Never did I think I would be faced with my furangel having cancer, not with my background in Nutrition and Functional Medicine and his whole food diet, nutritional supplements, and adventurous nature lifestyle. Despite being born with severe hip dysplasia he's been a very active, fit, vibrant and a seemingly picture-of-health pup. Even still, a day after my birthday this year, we found out that our 10yr old golden labrador Bastian, has Hemangiosarcoma.
HSA is a highly aggressive malignant cancer with a prognosis of under 3months, thus chemo or radiation aren't recommended; AND the initial vet actually said to just put him 'to sleep' that week, despite perfect bloodwork and no known metastasis beyond the spleen mass. We took him home and got a second and third opinion from an out-of-state Functional Medicine Holistic Vet friend of mine (Kathy Backus, DVM), and our local Malibu Holistic Vet (Dr. Mark Bittan). After diving into research and considering our options and intuition, we opted to have his spleen and mass removed for the biopsy and prevention of hemorrhaging complications. Then put him on an increased nutritional and herbal protocol, to suppress the spreading of the cancer, and support his immune system and overall health and wellbeing.
These days 1 in 2 dogs is getting cancer. It's an epidemic that I thought we'd avoid with the love and care I had provided him thus far, but this has been the ultimate reminder that as much as we can control in life, there is still such mystery and complexity that we cannot; AND we can still control HOW we perceive and move through painful challenges, what lessons we can learn and beauty can be uncovered. In our western allopathic medicine model, it is unfortunately far often too busy, too greedy, and built on perpetuating fear and confusion; ie the vet defining him by this cancer alone, and giving us a death sentence without an actual deeper understanding of the body, what's at the root, and what's possible. I've moved through so much pain and rich feelings through this process, all while doing my best to choose the most positive and proactive approach for his highest good and quality of life. It's not been easy, but it's been so worth it, and I'm here to share some hope and direction.
So here we are, 4 months later thus far, which is basically about 2 dog years. I've been really hesitant to share because we don't have a crystal ball to know how well it's all working and how long we'll have with him. But with four more amazing months thus far that we didn't know we'd have, and him doing/looking/feeling as great as he seems, I've been urged to share, to give hope and direction for anyone in a similar scenario, to move through the process with more grace, despite the future outcome.
I choose to believe we can live well with cancer, and perhaps even beat it, but at the very least improve the conditions and quality of life in the time we have.
So here's our proactive approach incase any bit can help. I am not a veterinarian, nor am I making recommendations or prescribing treatments; this is only my experience and many of the resources and tools we've found helpful in our situation. So here's what we're working with:
Firstly, absolutely find a holistic vet in your area www.ahvma.org to get support with an integrative approach tailored to your pet's needs, and hopefully some combination of Chinese herbs and adaptogens, nutrition, acupuncture, maybe ozone, etc. You don't have to do this alone, and there are incredible veterinarians with a much more extensive knowledge-base and toolkit for preventing and working with dis-ease, so get one on your team!
If you suspect or know your dog has Hemangiosarcoma, ask your vet about the Chinese herbal product Yunnan Baiyao and how to use safely. It's known for being carried by soldiers in war to clot blood if wounded in battle, and thus because internal bleeding events go along with HSA, this is a helpful tool. Wear gloves when handling, and don't handle if pregnant. There's a tiny red pill in the center of the pack to use in crisis if the pet is going into shock or having a bleed, and the other pills can be given to help prevent hemorrhaging. Bastian was on this when he had the splenic mass and then right after surgery, from there we just keep it on hand incase he develops another mass in the future and shows signs of an internal bleed. Again, as with all of the information in this article, ask your vet.
Next, there are some documentaries and forums out there that are rather fear-based, manipulative, and can make you feel like the worst pet parent in the world, powerless, and confused, unless you buy these products, services, etc. Don't get sucked in. Become educated and aware, but don't beat yourself up about all that you didn't know or could control. We can do so many things 'right' and yet still get sick, due to our genes, environmental toxins, stress, etc., so we can only do our best with what we know at the time. So try your best to stay in the positive and proactive mindset and actions, and take steps forward now to help your loved ones be as comfortable and supported as possible.
