Life With Yuna -
1 Year 3 Months:
Mast Cell Cancer Dog Survivor

A tumor? You’re telling me this lump is a tumor? What a crazy morning.

December 6th, 2019

Yuna is now a mast cell cancer survivor.

A dog closing her eyes, looking slightly concerned.

In the 15 months I’ve had Yuna now, she’s endured a barrage of health issues, many still ongoing.

She’s had a run-in with pancreatitis, which we still monitor closely. We have her on a special prescription kibble and supplement to keep her gastrointestinal tract happy.

Her other more serious health concern is her right elbow. She is still limping quite noticeably when she walks. A few months ago, she took an X-ray which revealed some elbow inflammation, but it may have gotten worse since. We’ll have to go back to the vet for another checkup.

And finally, the most recent development is, of course, her mast cell tumor.

This was definitely the most eventful thing that happened in the past three months.

We are dedicating this update to telling the story of how we discovered Yuna’s mast cell tumor and how we got through everything.

Initial Discovery

I think it was many months ago (spring 2019) that we noticed a bump on Yuna’s head.

It was a small bump. Hard to notice, almost hidden completely by her fur.

My first instinct was that it was a pimple. Could dogs even get pimples? I didn’t know at the time… but it seemed to make sense for a young, 3 year old dog.

(By the way, dogs CAN get acne; it usually clears up by adulthood though.)

I never really thought much more of the bump. It definitely did not occur to me that it could be a cancerous lump. It just didn’t match the description of lumps at the time.

Specifically, because it was so small and never became swollen, I waved it off initially. (Note: if you’re reading this and you also see a lump on your dog’s head, don’t do what I did and downplay it! Go see a vet now.)

Red Flags?

So now we knew there was a bump on Yuna’s head.

A dog sitting solemnly on a wide open field, wearing a funny Mickey Mouse bandana.
Hmm? Bump?

Looking back, a couple things should have raised red flags.

Firstly… that bump must have been itchy as heck! Yuna would occasionally scratch at the bump and cause it to pop and bleed.

I bring Yuna to work almost everyday. Naturally, more of my coworkers began to notice the bump while petting her.

They’d ask me what it was… and I’d usually just give my usual “pimple” answer. How many times was I going to say that before even I found it ridiculous?

Anyways, throughout all this time, the bump never shrank. Though it never grew either, all this should’ve aroused more of my concern.

Hurray For Vets!

A few months go by. In September, I took Yuna in to re-examine her elbow, which we had been looking at for some time.

Thankfully, her elbow looked a-okay. But the vet did some more general inspection and uncovered the lump on her head.

This must have set off all kinds of alarms in the doctor’s head.

He started firing questions at me: “How long has this been here?” “Is the lump bothering her?” “Are there any other lumps?”

I answered to the best of my ability. But because I had downplayed the lump as a “pimple,” time and time again, I hadn’t paid close attention to it.

The vet told us to monitor the lump for another month. If it didn’t disappear by then, we should dive deep and try to figure it out.

A Bump In The Road…

A month later, the bump still looked innocuous enough.

A dog in a Mickey Mouse costume looking as if she's ready to climb a pile of rocks.

And still, I was having doubts that the lump was anything serious that needed to be looked at closely. But I listened to my vet and scheduled that follow-up appointment.

I was glad I did.

The moment we came in, the vet examined the lump briefly, looked back at me, and offered his evaluation.

He strongly suspected a “mast cell tumor.”

Huh? What was that? I may have subconsciously tilted my head a little the same way dogs tilt their heads when they get confused. I had never heard about mast cells before.

But it didn’t really matter. The key word I heard was “tumor.” I knew what THAT was. It instantly snapped me awake.

A tumor? You’re telling me this lump is a tumor?

Yeah, it was a tumor… and not only that, our vet recommended that Yuna go into surgery that very day to have it removed.

Wow. This was way, way out of left field. Things were developing so quickly and I hardly had time to think about anything.

My vet had been pretty good with his hunches in the past. In a past visit he suspected pancreatitis and a blood test confirmed that, so I trusted his gut here as well.

Within minutes of me entering the room, Yuna was taken back for surgery.

What a crazy morning.

Yuna Emerges From Surgery

I somehow stumbled through work that day. By the evening, Yuna was ready to go.

Almost as quickly as I had dropped Yuna off for her surgery in the morning, I was back at the vet to pick her up.

After walking in, the receptionist gives me a handout.

“Instructions For Care After Surgery,” it said at the top in big letters.

Yup, just another reminder that this was for real. Yuna really did undergo surgery today.

I skimmed through the packet and also noticed that my bill for the day included an Elizabethan collar, or cone.

Oh no, I thought internally. This was the infamous “Cone of Shame” that Yuna would have to wear… I had secretly hoped Yuna wouldn’t need one of those, but who was I kidding? The lump was on her head after all.

Ah well. I paid for the bill, took a seat, and waited for the nurse to bring Yuna out.

She emerged with a very scary looking incision across the top left half of her head, closed off with blue stitches.

Just seeing that kind of destroyed me. Of course, the incision just looked painful. I couldn’t possibly imagine how confused Yuna must have felt herself.

My head was also swirling, trying to figure out how I could continue taking photos of her for Instagram with this recent surgery.

Cone Life

But for now, the real fun part was the cone. The nurse came out with one and instructed me on how to use it.

A dog looking sad with stitches on her head and wearing a safety cone.

