Puppy and owner help each other through cancer diagnoses

January 23, 2023

Remy with his owner

Originally published July 21, 2021

Remy was just eight weeks old when Nicole Rice Harris, a Registered Nurse in Alexandria, La., brought the boxer puppy home.

“Her official name is Hopeful Remission, Remy for short. I adopted her while I was going through cancer treatment. I knew that I would be home for about six months, and it would be the perfect time to adopt a pet,” Nicole said. 

Nicole was diagnosed with cancer in July 2015. In August 2015, she underwent multiple surgeries. Remy was born that month. Nicole started chemotherapy in October and brought Remy home two weeks into her chemo treatment.

“She’s been a great companion. She gave me something else to focus on while my family was at work and school. Working with a new puppy really kept me active during cancer treatment,” she said.

After Nicole completed chemo, she underwent radiation for six weeks at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She finished all cancer treatments in late March 2016. By summer she felt better.

Four years later, in 2020, she noticed a lump on Remy that felt like a hard BB nodule on her neck. She knew from experience that it didn’t feel right.

“I don’t know if it was because I am in the medical field or if it was because I’d had cancer that I realized she had a suspicious lump and made an appointment,” she said.

She drove Remy to her veterinarian, Dr. Mark Gentry (LSU SVM 1994), of Fitzgerald Animal Clinic in Alexandria, where a biopsy and lumpectomy were conducted. Remy was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. After surgery, they were sent home with pain medication and antibiotics and an incision extending from Remy’s jaw to her lower neck.

Nicole understood the seriousness of Remy’s cancer diagnosis. She decided to bring her to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, a four-hour roundtrip from Alexandria to Baton Rouge and back, for an expert opinion on next steps with Remy’s care.

“I wanted opinions from experts so that I could make a fully informed decision on how to move forward. Bringing her to LSU helped me make that decision,” she said.

“We found no evidence that the cancer her vet had removed had spread or returned yet. 

She was given the options of additional surgery or radiation, or active surveillance as the likelihood of regrowth was not high,” said Jayme Looper, DVM (LSU SVM 1997), DACVR (RO), director of Small Animal Services and associate professor of veterinary radiation oncology.

“It was a pleasure to meet Remy and Nicole and discuss options for managing her mast cell tumor. I’m so glad Nicole found this information useful in her decision making,” said Sita Withers, BVSc, PhD, DACVIM, assistant professor of veterinary medical oncology.

“You go where you trust you’ll get the best of care. Remy will continue to be examined every three months by our local vet and follow up with LSU as needed,” Nicole said.

Remy is five years old now. She loves going on kayak paddles with Nicole on the lake near their Toledo Bend camp. This survivor even has her own life vest.

“She’s the best. Cancer created a deeper bond between us,” Nicole said.

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