Given four months to live, family to celebrate best friend’s cancer survival two years later

BLAINE, Minn. – For two-year-old Teagan Stepanek, this Saturday may not seem like an important day, but she’s been enjoying borrowed time with her furry friend Maddie since Maddie was originally given four months to live on Jan. 26, 2011.

On that cold day two years ago, Maddie, a then 4-year-old female golden retriever with stage IV lymphoma, was referred to BluePearl by Teagan’s grandfather, Eau Claire veterinarian, Jeff Stepanek.

Dr. Stepanek owns Ark Animal Hospital in Wisconsin and for cases needing specialty care like Maddie’s, he often refers to BluePearl Veterinary Partners. “BluePearl is kind of like our Mayo Clinic,” Dr. Stepanek said.

Maddie saw a BluePearl veterinary oncologist to begin treatment for lymphoma.

Lymphoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in dogs. The life expectancy can be less than one or two months for end-stage cancer like Maddie’s, but there are treatment options.

“Treating cancer in dogs and cats has become increasingly common with successful results because of advances in veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Brian Husbands, a board-certified specialist in oncology with BluePearl here. “We’re able to extend not only the pet’s life, but also enhance the pet’s quality of life.”

Before current treatment options were available, many pets with lymphoma suffered or were euthanized due to their condition.

Dr. Stepanek’s son, Mike Stepanek, got Maddie as a puppy six years ago, well before his daughter Teagan was born.

“Maddie is a remarkable dog and named after Madeline Island on Lake Superior. She basically goes everywhere with us. She loves going to both family cabins where she can run and swim. She enjoys bird hunting and she even goes sledding with Teagan,” said Mike. “She’s not just my daughter’s best friend; she’s our family’s best friend.”

“As soon as my wife Diana and I found out there was a treatment, there was no question that we would treat her,” Mike said. “And what Dr. Husbands has done is pretty phenomenal.”

According to Husbands, diagnosing this condition early by regularly visiting primary care veterinarians like Dr. Stepanek is imperative to giving pets the best chance of survival when they’re inflicted with cancer. However, in this case, it’s also a testament to Maddie’s personality and determination.

“If caught early enough, we can give pets the tools they need to get better. But at the end of the day, it’s also up to them on how they use those tools,” Husbands said. “Our pets age much faster than we do. That’s why it’s so important to visit your family veterinarian regularly and catch problems early.”

Fortunately for Mike, with his father being a veterinarian, Maddie sees her veterinarian often. When Maddie developed swollen lymph nodes and stopped eating, the Stepaneks knew there was cause for concern.

Husbands says those signs are very common but also recommends keeping an eye out for abnormal thirst, difficulty breathing, excessive urination and weight loss that are additional symptoms associated with lymphoma.

In Maddie’s case, she beat the odds, and according to Mike, every day is a blessing.

One day, Teagan will be old enough to understand she and Maddie have had a lot more time to spend together thanks to science and veterinarians like her grandfather and the specialists at BluePearl.

In addition to having board-certified oncologists at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Blaine and Eden Prairie, the hospitals have board-certified specialists in critical care, dentistry, internal medicine, neurology, ophthalmology and surgery.

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