PG 50 UN­BREAK­ABLE BONDS

Pets (Singapore) - - Contents - BY CHRISTIANN PRIYANKA

Giv­ing up has never been an op­tion for Unisa Chu, whose beloved Golden Retriever, Jam, sur­vived ag­gres­sive skin cancer.

De­spite los­ing his nose and up­per jaw to cancer, 15-year-old Goldie, Jam, con­tin­ues to be the spir­ited, charm­ing gen­tle­man he’s al­ways been.

it’s no doubt star­tling to see a dog with­out a nose. But look past his ap­pear­ance and you’d never know Jam had cancer. The 15-year-old Golden Retriever still be­haves like a young pup—he play­fully sneaks up on his pawrent Unisa Chu, 42, an of­fice man­ager, as she’s get­ting into her car; and makes puppy eyes to score treats. See­ing how spir­ited he is, who would have thought that just eight months ago, the Goldie was given three to six months to live?

SWEET BE­GIN­NINGS

When Unisa first brought Jam home in 2003, he was ev­ery­thing she had hoped for in a furkid—and more. He had such a sweet de­meanour that Unisa de­cided to name him af­ter some­thing sweet.

When fel­low Goldie, Ba­con, joined the pack 13 years ago, Jam wel­comed him with open paws and nary a hint of jeal­ousy. “Jam is the eas­i­est dog any­one could have. He has al­ways show­ered me with love and sleeps be­side me when I’m work­ing at home. He also waits pa­tiently for treats with­out be­ing de­mand­ing,” shares Unisa. To her, this lov­ing Goldie fur-mily was all she could ask for.

CANCER STRIKES

Last year, Unisa no­ticed some anom­alies in Jam while tak­ing pho­tos of him. One of his nos­trils was a bit larger than the other, and was slightly dis­coloured. The Goldie also seemed to be suf­fer­ing from a re­cur­ring runny nose, fre­quent nose­bleeds, and de­vel­oped in­or­di­nately loud snor­ing. Unisa felt some­thing was amiss and brought him to the vet last July. She was crushed when Jam was di­ag­nosed with squa­mous cell car­ci­noma—a type of skin

cancer. Cancer cells were also found in the pooch’s lymph nodes later on.

It was very dif­fi­cult for Unisa to ac­cept Jam’s di­ag­no­sis ini­tially. It wasn’t ob­vi­ous that the se­nior Goldie was sick be­cause he didn’t be­have any dif­fer­ently. She couldn’t believe that her cheer­ful, af­fec­tion­ate pooch had cancer.

Jam’s vet gave him a gloomy prog­no­sis: The pup had three to six months to live. In des­per­a­tion, Unisa took time off work to bring her beloved furkid to seven dif­fer­ent vets and ve­teri­nary cancer spe­cial­ists for more opin­ions and treat­ment op­tions, spend­ing over $20,000 in the process. To her, this wasn’t sac­ri­fice—it was some­thing she had to do. Even­tu­ally, treat­ment op­tions came down to ei­ther im­munother­apy us­ing nat­u­ral killer cells, or a no­sec­tomy (am­pu­ta­tion of the nose).

Unisa spent quite some time con­vinc­ing her fam­ily mem­bers that a no­sec­tomy was Jam’s best shot at beat­ing the cancer. Even on the day of surgery, she had friends telling her not to go ahead with it. “I had peo­ple ad­vis­ing me to put him down, and an­other vet sug­gested pal­lia­tive treat­ment con­sid­er­ing his old age. It made me fu­ri­ous. I don’t think they un­der­stood how much Jam meant to me. Giv­ing up on him was never an op­tion,” she says.

Giv­ing Jam the best qual­ity of life was Unisa’s main pri­or­ity, and a no­sec­tomy of­fered a com­plete re­moval of the cancer cells. Hence, her mind was made up—she and her fam­ily were go­ing to bat­tle the cancer along­side Jam.

