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Writing and Projects

From the Desk of Valerie J. Wood

The Story Behind Breakfasts with Buster: Helping Buster Battle Bone Cancer


It started out as a typical visit to the vet. Our big brown dog, Buster, has been out in our yard and came in limping. The ground was slick from winter weather and melted snow. My husband and I figured that Buster had slipped and sprained—or worst-case scenario, fractured—his front leg. So we called the vet’s office in Westminster and got him in to be examined right away. The vet did some x-rays, and then came out to speak to us.  His expression told us that it was far more serious than anticipated.

“I’m pretty sure it’s bone cancer,” he told us, explaining that the pattern in the x-ray of Buster’s left front wrist area indicated the diagnosis. He had seen this often enough that he was certain, although a subsequent biopsy would help confirm the verdict.

Treatment options were few and grim. Chemotherapy and radiation could be done to help alleviate the pain, but the bottom line was that it would buy us perhaps 1 month, 2 at the most, with Buster. It was not a cure and not likely to extend his life in any quality way. The alternative offered was leg amputation. If bone cancer had not already spread—which it does quickly through the lungs, liver and organs—it might be halted. While on the surface that might appear a possible solution, in our hearts we knew it wasn’t viable. At 10 years of age, Buster weighed 167 pounds; elderly for a large dog. He was half-Boxer and half-Great Dane (my husband would always add “…or small pony” when asked about his background). Large breeds such as Great Danes have an average life span of approximately 6-8 years. Likewise, Boxers.  (And, both breeds are particularly prone to bone cancer.) The larger the breed, the shorter the life. Many folks don’t realize that amputation in pets is done at the joint, whether shoulder or hip. For a large, active dog that leapt to his feet whenever he heard a strange sound it would be a devastating thing to lose a front leg. Natural instinct has them bounding to their feet right away. Perhaps if it had been a back leg, that might have been more manageable. It’s hard to say.

I told the vet that we needed a few days to figure out the best course of action for Buster. If there was an alternative treatment or holistic method that could be found, I was going to search for it. The vet told us he would help in any way he could—he knew both of us well enough to realize we would do everything we could for Buster. I have personally had success with alternative treatments for my own ailments, particularly migraines, and this had been a long-time interest of mine.

My book, Breakfasts with Buster tells about our search for a way to help our beloved boy. Information abounds but is scattered far and wide about alternative treatments, supplements and holistic means used to combat cancer. I searched online, ‘Google-ing’ for information. Looking for books, papers, research. Trying to find plausible courses of treatment. Wondering about prostheses for pets and, if the leg were amputated, could an artificial limb be created? Casting for a method to attack this grim disease which was sensible, effective, and would be the easiest on Buster.  I read, made notes, ordered books, sent emails, trying to find more information, assess it quickly, and put it to use.

The book tells Buster’s story and details the changes made to his diet. Changes which contributed to his living an additional 10 months of quality time, with pain managed by medication and cancer slowed by dietary changes and supplements.

Buster B. Brown had been a member of our family since he was 7 ½ weeks old. We chose him out of a litter of 10 puppies born to a brindle Boxer named Muggsy. She had escaped one evening to find romance and the owners needed homes for the resulting puppies. Initially the suspect father was a Doberman pinscher who resided across the back alley. As Buster grew from the projected 50-75 pounds guesstimated for the puppies to a prime weight of 137 (then to a super-sized weight of 167), it became clear that his daddy was either a Great Dane (or small pony).

When Buster came home, he was intended to be a companion and hopefully good influence on our Doberman, Baron.  A problem child, Baron had separation anxiety issues. Ironically, we would lose Baron about a year later from a massive heart attack at almost 5 years of age. The two became inseparable pals and Buster was a joyous addition to our family of cats and dogs.

If you are reading this, then you are likely to feel that a pet, especially a dog or a cat, is a full-fledged member of the family. They have wants, needs and desires just as humans do—only they are less-demanding, more forgiving and know what unconditional love is. We humans, in general, do not possess the ability to speak their language and they do the best they can to communicate with us. How many times have you heard a newly grieving pet-parent feel the need to add, ‘it was only a pet.’ A sort of almost apology because non-pet parents often do not understand the attachment for the furry members of our families that we have lost. Whenever I hear that, I cringe. If a human loses a child, they do not say, ‘it was only a baby.’ I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way.

