmeric Force softgels): give for 2 months as anti-inflammatory (assuming no history of bleeding)
10. FlorEssence tea (Flora): give for 2-3 months for detoxifying
11. Multivitamin (Solgar Iron-free Formula VM-75 vegetarian): indefinitely

*SUPPLEMENTS (regular)*
- with breakfast (daily): 1/2 multivitamin, 1 CoQ-10
- with lunch (weekdays): 1 D3
- with lunch (MWF): 1 B12
- with lunch (TuF): 1 tbsp Flaxseed Oil
- mid-afternoon/before bedtime (daily): 1 probiotic

Your dog has to eat something at some point, but eating is a struggle when there's nausea and upset stomach. - Don't feed right before chemo. First, you need fasting before blood tests for accurate results (key for monitoring effects of both types of treatments). Second, your dog will associate the inevitable chemo-related stomach upset with the food you feed your dog and you'll soon run out of types of food your dog will accept. - Learn to quickly identify the signs of nausea (excessive licking of nose, salivation, panting) and tell the oncologist so s/he can prescribe antinausea medication so that your dog will eat. You can't force your dog to eat, but you can't let your dog lose too much weight or become too weak. This is critical.
- To take the edge off upset stomach: apple tea & compote (above). If your dog will consume the compote by itself or drink the liquid with water, great. Otherwise, add the compote to food.
- Our oncovet presribed canned Prescription Diet canned food for us to use not as a substitute to his regular food but as an appetite inducer. This is a very gradual process. Start by opening the can and letting your dog sniff it. Once you've captured your dog's interest, feed your dog a spoon-ful, then another until your dog has had enough. You use this food when your dog refuses regular food. At this point, your dog won't overeat and is already losing weight from chemo so overfeeding isn't really a concern. However, the goal is to try to get your dog to return to regular food. At the next meal, try mixing a little regular food into the PD food. At subsequent meals, try decreasing the ratio of PD to regular food until your dog is back on regular food. If your dog normally loves a particular flavor (chicken), buy cans of organic chicken & brown rice (with few to no other ingredients) for you to mix in with regular food.

"Your Pup has Cancer" is NOT the new "Happy Anniversary"

Simon was diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma that had already compromised his liver and gallbladder so we weren't going to take any chances with an alternative-treatment-only plan. After doing our research and consulting the oncologist, using chemo wasn't a question. That said, a holistic approach to treatment was a must. If we were going to put Simon through the purgatory that is chemo, invest countless hours and precious funds into treatment, and ride the emotions tied to this experience all to improve the quality of his life while extending his life, we were going to take no short cuts. Chemo is both a fierce weapon against cancer and a poison to the body you're trying to save. In order to give the body the strength it needs to survive the months-long battle between chemo and cancer, you need to make sure it has healthy amounts of stabilizing and cancer-fighting components and none of the cancer-feeding stuff. Don't discount chemo or complementary therapies. Use them both in your arsenal. Consult with holistic oncologists, those who can advise on a plan based on both types of treatments.

Cancer is like Attila the Hun, an efficient, merciless and undiscriminating warrior. It strikes when you least expect it, takes every advantage, and quickly ravages its environs. Cancer does not spare even the most innocent and selfless of creatures – our animal companions. These thoughts raged through my mind when our little fur-ball, Simon, was diagnosed with lymphoma, a systemic cancer that spreads fairly quickly via the lymphatic system. Because it affects the entire body, you cannot simply remove a tumor and restrict treatment (and its side effects) to one area. You need a systemic approach.

As the saying goes, “don't get mad, get even”, my husband and I decided to attack Simon's cancer in every way possible with a comprehensive plan that fused Eastern and Western approaches to health. Our goal was to give Simon the best chance at overcoming cancer and resume a happy, healthy life. To accomplish this, we needed to take advantage of all the tools at our disposal and to do this we needed to think out of the box. We used traditional medicine and alternative therapies, including supplements, exercise, massage and a non-toxic environment, to fight his cancer.

We decided to use chemotherapy, because it has a solid success rate (over 80% life expectancy of a year, depending on the stage) against lymphoma. Simon's chemo protocol involved 19 weeks of Vincristine, Cytoxan and intravenous Doxorubicin. This protocol had two major side effects – weight loss due to the killing of large quantities of cancer cells (a good thing) and weight loss due to stomach upset (a bad thing). In essence, chemo is a poison that not only kills cancer cells but also compromises regular cells. Considering cancer's alarming good-cell body-counts, you need to find a way to make the host environment unsuitable for cancer cells while giving good cells the support they need to fight the cancer cells and tolerate chemo. How do you pull this off? Feed the body substances the good cells need for battle and remove substances that feed or potentially activate the cancer cells. This is where the Eastern part of the plan takes the stage supporting the Western part.