I gave a final thanks to the nurse, and we left the vet with the cone on. She had taken IVs so she really needed to use the restroom, but wow. Was it a struggle with the cone on.

Basically, she got weirded out every time the cone made contact with… just about anything. The ground, a wall, a bush, a tree trunk… anything and everything she tried to sniff, she couldn’t get to.

And she must have thought it was some sort of “punishment.” That she had done something wrong.

She had that sad, squeamish look whenever the cone unexpectedly hit something.

I had to relent and take the cone off for just a minute so she could relieve herself.

The first night back, Yuna whined and complained incessantly about the cone. She is usually an extremely quiet dog, so the fact that she was being more vocal about the cone really communicated her frustration and displeasure.

Time, along with repeated reassurance that the cone was not a negative thing, ultimately allowed us to get past the cone fears.

Check out our article here, where we outline some of the techniques we used over the weeks Yuna had in the cone to get her more accustomed to it.

Tips on mindset and how to make the "Cone Of Shame" more comfortable for your dog.

Biopsy Results From Surgery

The purpose of the first surgery was to remove the lump and send it to a pathologist to perform a biopsy, which will essentially reveal what the lump is and how serious it is.

We got the biopsy results within a few days, and I went yet again to the vet to discuss them.

The lump was indeed a mast cell tumor. There was a lot of technical jargon in the report, but here were the main takeaways:

First off, some of the good news. It was a low-grade/Grade 2 tumor (the grading system is explained in our mast cell tumor article). This is a pretty good prognosis for Yuna–there’s a low chance of recurrence, provided the mast cells did not travel into her internal organs.

Secondly, some bad news. The biopsy revealed some cancerous cells at the rim of the removed margin, indicating that the surgery had not completely eradicated the cancer cells in the area.

Essentially, what this meant was that Yuna needed a second surgery right after the incision wound healed from her first surgery.

Facepalm. As if this already didn’t drive a wedge into our amazing plans to take nice pictures under the autumn leaves…

I was really a mixed bag of feelings that day. Happy that Yuna is on her way to becoming a cancer survivor… but sad, angry and frustrated at the baggage that came along with that.

One Weekend Of Autumn

Two weeks and lots of cone experience later, Yuna’s first incision wound looked good and we were able to go have her stitches removed.

It was a Friday. As the vets were removing her stitches in the back, I was busy scheduling the appointment for her next surgery.

Our schedule was tight. There were a bunch of constraints, time-wise, that really affected when we should schedule the surgery.

Thanksgiving was three and a half weeks away. Yuna would be boarding at a doggy daycare while I flew back home for the long weekend.

I was worried that she wouldn’t be admitted to daycare if she had any open wounds on her head, so the surgery had to be scheduled pronto to allow time to heal. Estimated recovery time was about two to three weeks.

I also didn’t want to schedule the surgery immediately the next day.

Why? Because Seattle was about to receive some amazing weather… and we were in autumn’s prime!

Thus, I decided to gift Yuna and myself the upcoming weekend to enjoy ourselves. And snap a bunch of pictures to load up on that Instagram content.

Quite possibly one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. Just look at this picture–wouldn’t you agree?

A dog posing in front of an orange and yellow tree.

Yuna’s Second Surgery

All good things must come to an end–and that weekend was no exception.

Monday came. We took her in for her next surgery. Apparently this time, they were going to cut a wider margin of skin off just to make sure they got everything.

Just because of that, it was supposed to be a more “intense” procedure. But I guess since I already knew what to expect, it didn’t seem nearly as overwhelming as the first surgery.

That night, when I went over to pick her up, I was still taken aback the first time she came out to greet me.

This time, the surgery also grazed the base of her ear. She had many stitches sutured along the cut, continuing onto her ear.

And once again, she came out in a cone.

You might have thought Yuna would feel betrayed, or even depressed that she found herself back in this condition. Big cut on her head, and big annoying cone to boot. Not to mention, this immediately following an amazing weekend of freedom.

But I can tell you as Yuna’s owner that there were no such indications of betrayal or depression.

The moment she saw I was there to pick her up, she rushed over to me and put her paws on me.

A dog standing on a bed of red, white, and pink leaves, matching the Minnie Mouse bandana she is wearing.

She obediently allowed me to put the cone on every time, as if she knew it was necessary for proper healing.

And craziest of all, she maintained the same levels of excitement and happiness throughout the day.

She couldn’t follow me to work. She had to deal with the cone. Despite all that, her tail was still wagging when I picked up her harness to take her outside. When she heard her bowl being filled for dinner. When she noticed the crinkle of the Dentastix treat bag.

Just the simplest things made her so happy… and the fact that she had just undergone surgery for cancer didn’t change that one bit.

How amazing is that? A lot of us probably need to be consciously reminded not to dwell on negativity and instead rewire our brains to search for the positives. Dogs do it effortlessly.

Thanksgiving And Beyond

The healing process went smoothly once again, and she was able to board at daycare without any issues.

We are now back from a restful Thanksgiving break and ready for the Seattle winter ahead.

As we near 2020, there’s a lot we have planned for where we want to take this site, as well as Yuna’s social media profiles.

Her recent surgeries have set us back a bit, but that’s all in the past now. Her mast cell cancer is behind her. She survived it.

A dog playing the role of a goalie in soccer, rushing energetically toward the camera.

The only thing left to do now is look ahead. Onwards! To more adventures and new horizons in 2020 and beyond.

Psst, follow along on @yunathelab on Instagram and TikTok!

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