Golden retriever’s cancer treatment gives veterinary student perspective as pet owner
March 28, 2023
A dog owner, a veterinary clinic assistant and a veterinary college student might see advanced radiation treatment of a pet from somewhat different perspectives. But Taylor Layton sees it from all three at once.
Layton’s 10-year-old golden retriever, Buttercup, was diagnosed with a cancerous mass in the nose last year, and underwent five days of radiation treatment with the cutting-edge linear accelerator at the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center (ACCRC) in Roanoke last June.
Nine months later, Buttercup has exceeded the general three- to six-month life expectation pronounced when the cancer was diagnosed. Buttercup recently had a leg amputated after the discovery of a tumor, and will soon start chemotherapy after small tumors were found in the dog’s lungs.
“She acts like nothing's wrong with her,” Layton said. “So I'm very thankful for that.”
Layton is a fourth-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) who expects to graduate in 2024 after going on medical leave this academic year. From Christiansburg, Layton did her undergraduate studies at Radford University and has worked at the Riner Animal Clinic for the past six years.
“I was lucky enough to get into vet school at Blacksburg and I want to practice small animal medicine,” said Layton, who hopes to join the clinic for which she has been working when she becomes a veterinarian.
It was at the Riner clinic that Layton learned of Buttercup, who was being treated for skin allergies. Layton acquired Buttercup from the previous owners in January 2022.
In the months after taking ownership of Buttercup, Layton noticed a nasal swelling. She took the retriever to internal medicine at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at VMCVM. Biopsies revealed cancer, a type called histiocytic sarcoma.
That led to Buttercup being referred to Animal Cancer Care and Research Center (ACCRC), one of the veterinary college’s three teaching hospitals in Virginia, where a CT of the whole body was performed to check for spread of the cancer and for radiation therapy planning.
“Our options were either radiation or surgery,” Layton said. “But the surgery would take most of her maxilla. Most of the top of her nose would be gone. They said it could be all the way back to her molars. So I elected for the radiation therapy, because she loves to eat. I didn’t want to risk the incision not healing.”
Under the care of radiation oncologist Ilektra Athanasiadi, Buttercup received radiation therapy on five consecutive days last summer. That has extended the golden retriever’s life, and quality of life, beyond what would have been likely without it.
Layton said experiencing her own pet going through the advanced cancer treatment at the Roanoke center, and attending one of Buttercup’s treatment sessions personally, was eye-opening for her.
“I've had most of the oncologists give lectures, but it's different when you're a client,” Layton said. “Seeing their approach to care and how they do client communication was really something special that I wouldn't have experienced if my dog wasn't going through this.
“I feel like it just helped me realize how great of a tool they are at the ACCRC and how lucky we are to have such amazing oncologists locally. So, I know in the future, I won't hesitate to refer any of my patients to them.”