Through the Eastern approach, you examine diet to ensure the body gets the nutrients it needs though diet and supplements to remain strong and fight cancer. Simon's diet gave him the right kinds and proportions of protein, omega fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, fat, and vitamins. This was key because Simon's liver and spleen were compromised so we had to be cautious about his consumption of fat, vitamins and minerals which those organs ordinarily metabolize when healthy. There was no corn, wheat or non-fructose sugar in his diet, because cancer cells thrive on sugars and carbs. To keep pesticides and additives out of and full-strength nutrients into his food, we used only fresh, organic ingredients when making his food: yams, carrots, lentils, wild-caught salmon, spinach, and brown rice.

We believe the powerful herbs and supplements Simon received were essential to his victory over cancer. To make sure no substances interfered with each other or his chemo, we carefully administered his regimen of ten or so antioxidants, enzymes, and other detoxifiers on a strict schedule. Most of these supplements supported the immune system, heart, thyroid, bones, liver, and normal cell division and production, all of which are weakened by cancer and chemo. Some supplements, like ginger-peppermint-apple juice, supported the digestive system, which helped ease his stomach upset and, in turn, helped increase his appetite and weight. It makes sense – he felt less sick so he ate which gave him more energy and allowed him to consume the nutrients he needed to tolerate chemo and recover. Energy and recovery gave him the strength to play and a playful dog is a happy dog. Thanks to our comprehensive plan, Simon is happy, lymphoma-free, and has nearly doubled his life expectancy.

People often confuse “holistic” with “alternative”, misjudging it as a polarized approach. A holistic approach is just the opposite. It is a complete system, bringing together the best of traditional and alternative approaches. It is not West or East but both. You need both to out-wit the Hun. We have, so far, and the best spoil of this battle is having our happy dog back.


Symptoms: Prelude to D-Day

Simon's mouth surgery proved to be a false alarm of the worst kind. It was a tease, a lesson that things can change much too quickly. In May 2008, about a month after the surgery, Simon started acting differently. He seemed to slow down slightly. What does this mean in real terms? He wasn't quite as ready to go jogging with me, quite as excited about long walks, and generally not as quick to "do stuff". In retrospect, these were the first signs that all was not well with Simon, the dog who lived for outings the way a teen lives to get behind the wheel with buddies.

Vets tell you to bring in your pet when you notice a change in behavior, but this is more easily said than done. Pets are known to go through phases the way humans do. Do you go through slumps? Get bored with your daily run? Grow tired of eating in? Sure, but you don't run to your doctor with fears of serious illness when you hit a patch of ennui. Likewise, it didn't occur to me to rush Simon to the vet siting "less perky" as a reason for visit. What about the change in enthusiasm, you say? The weather was starting to get warm - a prelude to the force that is a Virginia summer - and, although usually not so soon, Simon slows down in the heat. The initial change was so subtle that I didn't even mention it to Stan.

A few weeks later, the imperceptible changes metamorphosed into puzzling signs. Remember his #1 passion, eating? Simon wasn't as thrilled about mealtimes. We had heard of dogs suddenly rejecting the food they had enjoyed for years only to shake things up a bit, I guess, and favor a whole new dining experience. Simon's personality is so reliable you can set your watch to it, but we thought maybe this was his doggie midlife crisis and he simply wanted a different menu. We took him to taste test new foods at ProFeed and he seemed very interested. We came home armed with new chow only to have Simon snub the grub a few days later, so we gave the experiment a few more chances. Unfortunately, our apparently picky pup refused to endorse any of the handful of brands we tried.

We resorted to the old standby, chicken and rice, which he seemed to appreciate. Although it was comforting that he was eating, this had to be a temporary solution because - we innocently thought - there was no way our pockets or schedules would accommodate Simon's homemade food fad in the long term. Had it only been a case of the fickles! One sunny day the first weekend of June, the three of us went on a walk. Simon didn't want to eat much that morning so we thought some fresh air might persuade his appetite. He was slow, but it was warm and he must not have had much energy after skipping breakfast. Right? Halfway through the walk, Simon refused to go further and laid down on the sidewalk. Finally, a big red flag with flashing neon lights. He was on his belly, not on his side, so it wasn't as scary but clearly this dog did not feel well. There is no way a healthy Simon normally would be conquered by a relatively short walk - it wasn't that hot.

Once home, we examined him by feeling around to see if he was tender anywhere. He may have flinched a little as we touched the belly area, but one thing was indisputable - his tonsils seemed to be pretty swollen. As we researched "swollen tonsils dogs" online, "lymphoma" kept sneaking into search results. This was annoying. Simon's blood test and biopsy just a month prior were negative for cancer. He didn't have cancer. He must have some sort of tonsillitis or related infection, so we thought, that was tiring him and making it hard for him to eat.

Tired of dealing with Alexandria Animal Hospital's money machine (they recommend overnight stays for everything), and wanting an accurate and efficient diagnosis, we looked into animal hospitals ranked highly by We settled on one in Arlington but got their answering system. Their recorded message instructed us to call Southpaws in Fairfax for emergency services. After hearing about Simon's symptoms, the staff at Southpaws booked an appointment for the next day with Dr. Gieg, one of their internal medicine specialists. That was fast...


