Defying Some Long Odds

Stalwart Chesapeake Bay Retriever thrives after second cancer diagnosis
Ruger, a chocolate brown chesapeake bay retriever
Ruger is a two-time cancer survivor.

Ruger, a nine-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, arrived at the Cummings School Foster Hospital for Small Animals and was diagnosed with a hemoabdomen (life-threatening bleeding into his abdominal cavity). The cause was a large cancerous tumor. This one, a hemangiosarcoma, is a very aggressive cancer, according to Dr. Natalie Smith, a specialty intern for the oncology clinical trials team with Dr. Cheryl London.

He needed emergency surgery to remove his spleen. For most dogs afflicted with this type of cancer, it often spreads to other organs before their diagnosis, but this was not the case for Ruger, according to Dr. Smith. In most similar cases, dogs are treated with chemotherapy following such a surgery and the median survival time is approximately six to nine months. The removal of Ruger’s spleen occurred in March 2020.

About five months before Ruger’s surgery, he was diagnosed with indolent lymphoma (a less aggressive type of cancer). “It spreads and causes problems more slowly,” Dr. Smith reveals. “They don’t necessarily need treatment right away and are monitored until they start to feel sick.” During the first few months after his lymphoma diagnosis, Ruger came to Foster Hospital for routine checkups with the oncology team.

Following his surgery and second cancer diagnosis, which was completely separate from his first, asserts Dr. Smith, “Ruger came to us to enroll in one of our clinical trials that is looking at dogs with hemangiosarcoma who have had surgery to remove the spleen and are in need of chemotherapy as a follow-up.” Drs. Smith and London enroll patients with a variety of types of cancer into ongoing clinical trials.

Ruger’s owner, Bryan Wangerin, had not heard of clinical trials before he was contacted by Dr. London. “After his first visit, we knew we had made an excellent decision,” Wangerin contends. “Dr. London, Dr. Smith and everyone at Tufts have been wonderful! Ruger and I are always treated with the utmost respect and care, and I am so grateful for this. I would 100% recommend to anyone that they use Tufts clinical trials.”

“What is rather exceptional about Ruger is how long he has outlived that expected survival estimate,” Dr. Smith claims, which is approaching two years since the emergency surgery.

“He finished his chemotherapy treatments a long time ago and we’ve been seeing him for routine check-ups since then. He still has his indolent lymphoma but there is no evidence that his hemangiosarcoma has spread and it has not been an issue. He’s an exceptional long-term survivor of two different cancer types and is not actively getting treated for either one, he’s just living his Ruger life.”

Now 11 years old, Ruger “has slowed down a bit, but still is a very affectionate and loyal companion,” Wangerin reveals. “He still gets super excited about truck rides, likes walks and caring for our chickens, and he lets us know when a package is being delivered.”

Just how rare is such a story of success? “I can probably count on one hand how many patients have exceeded their expected survival time by as much as Ruger has,” Dr. Smith gleams.

Wangerin has truly enjoyed the past couple of years with Ruger. “I have worked from home the past two years and have spent a lot of time with him and it has helped me stay positive,” he acknowledges. “I think the important lesson I have learned from Ruger is to live your life to the fullest, as tomorrow is never guaranteed.”