Recently, an animal much more likely to end up on your breakfast plate than to receive cutting edge veterinary treatment is in the news. Nemo, the rescued pig, is getting chemotherapy for his lymphoma. It is being administered through a surgically implanted catheter at Cornell University.
The word chemotherapy conjures up images of icky deadly poison flowing through veins leading to nausea, sickness and hair loss. And while it is true that chemotherapy can cause serious side effects, and I would prefer not to ever need it, I find treatment of lymphatic cancer in our pets very worthwhile. Veterinarians' goals are very different than they are in people, in whom aggressive protocols are often used to produce a cure. Veterinarians do not aim to cure the disease, but rather our goal is more humble- improving the animal's quality of life. So, the doses and protocols chosen are scaled down to minimize nasty side effects.
He's 730 pounds but surprisingly quick and his doctors have to move fast to keep up with him. 4-year-old Nemo's owner brought him up to Cornell's Animal Hospital from his home in the Catskills when he started acting strangely.
Nemo was soon diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma - a blood cancer. Cornell vets then had to come up with a new treatment plan for their massive, mud loving patient.
"We have treated other large animals, we treated a horse with lymphoma years ago but most of the time we mainly treat dogs and cats for cancer," said oncologist Cheryl Balkman.
Balkman and a team of doctors had to determine how much chemotherapy Nemo could handle safely and what dosages of medication would work. Nemo is believed to be the first ever documented case of lymphoma treatment in a pig. His chemotherapy drugs are delivered though a catheter behind his ear. Cornell doctors say the innovative method could help treat other large animals.
"That was a huge breakthrough because I think that was one of our biggest concerns - how do we administer the chemotherapy without harming us as well as most importantly him," said Balkman.
The doctors say Nemo's treatments are showing progress. His appetite is back and his energetic play gets some interested looks from the rest of the patients. After a big meal he takes his medicine and a few Tums before settling in for a nap. Nemo weighs more than three average NFL offensive linemen but his doctors say he's been a model patient and a gentle giant.
"We're fortunate to be able to take care of him and hope to publish our results so people can follow in our footsteps down the road if they can," said Dr. Emily Barrell.
His doctors say they are hopeful Nemo will be healthy enough to return home after just a few more chemo treatments.