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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Riley the Dog Thrives Despite Soft Tissue Sarcoma and Lung Cancer

Updated: May 18th, 2022


This True Tail comes from Debra in Vernal, Utah. She has helped her Riley fight soft tissue sarcoma, Cushing’s disease, and lung cancer. Truly an amazing story!

In 2013, I felt a lump on my nine-year-old dog, Riley—a golden lab who rescued me in 2010. The second I felt it, I had the worst feeling in my gut. I had just lost my beloved dog Teek the week before after an intense three-year battle with degenerative myelopathy.

I begged the vet to see him right away.

He did, and he told me not to worry. He said there was a 99% chance it was benign, and I should just keep an eye on it and come back if it grew.

So, I went home. But this nagging feeling in my gut would not let up and I told the vet I wanted him to remove it right away. Which he did.

Nine-Year-Old Golden Lab: Soft Tissue Sarcoma

The pathology report came back a few days later: the lump was malignant. Riley had a rare, but highly aggressive cancer—a soft tissue sarcoma—that kills 95% of dogs who have it within 2-5 months after the tumor is removed. I was devastated. Absolutely devastated.

Immediate Research: Diet and Supplements

I had learned a lot from my journey with my dog Teek, and I knew that a holistic approach to healing had yielded astounding results, so starting with that mindset, I dug in and began to research alternatives for Riley.

The first thing I did was switch him to a fully raw diet. Prior to this, Riley had been on a dehydrated raw food diet, but I wanted him to be on the purest food possible, so switched to Darwin’s raw food. I had ordered Dr. Dressler’s book after reading about it online, and after devouring it, I started Riley on Apocaps,* organic curcumin, Essiac capsules, and six K9 Immunity Plus chews a day. I had used this product with Teek, with excellent results, so I actually started Riley on the chews the day I first felt his lump.

Remarkably, Riley (bless him!) did not die, and in fact, he continued to thrive. After the first year, I weened him down to a maintenance dose of 2 K9 Immunity chews. I went back to the more affordable Freeze-dried/Dehydrated raw food but kept him on a variety of holistic supplements that would continue to help strengthen his immune system.

A Miracle Dog

Let me say here, for the record, that Riley Sanders is a miracle dog. Or a dog full of miracles. Or both. I say this because in 2016 [three years after Riley’s diagnosis] we moved from New Mexico to a tiny town in the western mountains of North Carolina. We ended up moving into the only affordable place available: a little house with an incredible private trail that started in our driveway and continued straight up the mountain—something we took advantage of every single day. Right along with enjoying the trout stream that meandered through our back yard.

This was the most perfect place imaginable, with one exception. There was a large electrical substation right next door. I mean RIGHT next door. Because of that, I knew we’d have to move as soon as another place became available, no matter how much we loved that little house at the base of the mountain.

But no such place materialized.

Adrenal Tumor & Cushing’s Disease

About five months after moving in, Riley started having trouble walking on our hikes and his breathing seemed labored. By then it was summer, and I wondered if it was the humidity, something he was definitely not used to. But then he started peeing like a racehorse even though he wasn’t drinking that much water. And his breathing seemed too labored to be a function of the weather. I took him to a vet where an ultrasound revealed that he had a tumor on his adrenal gland. I was horrified. I had no doubt this was a function of the EMFs coming into our house from the substation.

After more tests and evaluation, Riley was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. The vet wanted to put him on all kinds of medications, but when I read about them, I found out they would cause all kinds of terrible side effects. I said NO and put my research hat back on.

Ultimately, after much trial and error, I discovered a miraculous product made by Standard Process called Canine Adrenal Support. Within days of taking it, all of Riley’s Cushing’s symptoms disappeared, and except for the one time I ran out and they returned with a vengeance, he’s exhibited no symptoms of this disease.

Despite looking for another affordable place to live, there still was nothing available to us in our small village. So, again I started researching and I found a company out of New Zealand that made several products that blocked the EMFs. Remarkably, they worked, but it would take another essay to tell the story of how I know that. You’ll just have to trust me on it!

Debra read Dr. D’s book to help Riley in 2013 with his soft tissue sarcoma, and again for lung cancer four years later. A must-read!

