Pets are Cancer Survivors Too: Greta’s Story

Greta and Janine

Greta was adopted by her mom, Janine, in March of 2013. She was around six years old and had made the trek from Alabama to New York City to find her forever home. Not much is known about Greta’s life before she was adopted, but one thing was certain, she had hit the jackpot with her adoptive mom.

But, just 6 months later, Janine noticed a quarter sized, hard lump in Greta’s left front “armpit.”

Janine is a medical person, who also had extensive experience with dogs. She knew this wasn’t just a typical, run of the mill lipoma (benign growth). A needle aspiration revealed that Greta had chondrosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the cartilage in her rib cage. Chondrosarcoma accounts for 5-10% of all primary bone tumors in dogs (National Canine Cancer Foundation).

What came next was a whirlwind of tests, meetings with veterinary oncology specialists and a lot of difficult decision making. Thankfully, Greta’s tumor was found early, had not spread and was thought to have a low rate of recurrence if surgery was successful-meaning the tumor was removed with clean margins. Likely one rib would need to be removed to “get it all,” but the surgeon felt Greta would have good quality of life and “would be the same dog” after the tumor was removed. So, Janine decided to move forward with the surgery.

Unlike humans, most pets do not have health insurance and veterinary care can be very expensive. The workup, scans and surgery were nearly $10,000. Greta would also need chest x-rays every 6 months for two years after surgery to monitor for recurrence. Luckily, Greta’s mom did have health insurance and Janine says, “having insurance made decision making easier.” **

It’s four years later now and Greta is cancer free! She ended up having three ribs removed. Her post op care required her mom to relocate to an elevator accessible apartment for a period of time until Greta was able to navigate stairs safely. Janine has no regrets about Greta going through this treatment. She cherishes her days with Greta, the cancer survivor.

What was evident to me as I talked with Janine (and snuggled Greta) for this blog, was the parallels between human and animal experiences with cancer.

  • A mass is found
  • Diagnosis, work up
  • Treatment planning, discussions of quality of life
  • Concerns about the financial impact of the treatment plan
  • Concerns about side effects
  • Recovery and survivorship

It is all there for BOTH humans and our beloved companion animals. We can learn a lot from each other, as well as lean on each other for unconditional love and support. We also know the “survivor” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Janine never really thought about Greta as a cancer survivor, “because she didn’t have chemo.” But now, as we talked about Greta’s experience and its parallels to human experiences with cancer survivorship, she seemed to become more comfortable with applying the word “survivor” to Greta’s story.

So, here’s to Greta and all the other pets out there who have survived cancer and continue to thrive after cancer.

For more information on pets and cancer:

OncoLink Vet


The Animal Cancer Foundation

**A word about pet insurance

There are many companies offering pet insurance plans. It’s important to shop around, compare quotes and read policy guidelines carefully. Most pet insurance plans have exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Routine veterinary care is usually not covered (vaccinations, ear infections, spay/neuter). Typically, with pet insurance, you will be required to pay for the veterinary care and be reimbursed a percentage of your expenses based on your policy. Read the fine print carefully. Ask you veterinarian for referrals and ask you friends and other pet owners if they have health insurance, who they use and about their experiences with this company.

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