Battling Cancer - Annie's Story

PetMD Editorial
Updated: May 05, 2014
Published: January 24, 2012
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With a Little Help from Her Friends, Annie Sage Found Love and Health

Annie Sage might appear to the untrained eye like your standard, slightly walleyed Chihuahua, but the story of her winning battle with cancer is quite remarkable, and the fact that Annie has two talented actor parents lends an air of "celebreality" to her tale.

Annie’s story begins in 2004, when she and two younger Chihuahuas were surrendered to Pet Orphans, a Van Nuys, California animal shelter, by an owner who could no longer provide sufficient care. Many of the animals at Pet Orphans receive multiple adoption applications, but while Annie’s Chihuahua companions were adopted immediately, Annie was left behind, enduring three months of being overlooked for adoption. Fortunately she had Judy, a Pet Orphans volunteer, lovingly looking after her while she waited.

When Judy and her husband David first met Annie, they were recovering from the tragic loss of their Papillion, Tess. Getting a new dog was not something they were planning for,  but Judy bonded with Annie immediately and wondered who would adopt this sad, little dog. The odds were not in Annie’s favor due to her senior status, unusual appearance, and timid demeanor.

Although Judy was still grief stricken by the loss of Tess, she took Annie home for an overnight stay. The previously shy Annie made herself right at home. After watching TV with David and Judy, Annie disappeared into another room; she had gone to their bedroom and put herself to bed. At that moment, Judy realized that Annie was the perfect dog for them. Shortly after Annie joined the family, two more rescue dogs — Christopher and Louie — were added to the mix.

In November 2010, Annie was diagnosed with bladder cancer (Transitional Cell Carcinoma, or TCC).  Identifying TCC can be difficult, as symptoms are subtle and mimic signs of a urinary tract infection. This was the case with Annie, but her symptoms were persistent enough that additional tests were performed, revealing the TCC.

Judy and David were devastated. Judy’s first instinct was to take action and fight. For David, Annie’s diagnosis brought back memories of his dad’s battle with cancer. David was pessimistic about Annie’s prognosis, but he still wanted to know the treatment options. A meeting with a veterinary oncologist led them to understand that Annie still had a chance, and that she would have minimal to no side effects from her cancer treatments. In fact, if Annie did as well as the average dog with TCC, the treatments would provide an improved quality of life for her.

David and Judy elected to treat Annie with the recommended combination of surgery and chemotherapy, and indeed, Annie rarely showed any noticeable side effects.

Once her cancer was controlled, many of her urinary tract symptoms resolved.  Almost one year later, Annie is doing well and shows no overt signs of having cancer. 

Many people with older pets might face a circumstance similar to that of Judy and David and come to a different conclusion. There are many factors unique to each case and not all animals have the same treatment options or prognosis. For Judy and David, the potential for a good outcome outweighed the negatives of allowing the cancer to go untreated.

When asked why she and David chose to treat Annie’s cancer, Judy’s affirms her optimistic outlook in stating, "I never had money greet me at the door with a wagging tail and a kiss." So far, Annie’s tail has not stopped wagging.

About Annie’s Caretakers:

Judith (Judy) Helton, is an award winning actress who has been writing and performing one-woman shows since 1975. Her professional theater credits include work in resident acting companies in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Houston and San Diego.  She continues to perform her historically accurate, one-woman shows based on the lives of Abigail Adams, Beatrix Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Lotta Crabtree for elementary students in Southern California.

David Sage, an accomplished stage, film and screen actor, is Judy’s husband.  David has appeared in episodes of Seinfeld (the doctor whom Jerry’s dad accused of stealing his wallet), The Practice, Campus Cops, The West Wing, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in a featured role in The Bird Cage (Senator Eli Jackson).

This article was contributed by Annie Sage’s veterinarian, Avenelle Turner, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology).

Photo Credit: Ricardo Barrera