When Jazzy was diagnosed with a malignant fibrosarcoma tumor at age four, Dr. Alain Theon, chief of oncology at UC Davis, told me that she had three to six months to live. I was in a state of shock.
Just two weeks before, I had noticed a tiny bump on the left side of her nose and had taken her to see her vet, Dr. Sherman Wong at Blue Cross Pet Hospital. Dr. Wong noted that the gum over her left canine tooth was swollen. He put her on antibiotics, but after 10 days, the swelling had not gone down, so he sent us to see Dr. Melinda Lommer, a dental specialist at Pets Unlimited.
Dr. Lommer immediately feared it was cancer and, after a CT scan and a nerve-wracking week awaiting the results, she confirmed that fear. Dr. Lommer sent us to UC Davis, where a follow-up CT scan revealed that the tumor, which went from her nasal passage to her skull, was already too large and too invasive to be removed. Dr. Theon suggested palliative radiation, large doses over a short period, to make her more comfortable during her last months.
Jazzy’s case was assigned to Dr. Michael Kent. As he perused the notes in her file at our first meeting, he made it clear he did not think palliative radiation was the way to go for such a young dog. We decided to do 16 treatments, five days a week for six weeks. That was July of 2010.
Perhaps Dr. Theon didn’t count on Jazzy’s love of life and huge spirit, or my devotion to her. Despite the fact that her beautiful face now has a bump on it, Jazzy has thrived over the past two years. We’ve gone about our lives, taking long walks at Stow Lake and going for swims at the beach. We also drove to Los Angeles every month for holistic treatment with Dr. Richard Palmquist, widely considered the best holistic vet practicing in the United States. “Fibrosarcomas are nasty suckers,” Dr. Palmquist told me when we began treatment. As Jazzy neared the two-year mark, her doctors agreed she was a miracle dog.
Several months ago, I noticed a scratch on the tumor site. It didn’t seem unusual because she had been to the beach, rolling in the sand and romping with other dogs. But after a week, it still hadn’t healed. We took her to see Dr. Wong, who put her on antibiotics. The scratch soon turned into a wound. We put her in the “cone of shame,” but she learned to smash her face into the cone to relieve the itching. I came downstairs from making lunch one Saturday to find her — and the cone — covered in blood. A visit to Dr. Kent yielded mixed results. While he was worried about the sore, test results provided some good news: the cancer hadn’t spread to her lungs, chest or lymph nodes. However, the plate in her left leg from a TPLO knee surgery in 2007 had become infected and had to come out immediately. Two days later, Jazzy went in for emergency surgery to
remove the plate.
A month later, Jazzy’s knee has healed, but the sore on her nose has not. It could be a sign that the tumor is active again, and when I am being honest with myself, I can see that it has grown. Jazzy is still the same, happy, funny pit bull — she doesn’t know she has cancer, and she still lives her life to the fullest.
On one of our walks at Golden Gate Park, two little girls about seven years old on a school outing approached us to say hello. They saw only the right side of Jazzy’s face, which looks normal, so when Jazzy turned around, they were frightened by the tumor. Jazzy loves children — she is calm and sweet and sits quietly, allowing them to come to her. As always, Jazzy won over the girls and they began petting her. One of the girls threw her arms around Jazzy’s big, muscular neck, and Jazzy gently nuzzled her cheek against the girl’s cheek and snuck in a kiss. “She seems happy and hopeful,” the smaller of the two girls said. I nodded. “She is happy, and we are hopeful,” I responded. “Well, hope is important,” the girl said in a serious, matter-of-fact voice. “If you don’t have hope, the sickness will take over and get you and you’ll die.” She hugged Jazzy again, and Jazzy smiled that huge pittie smile.
The girls eventually ran off to play with their friends, and Jazzy and I continued our walk. Out of the mouths of babes, I thought. After Jazzy stopped to sniff and pee on the four hundredth bush, I found a shady patch of grass under a tree, and we sat together quietly for a good long time. I put my arm around her shoulder, and she leaned against me. As I stroked her soft ear, she closed
her eyes and sighed.
I don’t know how much time Jazzy has left — it could be six weeks, six months, or six years — but as long as she’s enjoying life, I will be there for her unconditionally. Animals have a way of telling us when they’re ready to let go. When the day comes that sniffing and peeing on bushes and visiting with children and swimming at the beach no longer interest her, then I will have to make that difficult decision.
I pray that she goes peacefully in her sleep, or like my cat, Steven, in my arms. For now, I can’t think about that. Hope is important. It’s all we have.
I will be taking a hiatus from writing about Jazzy’s cancer in “Jasmine Blue’s Tails” because it is too difficult to write about what we’re going through while we’re going through it. Instead, I will bring you stories of other rescue dogs and their rescuers. Like Jazzy’s story, these will be “tails” of hope, of dogs overcoming the odds with their incredible spirits and the love and devotion of their people. If you would like updates on Jazzy’s health, please feel free to write to us at