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.
Debra S. Sanders
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
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Molly Jacobson is a writer and also the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, published by Maui Media. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting readers of this blog since the beginning. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. Her fascination with health is both personal and global, and she is most proud of how this site and the associated publications have revolutionized not only our approach to dog health, but our own health.