Care Beyond a Cure


Neo's Story

by Mary Gardner, DVM


In 1999, we brought home our red Doberman puppy Neo (named after the main character in the Matrix). Neo was a hard headed, very intelligent loyal friend right from the start.  Not only did he have to share his new home with another puppy, his sister Serissa, but he also had to share it with multiple feline friends as well. He never complained once and was always a loving friend to all our other animals. Neo was by my side throughout vet school and had a habit of laying right next to me while I studied late into the night.

  Serissa, Dr. Mary Gardner & Neo

In February 2010 at the age of 10, Neo unexpectedly urinated in the house. Not only was this something he had never done before, but he started having multiple accidents in the house.  I became concerned so I decided to do some basic testing for kidney disease and diabetes.  Both tests came back normal.  The next 'worrisome' thought on my list of possibilities was Cushings (a disease that humans get where the body produces too much steroids and you drink and urinate a lot).  My friends told me not to 'think the worst’ - but I had a gut feeling this could be bad. Unfortunately I wasn’t ready for how bad. I remember being in the room when we did the ultrasound and saw the big ugly adrenal tumor and felt the weight of depression fall on me. I mustered up as much strength as possible and hoped that it was benign.

Regardless, I knew that ugly tumor was going to come out ASAP if I had anything to say about it.  It was a very risky surgery which was done at the University of Florida,  where everyone knew Neo from my days as a Vet student. I felt he couldn't be in better hands!  He made it through the surgery and recovered quickly.  Things were right in the world again.   Until the pathology reports came back as carcinoma (BAD cancer).

Ugly Tumor! GROSS - glad that is out!

The next step was to make an appointment with the Oncologist.  I remember while I was sitting and listening to the oncologist going over his results I thought, 'Please don't talk to me like a doctor - I can't think straight right now as I'm scared for my baby - just go over it in layman's terms.'    She gave Neo 6 months with treatment and 6 weeks without.  He looked GREAT!  How could this be?  Clearly, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about….  I was so glad I didn't waste time becoming board certified in anything as clearly it didn't do her any good - can't she see that Neo is perfect and will beat the odds!

Neo camping March 2010

It was June when we started him on Chemotherapy and he did GREAT!  He didn’t even exhibit possible side effects associated with chemotherapy. See - I told the oncologist he was perfect - but then in October he started to decline.  His tumor was growing back and every time he urinated in the house it just made me depressed and anxious because I knew it was growing and spreading. The medications were not able to keep up with the tumor's rate of growth.  All I could do is buy more towels for him to pee on and clean up after him every day.  I didn't mind - I would have cleaned up after him every day for 20 years!   Then his appetite slowed down, he started to lose weight, his collar became looser and he grew more tired.  

At this point, I knew it was time to start evaluating his quality of life objectively.  I created a Quality of Life Scale and Daily Diary. I scored him every day on 6 categories and tallied up the score at the end of the day. Once his score fell below a 5 - I knew it was 'time'.  As he got closer to 5 - I cheated and gave him extra credit!  I thought to myself, “ he did eat the chicken out of my hand so clearly he is feeling better!”  

The scale and diary became my routine... every day I would evaluate his day, how he felt, did he grab his favorite toys, did he bark at the Goodyear blimp that flew over our house?   And every day he kept giving me kisses and loved up on me as best he could. Thanksgiving came and I went to my sister's house for dinner. I came home and he ate a whole can of food out of my hand as he lay in his comfy bed.   I was SURE I had a few more weeks with him.

The day after Thanksgiving, he ate breakfast and I took him for a small walk. Something that I neglected to do every day due to normal daily 'busy-ness'.  But that day - we walked.  I gave him some cookies, a big kiss and blocked him off in the section of the house that I didn't mind him peeing in and then left for work.   Returning that night I thought it weird that I didn’t hear his nails clicking on the tile. As I rounded the corner - I saw him lying there, not moving.  I just screamed at him to wake up, but he didn't answer. He just lay there, lifeless and quiet.  Almost 6 months to the day we saw the oncologist, Neo was gone.  I think now, in hindsight, “I guess she did know what she was doing.”

Although I am glad that mother nature took him for me so I didn't have to make that decision, I am still heartbroken that I couldn't be there for him to make sure he felt my love and kisses as he crossed the rainbow bridge. I also wanted to make sure he passed peacefully as I know from experience that Natural Dealth is not always anxiety or pain-free.

Oddly enough I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and my anxiety was gone. I sincerely missed my dear friend but knew he was ‘ok’ and the uneasiness that I had felt for the past 8 months was gone. A few weeks later, I took his scale and diary off of the fridge, and looking at it with hindsight, I could see that he was declining rapidly in the last month.  This helped me deal with my anger towards mother nature for taking my boy.  I now know it was his time. I still have his Scale and Diary in his file as I can't seem to throw anything of his away.

Dr. Mary Gardner and Neo October 2009


A special thanks to:

  • Dr. Nick Bacon for doing two very risky surgeries on Neo and calming my nerves about them.

  • Drs. Pablo, Robertson, Shih for monitoring Neo's anesthesia during surgery and dealing with my craziness, constant texts and visits to the hospital.

  • All staff members at University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine - Neo had the best care!

  • Drs. Correa and Knieriem at the Animal Cancer Care Clinic for giving me 6 more months with my guy and treating me with such compassion even when I was delirious. I knew I was in the 'right place' and I gave Neo every shot possible to fight his cancer.