Madison non-profit combats misconceptions about cancer in pets

It’s a diagnosis no pet owner ever wants to hear, cancer. But, right here in the Madison area, a local non-profit is offering support both emotionally and fina
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 10:20 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - It’s a diagnosis no pet owner ever wants to hear: cancer. But, right here in the Madison area, a local non-profit is offering support both emotionally and financially, and veterinarians are battling misconceptions about treating cancer in pets.

Mack, an 8-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, was diagnosed with bladder cancer earlier this year. His parents, Jimmy Frain and Amanda Reed, were driving up from Chicago to the VCA Veterinary Emergency Service and Specialty Center in Middleton to get Mack treatment.

“I mean, he’s eight, which is not super young, but it’s not super old and he loves life. And if we can give him a chance to live just a little bit longer to enjoy it,” Reed said.

Mack’s veterinary oncologist, Dr. Kai Shiu was treating his bladder cancer with chemotherapy. A cost Mack’s parents were glad to pay but definitely came as a shock.

“Six-thousand (dollars) in four days I believe my first initial Yeah, it was rough to begin with for sure. It was about $6,000 in the first few days,” Reed said.

But there are people working to ease the burden for families with pets going through cancer treatments. Local nonprofit Czar’s Promise supports these families both emotionally and financially.

“The organization did reimburse us for the first round of chemo. Thus far. Today, it will be a second, but that is definitely lifting some of the panic and burden looking ahead for sure,” Reed said.

“Getting a cancer diagnosis in your companion animal is all consuming and it touches every part of your life,” Czar’s Promise Founder and Executive Director Beth Viney said.

Viney can relate to those feelings. She has lost three pets to cancer, the first being her Great Pyrenees Czar, the namesake of the nonprofit.

“I made him a promise that day and that promise was to find a way even though I didn’t know how, when, or the capability to help other families on this journey,” Viney said.

It’s not just support for pets, but also people. Since 2018, Czar’s Promise has provided over $120,000 to American Family Children’s Hospital and the UW School of Veterinary Medicine for pediatric and canine cancer research, much of this for comparative oncology.

Part of that research includes the Therapeutic Immunology study which Czar’s Promise presented $25,000 to in January 2023, to Dr. Christian Capitini and Monica Cho of American Family Children’s Hospital, for a comparative oncology study in conjunction with the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.

Viney said the journey through cancer treatment is a long one, and one that is often misunderstood.

“Half of our challenge is helping owners realize it is less about cancer treatment. It’s more about how they feel when they get home at the end of the day,” VCA Pet Cancer Care Center Veterinary Oncologist Dr. Kai Shiu said.

Dr. Shiu says when treating pets with chemotherapy, the goal is often not to cure the cancer, just to manage it… which can lead to less harsh side effects, if any at all.

“We’re not willing to treat with drugs and doses that we know are going to make them sick. So, we’re really dosing at a level where we know most dogs, the vast majority of dogs are going to feel so much better or normal during their therapy,” Dr. Shiu said.

Despite a good fight, Mack’s condition worsened just days later, and the couple made the difficult decision to put him down.

But Mack’s memory will forever live in the hearts of those who loved him and for Frain, Mack will forever be his right-hand man, with Mack’s name tattooed on his knuckles.

“Because he’s just a special friend and he deserved it,” Frain explained. “He’s just my best buddy and I don’t know. The timing was right. So, I put his name on me.”

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