Food: Nutrition is key. What are they eating? I'm not a fan of any kibbles, as they're all processed, often fried and with rancid oils, poor quality ingredients and nutrient lacking, and ultra inflammatory. There's still much debate on the best diet for our dogs, as there will continuously be with humans because we're all unique, however a whole foods anti-inflammatory diet is foundational. So whether that means a raw primal (BARF) diet, or you're cooking and rotating quality meat/fish and veg and fats, or you're choosing a freeze-dried, frozen, or dehydrated whole food option, these are all better options than the processed kibble food diet. This can be a total endeavor, and I'm still working ours out, but for the most part Bastian has been on Honest Kitchen Grain-Free and Limited Ingredient (so it has minimal carbs/starch) dehydrated dog food, then I mix in homemade mushroom bone broth, organic lean ground chicken/beef/bison or sardines, and organic raw liver. For treats: marrow bones, grass-fed/pasture-raised organic freeze-dried bison or chicken liver and heart, and dried fish skins, are power-packed treats and they LOVE them. I'll get into the other supplemental additions below.
Next of importance for HSA, we found an amazing study using a high dose of Turkey Tail mushroom for canines with Hemangiosarcoma, and just this intervention alone delayed the progression of metastases, and afforded the longest survival times and highest quality of life reported in canine hemangiosarcoma!' This alone is transformational information. The study used a particular brand of Turkey Tail, and so the product is ridiculously pricey, so instead I've gone with a brand and quality that I know and trust, Host Defense by the premier mycologist Paul Stamets. It's less expensive, and actually has a higher concentration of the anti-cancer polysaccharopeptide PSP content.
There's no research yet using Turkey Tail preventatively for dogs predisposed to HSA, like golden retrievers, labradors, and german shephards are known to be, but if I had known about this, I personally would have had him on it prior as hopeful prevention. So if you have one of these breeds, perhaps consider a low dose preventative supplementation with their food. For active cancer I've seen 2caps of Host Defense Turkey Tail per 10lbs of body weight, so Bastian takes 8/day, opening up the capsule and pouring the powder in his food.
Chinese Herbs: So our vet has Bastian on these herbs, however I won't list the dosage, as I think it's best you work with your holistic Integrative vet to determine whats best for your furbaby. Bastian's taking Oxymatrine, Imperata10, Paris7, Tien-chi Ginseng, Protector2000, ground up in a coffee grinder and mixed into his food twice/day.
Supplements: Some of these he's been on for years for his health, joints, etc, and some are new. He gets Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet oil (the only quality pet fish oil I trust), Glucosamine Chondroitin, pre/probiotics and enzymes powder, Mercola Fermented Broccoli Sprouts caps, homemade golden paste, Unique E Tocotrienols (pm) and Tocopherols (am), all mixed into his food.
Cannabis and Hemp:
LoveGrass is a wonderful line of non-psychoactive THCa drops for animals and humans (just put it in cool food, nothing warm/hot), our pup is on 6-8 droppers per day. (https://lovegrasslovesyou.com/lovegrasscalifornia/)
There are some forums out there advocating RSO (or high dose THC oil) for pets, which is toxic and often makes the animal feel miserable, have intense tremors, lose their appetite, etc. I don't believe this is necessary or fare, so I'd opt for this non-toxic non-psychoactive formula instead, which has none of those side-effects.
Bastian's also taking about 100mg of high quality CBD in organic coconut mct oil, that we make so we can ensure quality. We break this up, giving him less in his breakfast, and more in his dinner, as it can make him quite sleepy.
Nature activity and play:
As always, all living creatures need time in nature, away from the house or city, feet and paws on the dirt or sand, exploring with the senses and joyfully playing. There is no pill that can do what nature does. Mathew, myself and the pups, are especially lucky to live right next to a state park in Topanga and either hike the pups every day and/or take them down to the beach, their happiest happy place on earth. This always lifts up Bastian's energy, moves his body (great for mood, metabolism, immune system, grounding, etc), keeping him healthy and with a high quality of life. Especially at the beach when he's playing with other pups or dipping in the cold ocean, all those negative ions and crisp water and air are the best for his health and joy. We recently just took him for a roadtrip to Oregon and Nor Cal, and we swam in the cold rivers and creeks, what sweet medicine that is for body and soul.
Above all there's Love and Presence. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from friends/family something along the lines of, "in my next life, I want to come back as Bastian". From the moment he picked me to take him home at just 5weeks old, I've loved him more than anything, given him all I could, and we've been pretty much inseparable. If you've met him, you've soon realized he's a beautiful creature of pure boundless love and joy, and it's infectious. These creatures, children, and many beings in our lives can be such teachers on how we wish to show up in the world. Through him, I learned how to love unconditionally, remember to be more present, and find joy in even the smallest things. Especially through any health prognosis, these are the greatest gifts to our loved ones and selves. They feel our energy, our worry, so anchoring to love and continually making opportunities to slow down, be present, fill up and exude love and gratitude for your furry friend, their role in your life, and yourself for all you've given them.
