Unearthing creative possibilities: Trish Roque's website, personal blog, & portfolio

An update on Siwa & her fight against canine melanoma

Siwa was first diagnosed with canine melanoma in early 2008.  I first wrote about her deteriorating health in this blog post, when we took her in to the vet to have her teeth cleaned.  A google search for canine melanoma takes one to several websites that do not leave one with much hope after reading the information. One site states:

Melanoma is the most malignant of all the skin cancers and therefore has the poorest prognosis. If found in the mouth, the prognosis is even more grim. Approximately 25% of dogs diagnosed with oral melanoma will survive for one year; 75% will not survive even this long.

Siwa at 13.5 YO, image taken June 2009

Siwa at 13.5 YO, image taken June 2009

Fortunately, my vet referred me to the Bay Area Veterinary Specialists, where they recommended an experimental (at the time) treatment.  The USDA has apparently given the Canine Melanoma Vaccine a conditional ok.

I’m here to state that for anyone considering this treatmet for their dog with canine melanoma, DO IT!  It is not the cheapest treatment in the world, but neither is radiation and chemo, and those treatments often leave the dog with a not so good quality of life. She was diagnosed in January of 2008. It’s been a year and 6  months and she shows no outward signs of illness from cancer.

Siwa continues to behave like a normal, arthritic, 13.5 year-old dog who continues to love her walks,  her treats,  her naps – life in general.  She continues to hike with me and Sam everyday (though we’ve had to slow down our hikes for her).

Her age is certainly showing – more white in her fur, and her muzzle is practically all silver now. But I would rather she pass away from old age than from cancer.


Tags: , ,

Follow responses through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to “An update on Siwa & her fight against canine melanoma”

  1. neclark says:

    What a beautiful girl you Siwa is!

    My 14.5-year-old black-&-gray male Border Collie (about the same size & fuzziness as Siwa) developed his first suspected Malignant Oral Melanoma growth in December of `08, and had 3 recurrences of increasingly-aggressive cells (the last a full 11 weeks after the last of the primary 4 MOM vaccinations). That one was removed surgically (fortunately no bone removal considered necessary) – followed by 6 rounds of localized radiation to the left 60% of the muzzle. We are now 8 weeks past the last of the radiation, and awaiting results of an antibody `titer’ test to gauge his body’s response to the vaccinations; trying to decide whether the 5th will actually add effectiveness (nearly $600 per shot).

    He had some nasty radiation `burns’ and is just now regrowing his snout-fur (all coming in silver-gray).

    Joey is more agile & active than I could hope for such a grand old age.


  2. trish says:

    Wow! Sounds like Joey is doing well despite the additional radiation. He sounds like he’s still enjoying life! I’m hoping that Siwa will get to see 14 1/2. She’s due for her 6-month booster vaccination in September.

    Good luck with Joey. He’s putting up a good fight!


    melissa Reply:

    @trish, did you have the tumor removed sergically or did you just use the vaccine alone?


    trish Reply:

    @melissa, Yes, when the tumors were initially found, the vet removed them from Siwa’s mouth. Fortunately, they found the tumors fairly early so they were able to get a clean cut. We began her on the vaccine immediately after the surgery. Canine melanoma is pretty aggressive so we felt fortunate that she responded so well. Siwa passed away last November, almost 2 years after her diagnosis. That was a godsend considering most dogs with melanoma who receive conventional treatment are only given an additional 6 months (to a year if lucky).


  3. Linda says:

    Just ran across this today. My Jake, an 8.5 y.o. black lab was diagnosed with oral melanoma in late May of this year. We were told that it was very deadly. He had a partial jaw removal in early June and started on the vaccine. The Oncologist said they got good clean margins and there was no evidence of spread. Jake will be going for his 3 month checkup next week, at which time he will have more chest x-rays. So far, so good. He appears healthy and normal and has even gained a bit of weight which kind of makes him tubby at 107 lbs. but his regular Vet was thrilled about it. We always fed what we considered to be good food (mostly Wellness), but switched to Evo, no grain, high protein, shortly after diagnosis. Our Holistic Vet said that carbs. feed cancers. This food was supplimented with boiled hamburger, yogurt and a bunch of different supplements. It is so encouraging to read accounts such as yours. It renews the hope that there is the possibility for survival, good quality of life and maybe even remission after a cancer diagnosis. Thanks. Linda

    p.s. I think one of the hardest things is to not panic at every little thing such as a sneeze or unusual behavior.


    trish Reply:

    @Linda, Good luck with Jake! He’s still such a young pup at 8.5-YO. About a month or so after I wrote this entry, Siwa’s cancer returned. Now, I can’t be too upset considering she is almost 14 and she fought off the cancer for 1.5 years. She is now on chemo & painkillers and it will really be only a matter of time. I am now focusing on making sure her quality of life is still good and that she is comfortable. Best of luck to you & Jake!


