March 24, 2011
We hope you don't mind, but we are starting this story at the end and then going backwards. While Elliott is now at peace – this is a wonderful story of compassion and dedication, hope and survivorship. Please read on.
On December 6, 2010, we lost our beloved Elliott. The first chapter began when he joined our family as a puppy. His final chapter with us began on November 13, 2009. Shortly before that date we saw an occasional drop of blood coming from his left nostril. A trip to our Boulder, Colorado vet shed light on the ultimate diagnosis, a nasal tumor. Elliott was 13 years old and "In great shape for his age." Knowing the likelihood this was cancer, we wanted to have the best care for Elliot and information about all the treatment options. A team of caregivers led by Dr. Stephen Withrow, Associate Director of the CSU Animal Cancer Center, met us early the next morning for a battery of tests. A CT Scan revealed a large mass in his left nostril. While the biopsy could not conclusively label the mass as cancer, the symptoms and blockage pointed to this diagnosis.
Somehow out of despair came hope and what our family calls "CSU magic." As if seeing a Head of State, the entire medical team gathered for our briefing to discuss all of the options. His prognosis was actually quite bright but might entail an exhaustive protocol of radiation therapy. We had a very emotional decision to make. The issue for our family was not about the cost, it was about the physical stress and toll that the treatment might have on Elliott. Dr. Withrow and his team were so wonderful about understanding our concerns. In fact, as usual, they helped us focus only on quality of life for Elliott. Just because you can doesn't mean you should!
We learned that oncology (the specialty of treating cancer) also requires being a specialist in compassion and dedication to the animal as well as the family. After giving us a list of treatments and their corresponding pros and cons we decided on the path that did not include radiation therapy. We felt it was just too much for Elliott. We decided that we wanted every day for Elliott to be filled with play, good rest, hugs and kisses. Dr. Withrow and his team came up with a protocol of medication that would slow the growth of the tumor for what we hoped would be 4 to 6 more months.
Elliott was never one to read the play book! We had just over a year longer with him. He got to make another trip to his favorite lake in Montana and spend the days swimming for hours. He got to enjoy the winter and digging his nose deep into the fresh snow. He got to enjoy every day and so did we. He never suffered or gave us a reason to feel we had chosen the wrong path. When he passed away our whole family had time to say good bye and thank you for the 14 wonderful years. During that last year there were numerous phone calls and emails to the CSU oncology team. They answered every question, adjusted his protocol as necessary and supported us through it all.
This was not Elliot's first time to the ACC. He was successfully treated for a mass on his leg a few years prior. They treated the mass and saved his leg. Through our experiences at the Animal Cancer Center we were so touched by the compassionate care and focus on the quality of life for all of us, especially Elliott. Our family can never thank our extended CSU family enough for this care. Hopefully, you and your pets may never need this level of care, but if you do, the team will be there for you and your fur family member too.
We were so taken by the wonderful care we experienced that we became donors to the ACC. We wanted to provide ongoing support in memory of Elliott and in honor of other survivors and fighters like him. We established the Elliott's Long Paw Scholars Fund to support the training of an oncology specialist at the center. In addition to faculty members, several residents and even a surgical oncology fellow were involved in Elliott's excellent care. Upon completion of their program at the ACC these future specialists will spread their knowledge to help people and pets in many places around the US and the world. We love that.
Additionally, we want others to know about this center and the wonderful care team in case they should ever need care for a pet. Just recently a friend's dog was diagnosed with cancer. Murphy came to the ACC all the way from Arizona for diagnosis and treatment of a different type of nasal tumor after hearing Elliott's story. Today, he is doing beautifully after the radiation therapy that was the right choice for him. Murphy's owner also was touched by her experience and also became a supporter to the center in honor of Murphy and told a friend with a pet with cancer about the ACC. They too got help for their pet through the ACC consult service.
We have come to realize that Elliott lives on through our memories and through what we have come to call the "Long Paw of Elliott." We have shared Elliott's story with friends, business colleagues and even the occasional stranger! That is how Murphy got to the ACC – by hearing Elliott's story. We think of the "Long Paw of Elliott" like a tree. Elliott is the seed that grows when others in need learn of his story and get the help they need. They become the branches. The roots are the specialists that Elliott's Fund will support during their training. Currently Elliott's tree has a few branches and one root. Over time we hope the tree grows many branches and roots because that means more pets and families will get the care and support they need. And so Elliott lives on...
We are at peace that we had all of the information and support we needed to make the right decisions in the best interest of Elliott. Of course we miss him but we are so grateful for the wonderful quality life he led, even after the tumor. Now we hope his story can provide hope and inspiration for others - - and maybe make a "long paw" connection to help another pet. With so much gratitude...
Elliott's Long Paw Scholars Fund for Medical Oncology Residents