The immediate change we made was to completely re-vamp Buster’s diet. No more canned food, dog bone treats, or standard dry kibble.  We all buy these foods for a variety of reasons—partly for convenience, as well as thinking we are doing a good thing feeding a pet a commercially prepared quality food—but as I have learned, that is not necessarily true. The sad fact is that we have all been brainwashed over the past 50 or so years to believe that we must buy commercially prepared pet foods so that our beloved companions get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to live an optimum life. Anything with grain and sugar was removed from his diet. Basically it was a high-protein, low-carb food regimen. We added many things to his diet, particularly Omega-3 and 6 oils, Vitamins C and E, and found dried chicken treats he could have so he did not feel deprived.  Cottage cheese and flaxseed oil (a combination detailed in book by Dr. Johanna Budwig), and the spice, turmeric (which has been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors) were added to each meal.

And, finally we located a holistic vet in Woodbine who made house calls and performed acupuncture. She prescribed additional supplements to help boost his immune system and help keep the cancer from spreading. We used ‘human quality’ supplements and foods for Buster.

About 8 months after diagnosis, in September, the tumor on Buster’s forearm started growing externally, forming a baseball-sized knot surrounding his wrist-joint area. It seemed to enlarge almost daily. Another vet was consulted with the hope of surgically de-bulking the tumor as it steadily increased in size. Buster’s chest was x-rayed 2 weeks before we ultimately lost him—and the traditional vets were astounded to see that there was absolutely no evidence of any tumors in his lungs, liver, or stomach. They even called in an x-ray specialist to consult. So, while the tumor became aggressive and grew at the initial point in Buster’s wrist area, cancer had not spread any further into his body. Our efforts had a measure of success, although at the time we certainly did not feel that way.

In November 2007, x-rays showed that the tumor was growing internally, spreading into the bone, causing it to critically weaken. It would only be a short matter of time before his leg gave way completely and shattered. We could not bear the thought of him going through this pain and suffering, and made the decision that he would go to Heaven before the joint collapsed.

I knew I would eventually put Buster’s story in writing, partly because of the many things we tried to help him which had a positive effect and partly because I wanted to write his biography and tell his story while the treatments and protocols we tried were still fresh in my mind. Buster was Everydog; no one ever met him who didn’t fall in love with him. A huge, gentle giant who was thoughtful and impeccably mannered.  His story is a starting point for someone facing canine bone cancer—detailing what we did, what we believe helped, which supplements were used, and containing a full listing of books and resources consulted. If this helps even one dog diagnosed with cancer, it will have served its purpose.  

I am not a doctor, veterinarian, or scientist. I like to think of myself as an intelligent woman with some common sense, logic, and optimism who knows that there is still an awful lot we need to learn about cancer treatment, especially for pets.

At last we had to concede we could do nothing further for our sweet brown boy and make the dreaded decision to end his time on Earth. The hope that comes from his story is that we were gifted with 10 additional quality months of life—and Breakfasts—with Buster.




Before the explosion of commercially prepared foods which, of course, are a long-time booming industry accompanied by cute commercials, pets actually used to eat the same foods as their humans did. But, nowadays, you hear, ‘don’t feed table scraps!’ as though that is an awful thing to do. Understanding that common sense should prevail, feeding table food is generally a better diet for your pet as well. (And common sense, please: I’m not talking giving them a slice of pizza or a cheeseburger on a bun for supper!)

The ideal would be to cook enough of whatever you are having (chicken, beef, vegetables) to make a meal for your pet as well. For a healthy animal, adding cooked rice, a little pasta (preferably whole-wheat) or cooked oatmeal might be an extra treat.

Many newer commercial foods have come a long way in improving their ingredient list to eliminate unnecessary fillers and chemical additives. It is an individual choice of what to feed, based on your circumstances, but be a knowledgeable consumer when it comes to your pet’s food and read the label—just like you should be reading the labels on what you feed yourself or the rest of your family.