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?


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.


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.


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.


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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