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Keep Calm and Terrier On

woman with dog
Nala, a 12-year-old terrier mix, with owner Kristi Thompson. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Kristi Thompson says that, Nala, her 12-year-old terrier mix, is her rock. “Nala’s been there for me through so much,” Thompson said. “She’s my best friend, my confidant, my shadow. Her gentle energy keeps me grounded and sane through all of life’s ups and downs.”

There have been a few of those ups and downs for Thompson recently, including a divorce, a move from Virginia back to her native North Carolina, and changes in her professional life as a massage therapist.

So it came as a blow when Nala was diagnosed with a cancerous colorectal tumor. Last August, Thompson had first noticed that Nala had a rectal profusion. She and her veterinarian in Virginia decided on a watch-and-see plan of attack.

In January, along with her two cats and two chickens, Thompson and Nala settled in Fuquay-Varina. Thompson soon made an appointment with a veterinarian to check on Nala. That visit resulted in a referral to the NC State Veterinary Hospital, where an extensive examination identified a colorectal plasma cell tumor.

Things have moved quickly since then. Nala started chemotherapy for the tumor, and in May underwent surgery to correct her rectal prolapse.

However, while undergoing an ultrasound prior to the surgery, a separate mass was detected on Nala’s liver. A CT scan was performed at the same time as Nala’s rectal surgery, pinpointing a large mass on the right side of the liver, along with smaller nodules on the left side.

Liver masses of this type can rupture and hemorrhage, which can be life-threatening. The preferred treatment for Nala was a liver lobectomy, surgically removing the mass and a portion of the liver.

Thompson’s dear companion’s medical needs and expenses were mounting quickly. That’s when an unexpected ray of hope brightened the scene.

Danielle Diamond, a small animal surgery resident, told Thompson about help available from the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund. Through a grant to the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, the fund helps pet owners facing financial challenges defray the cost of treatment for their pets. In addition, the program also helps advance the science of veterinary medicine by allowing clinicians to gain more experience treating myriad pet cancers.

“I didn’t know that help was available,” Thompson said. “It was a wonderful relief.”

Nala underwent a liver lobectomy in early June; the mass was not cancerous. In the meantime, Nala’s chemotherapy continues and she is feeling well.

“She’s back to rolling in the grass, stealing her chicken sisters’ treats, chasing the squirrels outside and her cat sisters inside,” said Thompson. “She’s even wanting to play with her favorite duck stuffed animal again.”

The whole experience has even affected Thompson’s thoughts about her professional future as she reestablishes her career in North Carolina. She has just received her certification in canine massage, with plans to become nationally certified.

And she has high praise for the help she and Nala received at NC State.

“Everyone is so calm and peaceful. You feel like you’re really being taken care of and not just another number,” she said. “I’m so thankful to Petco and Blue Buffalo for their generosity and for her care team at the hospital who are with us in our journey. It’s truly heartwarming. I’m truly grateful.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine