PG 50 UNBREAKABLE BONDS
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.