STAR GOLDIE

De­spite opt­ing for surgery, choos­ing a no­sec­tomy was one of the hard­est de­ci­sions Unisa ever had to make. “When Jam walked out by him­self to the clinic re­cep­tion area af­ter surgery, the shock of see­ing him was real. His fea­tures had changed dras­ti­cally and al­though I had tried to men­tally pre­pare for it, it was still trau­ma­tis­ing,” ad­mits Unisa.

A true fighter, Jam showed lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of his ill­ness. Even on the day of his no­sec­tomy, the Goldie was ex­tremely calm. It was only dur­ing the early stages of re­cov­ery that he didn’t like the sur­gi­cal site be­ing touched be­cause it was sore.

The wound was very raw post-surgery; it took two weeks to heal su­per­fi­cially and an­other two months for the fur to grow over the sur­gi­cal site. Al­though his nasal bones have been re­moved, Jam is still able to breathe through a hole in what­ever re­mains of his snout. How­ever, some­times ob­jects get lodged in the hole when he sniffs too vig­or­ously.

Suf­fer­ing from cancer and hav­ing part of his face re­moved has never damp­ened Jam’s spir­its. He’s still as play­ful and greedy as ever. Unisa reck­ons that Jam doesn’t even know he’s miss­ing a nose and his up­per jaw. “Al­though Jam is un­able to pick up food with his mouth and has to be hand-fed, it seems to have only made him hap­pier. I think Jam is happy as long as there’s an endless sup­ply of food!” says Unisa with a laugh.

Be­ing a sen­si­tive and lov­ing breed, it didn’t take long for Ba­con to realise that his “brother” was un­well. Al­though Ba­con is usu­ally the more de­mand­ing of the two Golden Retriev­ers, he be­came

more af­fec­tion­ate to Jam post-surgery. He would gen­tly sniff his cancer-stricken pal and cud­dle up to him at bed­time­— be­hav­iours he hadn’t ex­hib­ited pre­vi­ously.

Be­sides quar­terly blood tests and phys­i­cal check-ups, Jam’s vet says that the Goldie doesn’t need any spe­cial treat­ment or care in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

How­ever, Unisa can­not con­fi­dently say that her pre­cious pup has re­cov­ered for cer­tain. She does op­ti­misti­cally add that Jam’s vet is happy with how things are go­ing for the pooch and doesn’t think there’s any­thing to worry about at the mo­ment.

CRE­AT­ING AWARE­NESS

If there’s one thing Unisa has learnt through Jam’s cancer jour­ney, it’s that more paw-rents need to know about the preven­tion and treat­ment of ca­nine cancer. “A dog’s diet is very im­por­tant. Giv­ing it the right food, know­ing its al­ler­gies, and reg­u­lar vet vis­its are all es­sen­tial in rais­ing a healthy pup,” says Unisa.

She adds: “It’s cru­cial to pay at­ten­tion to your dog and as­sess changes in its be­hav­iour, odour and bod­ily dis­charge. Dogs tend to hide pain from their own­ers be­cause they love them too much and don’t want to distress them. As paw-rents, it’s im­por­tant to trust your in­stincts be­cause you know your furkid best.”

Al­though Jam’s fight against cancer was a dis­tress­ing pe­riod for Unisa, she’s im­mensely grate­ful for the sup­port of her fol­low­ers on Ba­con M Jam—a Face­book page she set up for her Goldies. “I’m very touched by the sup­port given by other paw-rents who have gone through a sim­i­lar or­deal. It gave me the hope and strength to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions and carry on,” she shares.

But Unisa’s big­gest cheer­leader, iron­i­cally, is the furry cancer warrior him­self. “I think Jam has given me more emo­tional sup­port than I could ever give him,” she says. “He’s still so happy to be around us, even when he was in pain af­ter the surgery. Our fam­ily will al­ways love Jam dearly—with or with­out a nose.”

Golden combo: Jam be­fore surgery (left) with Ba­con (right)

Jam in his health­ier days.

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