Healthy, Happy & Mischief-free

Simon rarely graced the vet's office in the seven years before D-Day (diagnosis day). He was healthy, happy and generally mischief-free. A proud parent, I'll boast that he was such a good boy that trips to the vet were mainly for yearly check-ups and vaccine boosters.

We are pretty good about keeping tempting chewables out of reach when leaving the house - no idle plates of brownies on the counter to torment him. Simon taught us early on that his #2 passion was chewing. (Eating, of course, was #1.) Unless you prefer unnaturally distressed furniture and bite-mark footwear, some reigning-in is necessary. We had an explosively funny experiment with discipline during his first weeks home. Taking after Stan, Simon started tinkering with electricity, except his technique was to chew on computer cords. A crispy husband is one thing, a laptop-seared dog is another (much less predictable) so I took action. I taped balloons to the cords. The result? A little dog who lost his appetite for household objects.

After the balloon incident of 2002, Simon focused his chewing on dog toys, but his passion caused him some grief. As a powerful chewer, he would consume bones, whittling them down to remnants. Enjoying a bone during the day meant paying for it that night. Neither savory nor restful for any of us. Fortunately, he never had to get anything extracted from his belly, but extreme chewing led to excessive wearing of his teeth.1

Visits to the Shirlington dog park also led to some sleepless nights. Simon swims only for dear life and loves chasing the ball but retrieves only on his terms. (He takes after me here, except I don't chase after balls.) However, he would jump into the Shirlington creek to fetch a red ball. Specifically red - smart boy knows red stuff pairs well with black dog. On hot days he would also sneak a drink from the creek, which always led to stomach upset later. What is particularly alarming about this is that after many visits to the park and a few months before D-Day, Arlington taped off access to the creek with hazard tape and posted a "hazardous waste" sign nearby. I guess the pipe jutting out the creek wall should have been a red flag for all of us. I'm not attributing Simon's cancer to the creek (or lack of proactive measures by Arlington), but I'm not ruling it out either.

In April 2008 Simon had a growth (fibrous epulis2) surgically removed from his gum. It's storytime, boys and girls, because it turned into a fiasco. We noticed the growth months prior and had it probed by Dr. Baxter of Alexandria Animal Hospital, who said gum growths were common and instructed us to watch it for growth. By March, the growth had not changed in size but was bleeding so Dr. Baxter took a small sample (needle aspirate) to confirm that it was benign. VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance), with whom we had a policy since Simon's adoption, informed us that we no longer had an active policy. Through Stan's employer, VPI previously offered a discount for switching to online billing. We later discovered that VPI was supposed to send a confirmation form when Stan signed up for that offer. We never received such a form and VPI didn't renew our policy. Although we had submitted to VPI claims for standard visits between the time of the offer and the date of this appointment, VPI failed to inform us about the expiration of our policy and the missing form.

It doesn't end there. We purchased the new policy and VPI then said it wouldn't cover the biopsy because it was for a pre-existing conditon. Then VPI required a surgery claiming that an aspirate biopsy wasn't conclusive. Surgery requires anesthesia, which is risky to dogs, so it should be done sparingly. It seemed ridiculous to put a dog through that risk for a growth that apparently was not even growing.

Dr. Baxter said our options were to 1) leave the epulis alone, 2) have the growth removed from the surface to ease discomfort (something AAH could perform), or 3) have surgery to reach the origin of the growth (something only a specialist should perform). We ruled out option 1, because the epulis was bleeding, therefore obtrusive and would probably become painful within the year. A specialist explained to us that a biopsy did not reveal extent of the growth under the gum so option 2 seemed like a temporary solution to a situation that might eventually require option 3. Both options 2 and 3 required anesthesia so we opted for the surgery. The dental vet, Barron Hall, said he would remove only the affected parts of Simon's gum, but that could mean a whole chunk of jaw. He said he would run tests to see if the mass was cancerous. Yikes. My throat constricted. A lab who loves to chew might have a chunk of mouth missing. Cancer? We are not going there. There is no way our dog has cancer.

Dr. Hall confirmed that the epulis was benign and ended up removing two back teeth and a small piece of jaw. No cancer. Phew. At least Simon's pearly whites got professionally cleaned.

1 Prolonged chewing on hard bones and tennis balls has a chiseling and sanding effect on teeth, which is NOT good for your dog. Playing fetch with tennis balls is fine. Infrequent and brief bone chewing might be ok, but bones should be the sterilized, compact kind. Be careful with rawhide because it's brittle and pieces can lodge into the walls of the digestive system, which can be fatal if not extracted. Softer toys and treats won't keep teeth as clean, but they leave your dog with teeth to clean. Brush them regularly to avoid having to get very pricey professional cleaning at the vet. A little caution goes a long way, which saves a lot of pain and cost.

2 See