During the past two years, two golden retrievers from the Kansas City area visited the Oncology Service at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, each diagnosed with a similar form of cancer. Nicole Schuh and her 5-year-old dog, Oliver, of Lenexa, Kansas, visited the Veterinary Health Center at MU for the first time in December 2021 with an undifferentiated nasal sarcoma. Ally Myers and her 8-year-old dog, Nelli, whose Overland Park, Kansas, home is about 15 minutes from Lenexa, followed in July 2022, visiting the VHC for radiation treatment of a nasal chondrosarcoma.
Oliver and Nelli already shared a resemblance with similar face shapes, as well as fur color and length. With their radiation treatment, the retrievers’ snouts began to lose fur and scab over where their tumors were located, leaving them even more alike. When Schuh shared a side-by-side photo of Oliver’s progress on a Kansas City golden retriever Facebook group around Christmas, she and Myers made contact with each other. “Ally commented on that with a photo of Nelli,” said Schuh. “We noticed that their facial markings looked very similar. We just kept messaging to give support and it was nice to have each other to talk through those situations.”
Through that initial conversation, the owners realized that their dogs were not only treated at the VHC, but they were both treated by Whitney Wyatt, DVM, a radiation oncology resident at MU. “We quickly found out that they were both treated at MU,” Myers said. “We found out even further that both were treated by Dr. Wyatt, who showed me pictures of goldens to know what to expect during the recovery process, and Ollie was one of the goldens she showed me, and I had no idea at the time.”
A few months later, Schuh and Myers met up at a local dog park in the Kansas City suburbs where the dogs became instant friends. “Nelli doesn’t usually care about socializing with other dogs, more so humans or me, but when Ollie and Nelli met for the first time they just ran around together,” said Myers. “It was so sweet to see.”
Since then, Schuh and Myers have stayed in contact and brought their pups together at the dog park a few more times.
Oliver and Nelli are both doing well. Both dogs have had recent follow-ups with similar results. While neither dog’s cancer is completely gone, their tumors continue to shrink, and they are active and thriving, and aren’t experiencing any negative symptoms. “I’m so thankful for MU and for Dr. Wyatt,” said Myers. “They’ve given me more time with (Nelli) than I would have had.”
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Wyatt,” said Schuh. “Leading up to the diagnosis there was so much scary news that came. They were some of the worst couple of months of my life. Going to MU and meeting with Dr. Wyatt gave me this sense of calmness. She would never sugarcoat things, but the way she delivered the information just made me think that it was going to be ok and that we were going to do everything possible to give Oliver more time.”
Through this difficult situation, not only have Oliver and Nelli bonded, but Schuh and Myers have become friends too. “We’re both around the same age and experiencing the same thing, and while we have family and friends, ultimately it was our dog and we were going through a lot of it alone,” Schuh said. “When things come up and if I start seeing symptoms again, Ally will be one of the first people to know because she understands. It was a beautiful thing that came from something that wasn’t so fortunate.”
“It’s really nice to have someone that knows exactly what you went through and understands how you’re feeling,” said Myers. “I’ve even met some of Nicole’s family and she’s met one of my sisters. I did not expect to get a friend from this, but it’s been really great to have that support.”
By Nick Childress