Imagine a very sweet 14-year-old chocolate lab “who shuffles around and looks like he’s a hundred,” according to Kristine Burgess DVM, MS, DACVIM, veterinary oncologist at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “His owner is crazy in love with him, … and he was diagnosed with lymphoma.”
“Babushe is my first pet and my only love,” owner Adele Goss of Providence, Rhode Island, said. “I do everything for him. It’s over the top, but I really don’t care. When I found out Babushe had lymphoma, I immediately took him to Cummings School.”
“Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers we see in the Oncology service,” Dr. Burgess explained. Also common in people, the dog form is analogous to non-Hodgkin’s disease in humans. Pet owners tend to notice swellings under the jaw or behind the legs, and that’s usually how the pets are diagnosed. “The bad news is your dog has cancer; the good news is they typically respond to treatment.”
You can imagine how worried and upset Goss felt when she learned that the regular treatments of chemotherapy Babushe was receiving were only partially resolving his cancer.
“Babushe started on a chop-standard protocol,” Dr. Burgess said, “and we moved him over to an investigational drug, VDC1101.”
Extensively studied clinically at universities and research institutions across the country several years ago, including at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, VDC1101’s effectiveness as a drug treatment for cancer has been proven for both people and dogs. The Cummings School is one of just a few institutions that has the drug available; the school is part of a trial for compassionate use of the drug, which means animals’ tolerability, responsiveness, and the owner’s perception of quality of life is being examined before the drug will be made commercially available.
“We knew VDC1101 worked, but it’s not yet commercially available for dogs,” Dr. Burgess said. “We hope it will be soon.”
“It seemed nothing worked,” Goss said. “I was so worried. The first round of chemo didn’t work. And then I met Dr. Burgess—she has a chocolate lab. She fell in love with Babushe. She told me there was an alternative drug. There wouldn’t have been an alternative drug anywhere else. So, we did it. And when we came back for our next visit, they came out and said, ‘She’s great! The cancer shrunk!’”
As Babushe continued with several rounds of VDC1101 treatments, the veterinary team at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals noticed he was walking funny, particularly having trouble with his hind legs. As a full-service institution, the Oncology service connected Babushe with the Neurology service, and they were able to treat underlying medical issues that may have otherwise affected Babushe’s ability to tolerate and respond to cancer treatment.
“A stand-alone Oncology department wouldn’t have been able to have the immediate input and collaboration we have here at Cummings School,” Dr. Burgess said. “We’re able to look at the pet as a group. It’s a dream-team approach to care.”
Goss agrees. She related her experience in the waiting room, noting how kind the other pet owners and staff were, and the multiple times she spoke one-on-one with veterinary specialists, one even phoning in a penicillin prescription late at night to her local CVS for Babushe.
“The personal connection and tenderness shown throughout this whole ordeal has been so reassuring. I was so nervous. They greet you and calm you down. Dedicated—those are the kind of people you meet at Tufts. They healed me too,” Goss said.
With compassionate care, a committed and caring owner, and access to a groundbreaking drug treatment, 14-year-old Babushe was in good hands—and good health.
“Old age is not a disease,” Dr. Burgess said. “In veterinary medicine, our goal is quality of life, always. At his last exam, Babushe was deemed to be in complete clinical remission, and his quality of life is very, very good.”