Yep. For those of you following the saga of my ten year-old French Bulldog and her brain tumor the news is in: Sophie Sue is officially 100% done with her radiation treatments.

The upshot? It’s no stretch to say that six weeks and 18 radiation sessions later Sophie Sue is a new dog.

From an emaciated dog too weak to stand upright or swallow her home-cooked meals to a robust, rowdy Frenchie plumped to perfection after being plied with all manner of juicy tidbits handed her by anyone who knows her.

For your reading pleasure, here’s a recap of Sophie’s recent past:

Sophie rang in the new year inauspiciously with a debilitatingly painful neck. Surgery for two “slipped” intervertebral discs proved a resounding success; Soph was in top form by February.

Four months later, Sophie collapsed after a long day of uneventful slumber. Her low blood sugar and relatively high insulin levels after this and other, increasingly frequent events like it pointed to an insulinoma, an insulin-secreting tumor whose diagnosis is notoriously elusive. 

She began her quest for healing with a well-intentioned, if ultimately misguided attempt to solve the forecast concern—so much for the collective wisdom of veterinary medicine.

Three veterinary specialists’ recommendation suggested we either CT her or, preferably, considering the ultrasound study suggested the possibility of a nodule on her pancreas (not to mention the expense of the CT scan), perform an exploratory to visually inspect and biopsy her innards.

In the end the abdominal surgery yielded little but a collection of negative findings, suggesting the evolving condition might well be neurological (as was increasingly obvious the case).

By this time things were deteriorating severely with Sophie’s lethargy, chronic wobbliness and frequent episodes of stiff-limbed collapse leading her veterinary team to conclude that an MRI (better than a CT for identifying brain and spinal cord tumors) was indeed indispensable.

A horrible, prednisone-infused weekend later (during which time I frequently assumed she would die in my arms), she received her MRI and the brains tumor was


So now for the decision: How to kill the cluster of cells causing her decline…

Veterinary neurologists and oncologists were prevailed upon, MRI images were sent out by email and favors were called in. Despite the prevalence of differing opinions (so you know, 10 docs = 20 opinions), one statement was a constant: “Don’t talk her out of radiation.”

Sophie’s eighteen doses of radiation was the sticking point. Wasn’t there any option that wouldn’t require me to stress her (and me) out with eighteen anesthetic procedures (in six weeks!) and thirty-six trips to a hospital two hours away?—not to mention the enormous expense of it all…

Hmmm…maybe not. A bird in the hand, you know?

Up first, the CT:

As if an MRI wasn’t enough (because it wasn’t), a CT scan was required to determine the tumor’s geographic boundaries. A linear accelerator, the tool that produces the radiation, was then synchronized to the tune of the CT’s landmarks for precise irradiation of the tumor at its exact location.

And then the seemingly endless visits:

Three mornings a week Sophie was driven to Cooper City Animal Medical Center to the Veterinary Specialists of South Florida where the linear accelerator lives. She was given an inhalant drug (isofluorane) to induce anesthesia via mask, thereby skipping the one step Sophie abhors: IV catheter placement.

Eighteen times.

The first couple of visits she resisted in her stoic way (by shivering at drop-off). The next sixteen? Nada. Inexplicably, Soph seemed to enjoy her visits almost as much as the staff clearly enjoyed having her there.

On her last drop-off, armed with a gigantico Tupperware container full of assorted home baked goodies, I left her off and superstitiously crossed my fingers. Not that visit eighteen should be any different than any other, but Murphy’s Law being more the rule than the exception where another vet’s pet is the patient, I felt justified in stressing—not that Sophie seemed to mind…

And now I’ve got a healthy dog—well, sort of. The brain tumor’s still there. It’s still lurking somewhere in her brainstem in a broken, battered sort of way. It’s going to come back, no matter what we do. But Sophie’s beaten the odds—if only by virtue of having belonged to someone with the means to give the tumor a good fight.

Ten years ago my seven year-old boxer, Bruno, suffered the same sort of condition—presumably, that is. Back then there was far less attention paid to the survival of pets post brain tumor diagnosis.

Just one decade.

Sure, it’s expensive—prohibitively so for most at about $12,000 (retail) from start to finish (including the initial misdiagnosis and surgery)—but it’s absolutely doable. And the prognosis is generally good. 50% of these patients live a year beyond their radiation treatments (that’s more than a tenth of their lives, on average). The other 50% don’t respond so well.

I can only hope Sophie will again beat the odds set before her. For now, she’s back to her happy old self. All I’ve got to do at present is curb the calories.

Shouldn’t be too hard. For starters, all that “poor Sophie, have another guava pastry” behavior will have to cease. It sure won’t be pleasant, whittling her waistline down to size, but if I’ve learned one thing since January it’s that there are far worse battles to fight.