These days 1 in 2 dogs are dying of cancer. This is a MASSIVE epidemic, and yet never did I think that I would be faced with my 10 year old golden boy getting cancer, not with my background in Nutrition and Functional Medicine, and his whole food diet and nutritional supplements, life and adventures in nature, the love and care I poured into his every moment here. It wasn’t supposed to happen to us, he was always the picture of health, of joy, of love and goodness in the world. But the disease more than touched us, it humbled, shattered, and built us anew, and it made me write our story in hopes it can help if cancer is touching you too.
Cancer is the ultimate re-membering, remembering that as much as we may try, we cannot control life and death; but we can control HOW we choose to perceive and move through painful challenges, what lessons and slivers of beauty can perhaps be uncovered along the path of living and dying wise.
Bastian was a tall, fit, vibrant yellow labrador, and despite being born with severe hip displaysia, he always thrived and was ready for absolutely anything. Even still, the day after my birthday, I was rushing him to the ER, he had come up to me with his back legs trembling, and I knew something wasn’t right. The hospital vet scanned him and found some internal bleeding and a tumor on his spleen, most likely Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) which is apparently a common predisposition in ‘older’ labradors, golden retrievers, and shepherds. HSA is a highly aggressive malignant cancer with a prognosis of just days to under 3months, thus chemo or radiation aren't recommended. The initial vet actually suggested we just put him 'to sleep' then, despite perfect bloodwork and no known metastasis beyond the spleen mass, or a biopsy to confirm diagnosis! He was stabilized and we were able to take him home to connect and determine next steps.
We 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.
In our western allopathic medicine model, particularly in emergency medical care, it is unfortunately more often too busy and profit-driven, and perpetuates more fear and confusion than it offers hope and empowered healing. So we have to trust our gut, that intuitive guide; it is SO hard in these situations of shock, and life or death, but it is still a whispering breeze we can set our sails to follow, to honor the quality of life and care for our loved ones and ourselves.
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 was so worth it in doing everything we could, and I hope this can offer some hope and direction for you.
We are beyond grateful that we had 5.5 more amazing months, that we wouldn’t have had if we had followed the allopathic vet’s prognosis. And during those months he was ‘healthy’ and happy as always, despite living/dying with this aggressive cancer. To have all those days and moments to do everything we could in our power for him, and to soak up every sweet moment and slowly surrender to the inevitable, is absolutely irreplaceable, and I hope for you to be able to move through this journey with as much hope, grace, and support as possible.
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 our experience and many of the resources and tools we've found helpful in our situation.
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!
Find a facebook group for support/guidance. If you’ve gotten the Hemangiosarcoma diagnosis, join the Facebook group “Hemangiosarcoma diet & supplement protocol for dogs”, for files of guidance and recommendations, and loving pet parent support through every stage of this process. I wish I had found them sooner on our journey.
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 and die, 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 was on Honest Kitchen Grain-Free and Limited Ingredient (so it has minimal carbs/starch) dehydrated dog food, then I mixed 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. For a deep dive support guide ‘Dog Cancer Book’, and 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 we went 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 took 8 capsules 2x/day, opening up the capsule and pouring the powder in his food.
Chinese Herbs: So our vet had 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 pup. Bastian was on 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'd been on for years for his health, joints, etc, and some were new. 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 was ideally on 6-8 droppers per day; but honestly he didn’t love the taste or smell so sometimes had to do less. (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 also took about 100mg of high quality CBD in organic coconut mct oil (Foria Basics). We gave him less in his breakfast, and more in his dinner, as it can make them 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 lifted up Bastian's energy, moving 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'd play 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. During this time we also took him for a roadtrip (he loved roadtrips) 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 met him, you 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 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. Our hope and belief was that it was helping heal him, but it also just helped us come back to center, to get out of our stressful pained mind and back to swimming in an energetic pool of hope and love.
Lastly, 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 were gifted more time, and thus using it as wisely as we could with holding the space in our hearts to let him go, little by little every day. Basically when I pet or cuddled him, I beamed love and told him how grateful I was/am for him, gave permission for him to leave this body when it no longer served him anymore, and that I will be ok. This grief work is powerful. Though this time, especially as he was preparing to transition from his body, has been the hardest time in my life, I can know that I've loved and cared for him with the best of my ability, and lovingly held space for a good death and transition.
On May 20th 2018 (exactly 3 months post Bastian’s diagnosis and splenectomy), 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.
Two months later, 5.5 months post splenectomy, Bastian had internal bleeding and eventually passed away in our arms beneath the sycamore trees and the bright full moon. He glowed brighter than the moon, he was an angel and teacher in life and in death.
Through it all we now have an even closer, more real and beautiful relationship with death, more presence to every breath, and life itself is more tender and complete.
If you're working with this 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 found helpful in supporting the health and quality of life of our pup with Hemangiosarcoma, living well beyond the allopathic prognosis of this aggressive cancer. I hope for you the same or even better results and time with your beloved.
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/
Facebook group “Hemangiosarcoma Diet & Supplement Protocol for Dogs”
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.