The Energetic, and Meditations on healing and loss:
The mind and energy of our hearts emission is powerful. So along with love and presence, we've practiced Tonglen meditations of loving healing light pouring from our hearts into his body and replacing all suffering and dis-ease with only that light. Honestly we haven't been consistent with this; we did it a lot early on and when he was healing from surgery, and have since been very sporadic (while preparing for our wedding and work travel, which I'll mention in a moment), but whenever I do this, it always feels good and right.
One of the hardest but richest practices through this entire journey, has been working with allowing and surrendering to the inevitable loss. This can be translated into anyone, human or animal, that we are losing. I'm so grateful we didn't have to 'put him down' that day as the vet had suggested, that instead we've been gifted this time, and thus using it as wisely as we can with holding the space in our hearts to let him go, little by little every day. Basically when I pet or cuddle him, I'm beaming love and telling him how grateful I am for him, giving permission to leave this body when it no longer serves him anymore, and that I will be ok. This grief work is powerful. Though I know when the day comes that we have to truly let him transition will be one of the hardest times in my life, I can know that I've loved and cared for him with the best of my ability and lovingly hold space for a good death and transition.
Now with that, Bastian has been joyfully healthfully moving through life despite diagnosis or prognosis, and because of which, we have an even closer, more beautiful relationship with death, presence to every breath, and thus life itself is more tender and complete. A month ago on May 20th 2018, Mathew and I married, barefoot beneath an ancient oak tree here in our Topanga canyon, surrounded by hills of golden grasses, and beneath the canopy filled with our loved ones. Bastian made it to that day with flying colors, a huge bright spirit and energy, with his flower garland; he knew his role, greeting everyone with love and sparking smiles as he does, and somehow knowing to lead Mathew and I proudly beneath the tree. Both of our pups resting at our feet, while we shared our vows and unique ceremony, that day was as much a celebration for him, as us. It was for everyone, for love and life, life and death and the richness in between it all, a celebration, devotion and altar of feeling. It's been another month, we've taken the pups on camping trips to dip in rivers and creeks as we always love, living life with the above layers of care, and now a more constant reminder to slow down amidst the hustle of living/working in LA, to being fully present and soak up the breath of our loved ones every day.
For the non-pet-lovers I'm sure you haven't made it this far, but for those that love their pets like family, and if you're working with dis-ease, than I hope this has offered you some support, guidance, and resources. This is certainly in no way the only way to support your pet with prevention or life with cancer. This is only our personal experience and resources we've found helpful thus far in supporting the health and quality of life of our pup, now beyond the given allopathic prognosis at 4+ months. I'll keep this updated if I make any major shifts to his protocol, as well as with how long his beautiful life comes to be. Hopefully Bastian is with us for many days, months, years more, and still we are grateful for simply every day we have.
In closing, I am so beyond grateful for my husband and his deep love and understanding, grounding, supportive presence and help through this whole process, holding space for me to greave, while helping me to stay centered in what matters most. I can't imagine having gone through this without him. Boundless infinite love, gratitude, and awe everyday that you're mine to love and grow wise with. Thankyou to all our family and friends that have been sending us your love, support, and prayers.
Studies and Resources:
Dr. Kathy Backus, holistic veterinarian with a Functional Medicine approach, and she offers telemedicine video consults: www.doctorbackus.com
Dr. Marc Bittan, holistic veterinarian, practicing in Malibu: www.theholisticvet.com
Kannappan R, Gupta SC, Kim JH, Aggarwal BB. Tocotrienols fight cancer by targeting multiple cell signaling pathways. Genes & Nutrition. 2012;7(1):43-52. doi:10.1007/s12263-011-0220-3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250528/
The Keto Pet Sanctuary is a great resource of information: www.Ketopetsanctuary.com
Turkey Tail and Hemangiosarcoma study:
Brown DC, Reetz J. Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012:384301. doi:10.1155/2012/384301. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3440946/
Marc Ching, herbalist and owner of the Petstaurant, offers recipes and consultations. https://www.thepetstaurant.com/about-us/marc-ching/ and https://www.thepetstaurant.com/cancer-recipe-dogs/
Massi P, Solinas M, Cinquina V, Parolaro D. Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2013;75(2):303-312. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04298.x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579246/
The Petstaurant at https://www.thepetstaurant.com/cancer-recipe-dogs/
**I am not a trained veterinarian, nor diagnosing, prescribing treatment or cure, just sharing my experience, resources, and what's shown to be helpful for our situation.