Four Years of Keeping Both Cancer and Cushing’s at Bay

For the next several years, Riley thrived. Homeopathic remedies healed a completely torn ACL without surgery, and his holistic routine seemed to be keeping both cancer and Cushing’s at bay. Life was good.

Then, I severely damaged my spine, and again, long story short, we ended up in Colorado. Prior to moving there, I had managed to get a waiver for Riley so that he didn’t have to get another rabies vaccine. But we were again living in a small mountain town and the only vet there would not honor the out-of-state waiver.

I was in way too much pain myself to go in search of a vet who would, and I pleaded with this vet to accept the waiver, citing Riley’s age (15) and history of multiple diseases, but he would not budge. He did a complete CBC and when all Riley’s numbers were perfect, he said if he didn’t have the vaccine and something happened, he’d put Riley down without question or pause.

I should have said no. I absolutely should have stood my ground. But I didn’t.

Vaccine … then Dementia and Breathing Problems

Prior to having the vaccine, Riley was walking at least an hour every day on steep hills. Within a month of having it, he couldn’t walk five minutes on flat ground (no exaggeration). And he couldn’t BREATHE. I mean, he really couldn’t breathe.

On top of this, he was confused. He acted like he had developed canine dementia. It didn’t occur to me right away, but when it did, it hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightning. These symptoms were all vaccine-related. I just knew it.

I immediately gave him one dose of Lyssin 200—a homeopathic remedy I always have on hand, and one frequently used to counteract the side effects of the vaccine. Indeed, within 24 hours of taking it, Riley’s lameness was about 80% reduced and his confusion was 100% gone (prior to this I didn’t dare let him outside alone to pee because he’d end up standing in the backyard dazed, like he didn’t realize where he was and didn’t know how to get back to the house).

But the breathing… oh my gosh, the breathing didn’t change at all. Back to the vet we went.

Finally, Lung Cancer

As I was afraid would happen, the rabies vaccine had completely overwhelmed Riley’s immune system and X-rays revealed a good-sized tumor resting on his lungs. I could not believe it. Five weeks earlier he had been hiking every single day and now my beloved Riley had lung cancer, with a two-to-three-month prognosis?

How was this even possible?

All I knew was that I had to find some combination of holistic medicine that would work for him.

Back to The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

As I had every time before, I pulled out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and re-familiarized myself with Dr. Dressler’s advice. I put him back on Darwin’s raw food. And then I started looking everywhere I could for answers as to what might give Riley a fighting chance to survive this new diagnosis of primary lung cancer.

Well, that was almost eighteen months ago, and my beautiful, now almost seventeen-year-old Riley is still by my side and still walking almost every day (not hiking but walking none the less).

This time around it has been a complex combination of things that has given us this extra time together. He is on many (many) Chinese herbs known for their efficacy with lung cancer. He takes a high-quality CBD product, and he continues on the two K9 Medicinal products. I’ve added Boswellia and Cats Claw to his curcumin supplement, along with melatonin for his Cushing’s Disease. And, of course, he continues on the Canine Adrenal Supplement. He is also on multiple supplements to help with his arthritis.

We’ve had to move again, but the good news is we found a vet who respects my choice to utilize a holistic approach to healing. A recent X-ray showed that Riley’s tumor continues to grow and is now pushing on his heart, causing it to enlarge slightly. So, I added another Standard Process supplement to his regiment, this one for the heart.

He’s a Fighter, So I Give Him Every Chance

I love this dog’s spirit. He is such a fighter. But, this said, I’ve little doubt that had I gone the traditional medicine route as recommended, he would not still be with me today.

For the record, I did not start out knowing about holistic healing. Teek was my first teacher when we found a vet who utilized Chinese herbs and acupuncture to treat his degenerative myelopathy. After that, Riley became my teacher when he was first diagnosed with cancer and I read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide cover to cover. That book gave me a solid foundation from which to continue researching and exploring alternatives to surgery and/or medications with grave side effects.

This journey of ours, Riley’s and mine, has not been easy. It has not been inexpensive, and it has not been without its peril and anxieties. But it has, without question, been one of the richest, most wonderful journeys of my life.

Advice to People Fighting Dog Cancer: Breathe and Read!

