EAST LANSING, Mich. — Spunky and affectionate, Sarge the dog anxiously greets his owner in the hospital hallway at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in East Lansing.
Owner Leisha Eppink travels every week from the Grand Rapids area to pick him up after treatments.
“He brings out a compassion in me to be a better person, he’s not just a dog for us he’s my protector, my hero,” said Eppink.
When the 6-year-old Siberian husky started getting nosebleeds in January, she got worried. The dog had numerous tests and eventually Eppink and her husband brought their pet to East Lansing to see a specialist.
Doctors did a CT scan on the animal and discovered a tumor in his nasal cavity. It turned out to be cancer.
“My heart sank, cancer is a scary word no matter what the context,” Eppink remembers.
She and her husband decided to pursue an aggressive series of radiation treatments offered to animals at the college.
They take on about four new pet oncology patients a day, 3,700 a year.
“It is exactly the same here as we do in a human facility,” explained radiation therapist Amanda Leatherberry.
Fox 17 got a look inside the state-of-the art treatment.
Sarge received his 14th session and is scheduled to undergo 17 treatments.
During the session, he is put under anesthesia and wears a special mask to target treatment at the cancer only.
“It is very important that you are hitting critical structures and just the tumor, not healthy tissue,” said Leatherberry.
The treatments come at a hefty price, nearly $10,000.
The owners have paid a deposit, but continue to hold fundraisers to pay the bills.
They say they realize the cost may seem over the top to some people, but they were prepared to do anything for their precious pet.
“Ultimately I care more about the fate of my friend than the fear of appearing ridiculous,” said Eppink.
For Sarge, the treatment has been effective. He’s almost done and his labs are coming back normal.
Doctors believe his cancer was caught early.
It’s pretty clear the dog is ready to go home for good and get back to his family and his favorite Frosty Paws snacks.
“We just want to have him back a healthy boy again,” said Eppink.
The Eppink family has a fund set up at Lake Michigan Credit Union under Sarge’s Cancer Fund.
Just like in humans, doctors say the treatment costs depend on the age of the dog, stage of cancer, and how far it has progressed and is not an option for all families or pets.