    Linda Reply:

    Thanks for the update. Sorry things are not going well. Did Siwa get the booster shots after the initial series? Did her cancer return in the same area? My regular Vet said that is usually the case. Best wishes for comfort for both you and your baby. Linda


    trish Reply:

    @Linda, Yes, Siwa got one booster shot & was due for her second but the cancer returned in the same spot where it started. The vaccine did give her 1.5 years & the chemo is at least giving her several more months. Until her tail stops wagging & she stops eating, she will still be here. Thank you for the best wishes.

  4. Nancy S. says:

    My beloved dog — I first noticed something was wrong with him on a walk back from the dog park in May of 2010. His tongue hung out on the side and he had the saddest and scared expression as though a monster had invaded him. He was breathing hard. I thought to myself that he was only 7 1/2 years old and that this was odd but I attributed it to an unusual hotter than usual Spring day. But I took pictures from my cell phone because he seemed as though there was a bit of suffering.

    After going home, he was fine and returned to his extremely happy ‘pug’ self. But he looked older to me in the next few months and the energy that I had seen in him seemed to diminish — I did nothing — he was eating and drinking water and enjoying his life and his long walks and hanging out.

    On August 16th, 2010 I took him to the Vet because I ran out of his topical ear medicine and I knew I had to see a vet to get this prescription. We were laughing as Willie Bean was on the table because he lives for food and was so funny when all of a sudden her voice turned grave. She found a tumor in the back of his mouth and from her experience — she knew this was rotten luck and a moment in time that would change my life forever.

    After a biopsy which was taken the next day — the results were my greatest fear — malignant melanoma of the mouth. I knew that this was the monster that had entered him months before and I was devastated from this rotten luck and I had a very difficult time accepting it.

    There was so much hope. After seeing an oncologist and surgeon — based on his excellent health (minis the tumor!) and his age — they discovered that the tumor had not reached his tissues or bone and I opted for the surgery in which his partial jaw would be removed. It was. Again, to see that I put him through his first round of suffering — picking him up from the hospital was particularly awful — but after a difficult four days — for at least THREE WEEKS he was back to his original self — even better than when I first discovered that ‘monster’ on the fresh day in May when we returned from the park. He had 3 of the cancer shots in the next month and every time he was examined — he was doing great. Clean margins and a dog in great spirits.

    From September 3 to October 31st — a good six weeks he was great.

    The last week of October — before his last cancer shot was due in early November — I took an amazing cruise to Canada with my sisters and mother and met my boyfriend right after for a weekend in Boston — and for the first time since August 16th — my ‘dog’ — my love of life — I did not think of him except for the happiness that he was doing so well after the 3 cancer shots.

    When I picked him up from my friend’s where he was staying — he was sneezing. I knew instantly something was wrong. My pug never sneezed THIS MUCH AND SO FREQUENTLY. I took him to his regular vet and they thought it was ‘allergies.’ — One week later he had a ‘hot spot’ on his head which he never had and that was shaved off and he was okay. The sneezing never ended and three weeks later — I found lesions in his mouth — white lesions — I took him back the vet.

    They were not sure what this was but knew it wasn’t so great. He had yet another biopsy.

    The results came back.

    The malignant melanoma had returned. In the same place where his jaw was removed and now — in his sinus cavity.

    This was at the beginning of December. He had already had the fourth cancer shot at the beginning of November but I am sure by that time the cancer had returned.

    He is now on his final days. I have watched a healthy, amazing, silly pug who lives for his friends and food — I must say I have watched him suffer. And I don’t think I can do this anymore. I said no to radiation — this would have been too aggressive for a dog who had already been through so much and I knew the cancer was way too aggressive and had a great chance of coming back.

    Since I said no to radiation — he has become thinner, weaker and his mouth has become deeply compromised from what has of course been the growing tumor. But the tragedy has been that for most of this time — his energy to tear down the street and hang out and eat like a ‘pig’ — none of that has changed. He has exhibited shocking mixed signals and I think this must be the hardest cancer.

    He will spend a night only on Rimadyl not breathing well and I will watch him with his mouth like a ‘little fish’ taking in air — I will ask myself ‘what am I doing?” — And then in the few times I tried to ‘put him down’ — the shock of his exuberance is so surprising — it would have been impossible for anyone to have taken a dog who had a hard night who RUNS into the Vet’s office wagging his tail and barking and screaming for food and attention.

