Friday, May 22, 2015

A Hedgehog's fight against cancer gives hope to us all (Pt. 1)

Unfortunately, Julie's hedgehog Kali had to be put down recently.  Kali had breast cancer.  It was identified in October of 2014, the same week Julie reluctantly adopted the hedgehog.  A friend of a friend unloaded the creature on Julie when he felt in over his head caring for this deceptively exotic animal.  It turned out that he was right, because he wasn't aware that she had a large tumor.

This isn't really a negative story, though.  Instead of focusing on her death, consider how well her life was extended.   First, a vet performed a mastectomy to remove the primary mass.  Although they were thorough it was clearly already malignant.  It had spread and it would be back.  No surgery could change this.  The vet suggested that we consider a Deslorelin implant.  This is a device that slowly releases a chemical that instructs a body to cease releasing estrogen.  Though primarily intended as a birth control device, the vet offered it because it could dramatically slow the return of Kali's cancer if it was an estrogen dependent variety.  As it turned out, hers was.  Some quick math: a 500 g animal had a 100 g tumor.  Because of medical intervention, she lived 34 months instead of 29.  A fifth of her body weight was cancer and she had her life extended by 15%.

Following her masectomy, the tumor was analyzed in order to understand it's specific flaws so that we could better predict how fast it would regrow and what weaknesses it might have.  Rather than charge us for the services of a pathologist, the vet gave the tumor to Julie and allowed her to consult a coworker who called in a favor from an experienced pathologist at City of Hope.  Kali was fortunate to receive their services: City of Hope is one of the best cancer treatment centers in the world.  Remarkably, the pathologist retained the tumor for training purposes for two months.  Perhaps even more remarkably, the pathologist then returned it to Julie afterwards, as she assumed -- rightly -- that Julie would like to retain such a remarkable biological specimen.

Hedgehogs are both nocturnal and naturally unfriendly.  The most frequent involvement I had with Kali was listening to her start her nighttime jog each evening around 11 PM.  I was surprised as anyone to learn that hedgehogs are avid runners.  Kali had a large wheel which she used every night for hours.  It was one of the few things which brought her obvious joy, and she was able to indulge in months of nighttime runs which were only possible because of advancements in the field of oncology.  This post is the first of several discussing the consequences of cancer and of cancer treatment.

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