Thursday, August 20, 2009

Meggie’s Story by Cindy Taylor

I was in a meeting at work when a colleague tracked me down, phone message in hand. Call your doctor, it said, and further down the note was the phone number of my veterinarian, Dr Debbie Cowan (NCSU DVM - 93). A chill went through me. Three nights before I’d felt swollen glands under my nine-year-old golden retriever’s neck, the next morning, a trip to the vet’s office, then a fine needle aspirate. With tears in her voice, I heard Dr Cowan say, “Meggie has lymphoma.” It was January 2008 and the next week a biopsy confirmed the results. Without hesitating, we had an appointment with the NCSU vet school oncologists and Meggie’s journey began.

Meggie was my son’s dog. Chosen from her litter at 4 weeks old, she came to live with us a few weeks later and this family of two suddenly couldn’t remember what life was like without a golden retriever to share it. Now nine years later, my son was a sophomore at NCSU and Meggie had become my dog, my reason to come home each day. I wasn’t ready to face life without her.

The oncologists were straight to the point; no treatment meant Meggie had 4-6 weeks to live. Unacceptable. Steroid treatment alone could give her a couple months. Not enough time. Full chemotherapy followed by half-body radiation treatments was the best they could offer at the time. A year, maybe more if we were lucky. “Go for it,” I said.

Meggie‘s chemo was complicated by her heart murmur and a difficult reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Also she was diagnosed t-cell lymphoma, the more aggressive form, but her remission came fast and it stuck. By the summer of 2008, Megs had finished radiation and though her beautiful coat came out by the handful, she was by all accounts, well and cancer free.

By the fall of 2008 her coat was coming back and the itch she’d developed in the hot summer months was subsiding. Still during the weekend of Thanksgiving, I knew something was terribly wrong. An emergency trip to Raleigh found Meggie admitted to ICU with aspiration pneumonia and a diagnosis of megaesophagus. Had her lymphoma returned undetected? Oncology resident Dr Angela McCleary-Wheeler worked tirelessly, questioning, researching, and looking for an answer and a treatment. No lymphoma was found, but a neurological condition, myasthenia gravis, was later determined. I was told that megaesophagus dogs don’t usually live long, but with new methods of feeding Meggie, we adjusted and amazingly Meggie’s energy returned to pre-cancer levels. The weeks of questioning had brought about a realization: Meggie was alive 11 months after a diagnosis of t-cell lymphoma. “A miracle,” the oncologists said.

With Meggie’s renewed spirit I began to count the months. Her year anniversary came and went and we decided it was time to think about giving back.

Ironically, the month before Meggie was diagnosed, I had read of Morris Animal Foundation’s Cure Canine Cancer Campaign. I ordered Meggie a dog tag that contributed and learned of the connection between canine cancer and human cancer. A cure for one is a cure for both.

Knowing that our local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life would be held in the spring, I wanted Meggie to walk the Survivor Lap. Would a dog be allowed? I emailed the organizers and found the reaction overwhelming. They would be thrilled for Meggie to participate! I immediately created her a Relay event page and posted it on the Golden Retriever Forum, whose members had been my emotional support during Meggie’s treatment. Within minutes, donations began to add up. What fun, I thought; Meggie can raise some money for cancer research.

Within twenty-four hours, Meggie had exceeded her $200 goal and still the donations came. People began donating in memory of their beloved dogs lost to this devastating disease, and in honor of the dogs that currently shared their lives.

Soon a new idea evolved; Meggie’s Survivor Lap would embrace the memory of the dogs on her fundraising scroll. Her purple survivor shirt was altered to fit and it began to quickly fill with names like, Bailey, Chance, Tess and Riley.

One member wrote a news release and shared it with local and national media. The Winston-Salem television station, WXII, picked up the story and posted it on their web page. Meggie was invited on their morning show the day of the Relay and the evening news covered her lap, which she proudly led as the Stokes County Relay for Life official mascot.

Meggie collected donations from 28 states, Canada, The United Kingdom and Australia. The $3907 she raised was the highest of any individual to walk in her event this year.

The messages from people telling me how much Meggie means to them, by surviving the odds, walking Relay, being an ambassador of hope, helping educate others on the connection between canine cancer and human cancer keep coming. The evening of the Relay, Meggie rode into the high school stadium in her wagon lovingly decorated by people involved in the event, people we had never personally met. All around we heard excited voices saying, “There’s Meggie!” “Meggie’s here!” and “I saw her on the news!”

Meggie is now 11-years-old and maintaining her remission. She is still my reason to come home each day and I am greeted with joy and bouncing and golden smiles. But she no longer belongs to just me. I share her with the people around the world who call her their hero. And for one special night in May, I shared her with the people of Stokes County, North Carolina.


Mareike said...

That was a wonderful story, it brought tears to my eyes. My lab mix was diagnosed with cancer a month ago, and I'm doing everything I can for him, because I too am not ready to come home and he's not there. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

Sparky's Mom

Cindy Taylor said...

Meggie's Relay donations hit $4000 just this week. Her page is still active until the end of August -

Thank you for sharing Meggie's story - and thank you for making more and more people aware of the connection our devoted family pets have to human cancer. I am humbled by Luke's devotion to this cause.

Jack the Schnauzer's Canine Cancer Journey said...

What a lovely story - I hope your beautiful Meggie will have a long and happy remission.

Cindy Taylor said...

Thank you. We hope so too. Meggie ahs recently been asked to be the Grand Marshall at 2 Bark for Life events in NC during the month of November 2009. I hope she can continue to educate people about canine cancer and the need to fund a cure.

Kathy said...

I'm all choked up ready Meggie's and your story. What an ambassador she is! Our Bullmastiff Maddie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma the end of January, our first trip was to a specialist who gave us no hope and said she'd be gone within three months. We took her to University of Penn Veterinary Hospital where they amputated her right front leg and she went through six rounds of chemo. As of July 2nd she is cancer free!!! She goes back in October for another lung scan and repeat blood work. She is so happy and full of life! She just ran (half way around) the lure for the cure at Fido's Festival a couple of weeks ago. We are praying for good news next month:) We hope Meggie continues to stay healthy:)

Cindy Taylor said...

Kathy - So glad you went to a vet school for a second opinion. They truly are doing amazing things!

It's wonderful that Maddie and Megs are both being ambassadors to educate people about the treatments available for our canine family members. I think people listen when our dogs show them what they can do! Their spirit is just incredible.

Best of luck at your next checkup - we have one tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Wow!! Its really beautiful story. Thanks for shear

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Pi Beta Phi- Jackson/ Metro Alumnae Club said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Smith said...

Thank you so much for this story! I have such a heart for Golden's, as I have had 6 of them in my 25 years. Out of those 6, only one of them didn't have cancer in some form or fashion. We've had cancer in toes, ears, bones, lungs.. but the hardest loss came from my sweet Chloe. She was a rescue and we only had her for 5 years. We knew that she had severe dysplasia in both hips and thought a hip replacement would be necessary at some point. Unfortunately, bone cancer in one hip set in and she was gone within a week. The vets at MSU said that the cancer spread so fast and, ultimately, reached her lungs to where she was unable to breathe. She was a girl of such a personality and there's not a day that goes by that I don't remember her.

Thank you for helping me remember my Chloe.