By Josephine Marcotty
Some readers have asked me about Batman, the dog. Last week he was the first patient to get an experimental therapy that researchers at the University of Minnesota hope will cure his brain cancer, a glioma, which is the same kind that Sen. Ted Kennedy has. If it works for Batman and other dogs, they say, it holds enormous promise as an effective treatment for people, too. You can read his story here.
His owner, Anna Brailovsky of Minneapolis, says he’s doing as well as any dog can do after massive brain surgery. He’s on steroids to reduce inflammation in his brain, and that’s a mixed blessing. Here’s her update.
Early this evening he chased a neighbor cat for a few feet. The neighbor’s family all stood around cheering him on. He basked in the attention and trotted up with tail wagging.
He had a very active night, probably because the steroids made him feel rather peppy. This morning (Tuesday), when we took him in to see (his vet and surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Pluhar), he was practically prancing. There was a puppy in the waiting area, and Batman did his little “wanna play” routine, in which he splays out his front paws, drops his chin down to the ground, and sticks his butt up in the air in something like the doggie version of a yoga pose.
Dr. Pluhar was very pleased with him. She said she was sorry she hadn’t thought to give him the steroids all along, and that the next dog would profit from Batman’s bad experience. The bottom line is that all his symptoms are exactly what Dr. Pluhar expected.
Of course, he’s still quite wobbly. The lack of control on the left side is not due to the swelling in the brain but to the surgery itself, so that’s still giving him trouble. The only down side of the steroids is that it has increased his already elevated need for water and urination, so he is constantly having accidents in the house, despite being let out every hour.
That’s really the hardest part. Batman is such a dignified dog and I’m really sure I’m not projecting when I say that he seems most discomfited whenever he makes a mess, and hovers around me as I’m cleaning with a distinctly unhappy air.
The really bad news is that the pathology report finally came back, and (the tumor) is in fact a glioma. Dr. Pluhar thinks if she hadn’t operated, he would probably have been dead in a matter of a few weeks. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly aggressive tumor (2 or 3 on the 5-point scale, she said), so there’s every hope that the cancer will not return in full force in the time it takes to grow the vaccine.
(Dr. John Ohlsted, the brain cancer researcher, is growing an experimental vaccine from Batman’s tumor cells that could prevent the tumor from returning. The vaccine is growing in his lab, and he expects to give it to Batman in a few weeks.)
I’m feeling so much better about the whole thing now. All week long, he seemed so old, frail, and miserable, doddering about utterly bewildered by his own heart-wrenching imitation of a mad cow. I kept wondering whether he would ever be anything like himself again, and whether I should have put him through this surgery for the sake of prolonging his life by possibly only a year or so–especially if the extra time would all look like this. But now that I see his personality coming back so clearly, and knowing that he would not even have survived out the month otherwise, I’m certain it was the absolute right and moral thing to do — for his sake, not just for mine.