Challenge 4: Maiden Horse

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The Big Idea

About a year and a half ago, a vet diagnosed my horse with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.  He got it from a severe sunburn to his nose, which makes me sound like a seriously negligent horse mom, because I obviously wasn’t protecting his face properly.  (I, of all people – the Translucent Wonder – should have known that any living being with skin as pink as mine would get burnt to a crisp out in the sun.)   The vet prescribed a cyclical chemotherapy treatment called 5-Fluorouracil, which we hope will eventually eradicate the tumor.  Through the Maiden Horse series, I plan to document the treatment of Hawk’s disease and his journey toward healing.  There will be no rules, no timeline, no end date.  In that sense, this won’t be a very traditional challenge, but it will be my most difficult yet.

The Treatment

**Note: I AM NOT A VET, and these are not my recommendations on how to treat this issue.  If your horse has skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma, please consult a vet and GET A SECOND OPINION.  During Hawk’s treatment, I spoke with several vets, and they didn’t always agree.  While all recommended the 5-Fluorouracil as the most effective course of treatment, they differed on how to apply it and for how long.  I still don’t know what the best course of treatment is, but I want to document my story and share as much information as I can.  Hopefully it will benefit others. 

5-Fluorouracil: Also called 5FU, this is a topical chemotherapy ointment that the vet prescribed to shrink and eventually eradicate the squamous cell carcinoma tumor on Hawk’s nose.  Although it is a form of chemotherapy, 5FU is supposed to specifically target cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unaffected by treatment.  The medication is administered in cycles or rounds, where the ointment is applied directly to the lesion once daily for about 10-15 days.  The 5FU will aggravate the cancerous tissue, making it irritated and angry, eventually forming a scab.  At that point, the area is allowed to ‘rest’ until the scab falls off, which usually takes several weeks, then treatment resumes.  An entire cycle typically takes 4-6 weeks.

The Cryogun:  In between chemotherapy cycles, the vet sometimes treats Hawk with the “cryogun,” a liquid nitrogen device.  Doctors use the same type of tool on humans to remove warts and sunspots.  The gun is a rather large canister, like a small fire extinguisher, with a goose-neck hose on top where the liquid nitrogen is dispensed.  The vet has used this twice so far.  He typically gives Hawk a heavy tranquilizer, so that he’s doing a bit of the Baltimore Heroin Lean, then sprays the lesion liberally several times over the course of about 15 minutes.  In the next few weeks, the lesion forms a blister, then scabs over.  I wait for the scab to fall off, allow the area to rest, and then resume 5FU treatment.  Like the 5FU, a cryogun cycle typically takes 4-6 weeks.

How I Got Started

This is my horse, Hawk.  Tell me he’s not the cutest.  No, seriously, I dare you to tell me he’s not the cutest, and I will hunt you down like Liam Neeson.

Hawk is an American Paint Horse born in 1998 on a ranch in South Dakota.  He came to Maryland as a yearling, when the owner of the barn where I grew up riding bought Hawk and a few of the other ranch horses and trailered them cross country back to the East Coast.

If I had never met Hawk, I wouldn’t believe in love at first sight.  I fell for him as fast as any horse-crazy 12-year-old girl could, as soon as I spotted him in the quarantine pen.  Then one day, he showed up on my front lawn with a red ribbon on his halter. Some girls might describe a marriage proposal or their wedding day as a fairytale, but for me, that day was my fairytale (sorry, Future Husband).  On a scale of Cinderella to Enchanted, it was pretty much Taylor Swift in a princess dress.

Like all great fairytales, however, this one has a villain.  Enter: Squamous Cell Carcinoma. This is Hawk’s skin cancer.

Hawk was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma about a year and a half ago.  He got a sunburn blister on his nose that wouldn’t heal properly.  At first, I thought it was just an infection of some kind – maybe a fungus he got from having his nose in the dirt for probably 93% of his day.  I tried everything imaginable to heal the lesion, but it wouldn’t budge.  Then, of course, when I found out it was cancer, I felt like crap for not getting the vet involved earlier.  His treatment began around Thanksgiving of 2016 and is still on-going today.  As is typical for MNM’s challenges, this one’s going to be messy, it’s going to be frustrating, and it’s going to smell – like really bad (why does this always happen to me??).

If unsightly medical conditions aren’t your thing, don’t worry – I won’t be offended if you don’t follow the series.  But if this is your thing, then please contact me with your advice, questions, or anecdotes!  Let’s do this!