If I had one piece of advice to offer to other people devastated by the news that their beloved dog has cancer, it would be to take a deep, deep breath and trust themselves to seek answers that might not be available through their traditional vets.

I’d recommend starting that journey with Dr. Dressler’s book and all the videos and information available through the Dog Cancer Blog (which I am still learning from).

I will never forgive myself for capitulating to that vet who bullied me into allowing Riley to have the rabies vaccine. That said, at least I know that since that awful day I have done my very best to find alternatives to traditional medicine that will help him continue to enjoy a well-lived, well-loved life. And in return, he remains by my side in defiance of all prognostics.

Nearly 17 and Two Times Cancer Survivor, Riley Remains a Most Joyful Dog

On our last visit, this new and very compassionate vet said: “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it. I’ve never, ever seen a dog with lung cancer survive this long. Not even a young dog.” Then she looked at Riley and shook her head. Smiling, she looked back at me and said, “He is truly the most joyful dog!”

“That he is,” I said. “He is a most joyful dog.”

And that, more than anything, makes my heart happy.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Riley Turns 17 on March 8, 2021!

Debra just sent us this note:

Hi! I just wanted to send this Molly’s way and let her know Riley is still with me. I feel so incredibly blessed and lucky to be able to celebrate this day!!! – Debra

EDITOR’S UPDATE: May 18, 2022

Debra just sent us this note:

Riley died at 12:07 this afternoon.

I have no words…..just no words…..

Thank you for all the help I’ve gotten from all your emails and blogs and videos over the last several years.

Much love,

Debra S. Sanders
Vernal, UT

What a fighter Riley was, Debra! We are so grateful that you shared his story with us and our readers. Your dedication and love is completely inspirational.

Please accept our heartfelt condolences from everyone here at Team Dog.

Molly Jacobson, Editor, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and Dog Cancer News

*Links to other sites may be affiliate links, please see our disclosure page for details.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Melba & Curtiss on March 22, 2021 at 5:11 am

    We have a 14 yr 3 mo old female Brittany. She is currently diagnosed with liver cancer – that diagnosis is based on a swiss cheese looking tumor on/in her liver which showed up on an ultra sound. We downloaded and put into action The Dog Cancer Diet. She initially began eating again. We were excited beyond words. She has, however, quit eating again. We have her on Zophran to control nausea and Entyce to stimulate appetite. Our vet stopped vaccines several years ago.

    We set out a buffet every day – everything from pot roast, baked chicken, fresh treats of chicken, and then a variety of canned food because she happened to eat almost a full can of it after about 3 days of of less than a cup of food.

    I do not know what to do… we are slowly losing this baby. She is a rescue we adopted when she was 9 months old. Her only health issue was an auto-immune issue in her mouth that caused her to lose all of her teeth. Her best friend passed away last July, a juvenile diabetic (since 12 mo old), insulin dependent following venous blood tests 2Xs/day, diagnosed with diffuse liver cancer 10 mo before she passed. She has our 7-8 yr old male Brittany rescue that she still mothers. It is destroying us watching her hardly eat anything. Might someone have a suggestion or two??? Whatever we do now must be quick…

  2. Pat Wallace on March 15, 2021 at 6:40 am

    What an inspiring story! Happy birthday, dear Riley!

  3. DEENA NICK on March 14, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Happy birthday Riley!!!!!!

  4. Susanna Jaeger on March 14, 2021 at 8:46 am

    Happy 17th Birthday to Riley, and all the Birthdays celebrated by other surviving cancer dogs.

    I am worried about my rescue dog Balto. Friday he went to Doggie Daycare, and on our way home, I felt to lumps ~ one each on top and to the sides of his nose. He is 10 years, 7 months, and has many bumps & lumps which I have our Vets check out. With Covid-19, getting appointments has really slowed down, yet I called and left a message for our Vet Hospital today asking for an appointment asap. As a Rescue, Balto has had a difficult life. His first ‘owners’ {they were not parents, except at least they brought this beautiful flea-infested, wild boy to the local Humane Society, instead of dumping him somewhere. He had one name until he arrived at the Humane Society, then given another similar name (as another dog there had his name). He was 10 months young then. After two months, 2 shavings and treatment for untreated infestation of fleas, and being neutered, he was ready for display. That was the day we came. He wasn’t even out, yet we saw a photo of him in a book the Humane Society had. With most hair short, except around he head, he looked like a lion. And big! He looked huge!