    But now? It has been almost 8 to 9 weeks since the rediagnosis of his cancer — and I am at the end. Last night he didn’t as usual want to come inside — he wanted to taste the wind and the plastic bags on the New York Streets and to chase large dogs and small dogs and to get attention from everyone passing by and to go into all open stores that have always given him little pieces of chicken — but I looked at his face and knew that this was some kind of instinct to get all he could out of life before he leaves it.

    What we can learn from the endurance and spirit of our dogs is and will continue to amaze me for the rest of my life.

    Willie Bean cannot suffer anymore no matter how many people say “I can’t even tell he’s sick” — he is. And I will miss him in a way that right now is incomprehensible to me. I guess you can say I’m just a dog owner. A dog owner who loves her dog.

    For all of you fighting this fight — I do think that there are dogs that can do very well after the fourth cancer shot and then the boosters. The oncologists and the vets had so much hope for Willie Bean. He ‘fit the bill’ after his surgery for the dog who would make it — at least for another year. But the cancer has proven to be too much.

    But not for his soul.


    Nansea C Reply:

    thoughts and prayers for WillieBean….my dog was just diagnosed yesterday. He is scheduled for the vaccine and am loking into best diet/supplements.


  5. Joann & Kuma says:

    Hi Siwa,

    I am so happy the canine melanoma vaccine has worked well for you. My name is Kuma and I am a 13.5 year old chow mix with malignant oral melanoma. My tumor is on the back of my tongue and I have had it de-bulked twice. I have decided to try the canine melanoma vaccine as my last resource. I am very scared so please let me know how is has helped you?

    Best regards,
    Kuma 03/29/2012


  6. Joann & Kuma says:

    Dear Trish,

    Kuma and I had sent you a message earlier. After reading more in detail your blog I realized that Siwa had passed on a few years ago. I was very sad but at the same time you enlightened me on the details of what to expect with a dog who is suffering from oral melanoma. The blog of the last 35 hours with Siwa destroyed me but I now know what to expect and I hope it will make me stronger for my last days with Kuma. Kuma also is a chow mix 13.5 years old he has had his tumor de-bulked twice and he just got his first melanoma vaccine. It might be wishful thinking but he already seems to be doing better eating like a pig. How soon did you see results? Is after the first shot really to soon to take notice??

    Best wishes,
    Joann and Kuma


  7. Joann & Kuma says:

    Hi Trish,

    A Kuma update, Unfortunately the melanoma vaccine was not quite as effective with Kuma. Right after Kuma’s 4th melanoma vaccine the tumors returned. It does seem that it has kept it at bay a little. He drools an awful lot now and I decided to try the Leukeran like you did to help shrink the tumors. I know in your blog you mentioned it was a matter of days that you saw one of Siwa’s tumors get smaller. But what were some of the side effects while on this chemo pill? I have to admit I have been using your Siwa blog as a reference this whole time on how to treat Kuma’s melanoma cancer. It has been a big help to Kuma and I and we even have a picture of Siwa on my refrigerator as a inspiration to give us strengh for Kuma and I.

    Best wishes,
    Joann and Kuma


  8. Melissa says:

    word to the wise NEVER take yr dog to the vet on yr B’day! This was not a surprise I wanted. My 11 yr old Blk lab was diognosed with melanoma. He has one his lip, and I am pretty sure one in his chest becuz he sometimes act as if he is trying to cough up a furball. In reading the post about jaw removals, and chemo, radition and 600 dollar shots, I am blown away with the fact that people would put their beloved dogs through that. When I got the word I knew I would do what I could for him health wise to help his body fight but at the time when his struggle becomes his norm I will be with him to say goodbye as I have for many others over the years. They are already good so they don’t have to b here long, dogs I mean. They have so much to teach if we would ONLY pay attention…….


  9. jack Kerouac says:

    My Chocolate Lab Jack Kerouac Was Diagnosed With Oral Melanoma In March, Just Two Months After I Adopted Him. He Had A Mandibular EctomY With Clean Margins And Bounced Back To His Normal Lab Temperament Immediately. He Had Four Vaccines And Just Had His First Sixth Month Booster. He Appears Healthier Than I Have Ever Seen Him. The Financial Investment Has Been Substantial But His Quality Of Life Is Excellent. I Am KeepinG The Faith And Wishing Everyone Out There With A Furry Friend The Best In Conquering This Cancer.


Leave a Reply

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.