A week after our visit to UGA, we received the letter in the mail. The biopsy confirmed Oliver’s strange mass on his croup is a melanoma. The letter went on to suggest treatment options. Removal is not among them. Current research dictates removal only causes a response which I can best describe as poking the Incredible Hulk in the eye. They tend to grow back larger, deeper and angrier. All of which, I would like to avoid.
One of the suggested treatments, was the Melanoma vaccine trial. At the time the pharmaceutical company offering the vaccine was only allowing administration by certified veterinary Oncology departments. UGA is 2 hours from the farm, and it simply was not feasible to consider this for treatment given the distance.
Another option suggested was Cimetidene, you may know it as Tagamet, for heartburn. Some research has shown that it creates an anti-inflamatory response in the body, causing the melanoma to shrink. It is fairly low cost, easily available and easy to feed. Oliver was very agreeable and seems to hardly notice the addition to his meals. Though we were forewarned not to expect immediate results as it could take several months on the Cimetidene to see changes to the mass.
While waiting to see a response from the Cimetedine I began looking into other non invasive treatment options. From what I was able to read, Eastern medicine seemed worth trying. Thankfully I live in an area that offers a variety of skilled veterinarians. No matter what you are looking for, be it holistic, conventional, scientific or Eastern, there are equine vets with these skills in our area.
I reached out to one of my friends & neighbors, Thann Boyum, DVM who specializes in acupuncture and eastern medicine. She evaluated him and suggested we compliment the Cimetidene with some herbal supplements to help boost his immunity response and help Oliver’s body fight off the Melanoma. She felt as though with his type of mass that herbal supplements would offer more support than doing regular acupuncture sessions. She suggested, Wei Qi, an immunity booster (pronounced “way chee” and smells like bitter coffee), and Stasis Breaker Concentrate which has shown to reduce tumor size as well as a Stasis Breaker ointment for topical application.
All things considered these additions were not terribly expensive and would certainly be worth the cost if we can obtain the desired results. I understand that are drug free and USEF / USHJA legal as they are not performance enhancing. But, I didn’t want to risk taking him off the farm and exposing him to something foreign. I decided to just skip the summer shows and let him hang out at home until the biopsies healed over completely. Here he is is acting like his normal goofy self wrestling with his nephew out in the pasture. It was frustrating, but it gave me some time to get his nephew Lego going in long lines in preparation for being broke this spring.
It took about 6 weeks for the biopsies to heal over completely, and put him back to work. I adjusted my year goals to just trying to get him qualified for derby finals on the SCHJA circuit and maybe hit a few of the other ‘finals’ shows in the fall just to get out and have a little fun with friends. I had been tracking the progress of the mass, and things were looking good. It was much quieter, not weepy at all and the ridge over the top seemed to be flattening out. We were very excited that things were going in the right direction.
October brought a round of body clipping, which really seemed to irritate the mass. It erupted with a slight crusty serum looking type drainage. I did not make the connection with his first clip of the season, I simply thought after a good roll in the dry dirt on a fresh clip that he had gotten some debris embedded in the mass and made it angry. However on the second clip at the end of October it was very clear this was a reaction to body clipping. This is new, and honestly I’ll take this drainage over the black gunky drainage any day. This at least looks some what healthy! Just to be safe I had it checked as it was painful to the touch. I was advised to just keep it clean, and if it got any worse we may need to re-biopsy. Thankfully it quieted down within a few days and it did not get any worse. Point taken, no more body clipping around the mass.
Soon after this incident, our local vet hospital, Tryon Equine Hospital began advertising that they were looking for grey horses to participate in a melanoma vaccine trial. My husband and I discussed it at length. After some consideration, we decided to give the Cimetidine & Chinese herbs a full 6 months, just so we could figure out what was working before we changed treatment plans. The mass was dry and quiet, the holidays were fast approaching and I had committed to 2 final horse shows. I didn’t know enough about the trial to want to risk Oliver having a major flair up since he was on a fresh body clip. I would hate to have to send him naked, so it seemed wise to wait a bit longer.
After the rush of the holidays finally cleared out, in mid January my husband asked if I would be interested in getting Oliver involved in the trial. Most of my close friends know what is on the top of his butt, sometimes strangers think it is a bite mark from a field mate. It is what it is, however if this vaccine can stop the progression and possibly resolve the mass it is certainly something worth considering. After some research and discussion we made an appointment with Dr.Emilie Setlakwe at Tryon Equine Hospital. She is the vet in charge of the trial.
Naturally our first appointment was cancelled because of what I refer to as “Snowpocalypse 2016”. I grew up in the north, we went to school in all conditions, I recall standing out at the bus stop, waiting for the school bus in 2′ of snow playing in the snow drifts as a kid. Such is NOT the case here in the south. The taxes are cheaper because the states don’t pay for or maintain a fleet of snow plows and brine / sand trucks. As such everything grinds to a screeching halt as the first fat snow flakes fall from the sky. This particular event started out as frozen rain, turned to snow, then to sleet, making the roads ridiculous. Everyone stayed home and waited for the icy mess to melt off the next day.
I was SO FULL OF QUESTIONS. Can we go to recognized shows? Will it test? How long does it stay in his system? Is there a loading dose? How may times a year does he need to get it? Do I need a vet note to horse show in case he gets pulled for drug testing? Is the vaccine given IN the mass? Can I keep riding him? What are the side effects? Is it going to completely errupt like Mt. St. Helens? I’ve heard gross stories of what happens with topical treatments. How long before we see any results? Will the hair grow back? Can he stay on the Wei Qi, Stasis Breaker & Cimetidine? It would be another week before I could get Oliver in for his first vaccine, the questions were piling up and it felt like time had come to a screeching halt.