    We asked to see him, and we went to a play area outside, where he demonstrated his enjoyment of humping, and showed his great strength. We talked with Staff, did some contemplation, and decided on this guy who is mostly Newfoundland. After a week or so, we brought him home, only to find out what a terror he was! My friend and I both had quick thoughts of taking him back, yet we didn’t say this to each other until later, having decided to work with him. We realized early on that Balto, our Alaskan name for him, had been not only neglected but also badly abused. He would go after my hands, and after my friend’s feet. She had MS and used a walking stick a fair amount, so we surmised he’d been beaten with a cane, and hands or something held. He would also run across the yard and like a goat, butt me in the legs and knock me over. We could not turn our backs on him.

    We did Healing Touch for Animals with Balto for two years, taking the Animal and Human classes ourselves. We’d lost our last dog, Kenai, to Sarcoma at age 8 3/4 years, yet after diagnosis, the taking of his leg [which he’d already compensated for], he was up and pulling us 2 days after his surgery. One of our Vets did holistic medicine for dogs, so we fed him home cooked food, adding coconut oil to his diet, and to be licked from our hands, for connection. He had nearly 6 good, lively months before he succumbed to lung cancer. With 3 legs, he could run and catch his frisbee, and swim and retrieve it. Yet when Kenai’s end came, it came over the course or q weekend.

    Now, with these two lumps on top of his nose, some sneezing through the Winter and up until a couple weeks ago, and his eye weeping [which it has always done], I am worried. His other parent is gone, and he has saved this family member many times, and we are bonded. I don’t want to lose him, as he is my life, and he has been here for me during the last nearly 5 years. I don’t know what I would do without him, and after losing Kenai, it took me 3 months before I could even look at another dog, for though of adoption; and, 4 months before being somewhat willing to go out and look.

    As said earlier, he has a lot of lumps and bumps, and I’ve had his breathing checks, bloodwork done, and many tests on the lumps. The soft tissue lump Balto had on his upper nose, closer to his Left eye and about an inch across, was tested, then left as it was, with the thought it would grow larger if drained . . . now, after my feeling these new lumps, I find the old lump feels diminished if not gone.

    The 2 new bumps are across from each other, on the bridge of the nose, nearer the nostrils, versus where the older lump was nearer to the Right eye. These came up quickly, and I understand cancer in dogs can come up same way. Very quickly. So I hope to get these tested, and if cancerous, hope the holistic Veterinarian is still working. She is one of four founders of this clinic.

    Of course, I do not know what is happening yet. When I find out, I may well be reaching out. For now, I would be grateful for suggestions. We came to this website back in late 2010 or early 2011 seeking help for Kenai, and have been receiving emails ever since.

    Thank you for your website and the help given to so many over the years.

  5. Celena on March 13, 2021 at 11:59 pm

    My dog was dx with lung cancer a month ago. Our vet gave us no options but to keep him comfortable. I started researching and purchased dog cancer survival guide. Changed his diet to home cooked based on the guide and freeze dried raw and Fenbendazole. Dink is doing well except for a terrible chronic cough that cough pills do not help. I have not found information on how to control his coughing. Can someone suggest something to help the cough.

  6. Susan Haseley on December 12, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    Thank you so much for the story about Riley.This was incredibly encouraging,as my lab ,Luke has mast cell carcinoma.He has been my wonderful companion now for ten years.Its been difficult,but we together with diet ,cbd and curcumin are making good progress.

    • Debra S. Sanders on March 13, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      Hi Susan,

      I just wanted to mention that one of the supplements I give Riley is something my holistic vet said she uses ALL the time with dogs with mast cell carcinomas and has had excellent results. It’s called Wei Qi Booster. My vet orders it and I buy it from her.

      Also, the herbs I think have worked so well to keep Riley with me come from an Etsy Store called Kingdom of Basil. The vet who owns it makes her own herbs and she has excellent articles on which to use for various cancers. I think the Wei Qi Booster and the herbs I get from Kingdom of Basil have made a huge (HUGE) difference.

      I wish you equally good luck and success with Luke!!!! <3

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