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The Smiling Blue Skies® Cancer Fund

May 8, 2016 | By: Judith

I want to introduce you to another great charity that “Holistic Blend” supports, “Smiling Blue Skies.” I heard about this charity a while ago, when a friend was researching options for her Labrador who had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Today, I had a chance to talk to Debbie, the owner of “Holistic Blend,” and ask her why she chose this particular charity to support.
“Cancer is something that everyone knows and I have personally seen the harsh effects on many families, including my own. It is life changing. Now imagine what this would be like, going through with a pet?” she says.
“Support for cancer is very important to me and everyone at “Holistic Blend.” Both animals and humans are important to us. We love the warmth and compassion that Smiling Blue Skies offers. Money raised is used to support research at the University of Guelph, and to be honest, research is the only way we are going to be able to better understand how we can treat this devastating disease. They offer resources, nutritional support and awareness . . . all the things that I am looking for in a charity.”
“Why don’t you ask them personally?” she suggested, handing me their information card. I looked at the card and then at the powerful force behind “Holistic Blend,” and smiled at how wonderful it was to know that animals had this great guardian of protection in their lives.
Next, I reached out to Kayla, a volunteer for Smiling Blue Skies and asked for more information to share with everyone.

What is “Smiling Blue Skies?”

Since the spring of 2001, The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund and The Smiling Blue Skies Fund for Innovative Research have supported the Ontario Veterinary College, at the University of Guelph Pet Trust’s quest, to find more and better ways to understand and treat the complex and devastating disease of cancer. Smiling Blue Skies also offers 24/7 support to “anyone” whose life has been touched by cancer, regardless of where you live.

When was “Smiling Blue Skies” founded?

March 27th, 2001, when founder, Suzi Beber, lost her Golden Retriever, Blue to Lymphoma.

What inspired you to make a difference?

I was inspired by my Golden Retriever, Kasey. He was diagnosed with nasal squamous cell carcinoma (a form of skin cancer growing in his nose) in October 2013. At the time, he was 10 years old. We were immediately referred to the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer in Guelph. His type of cancer was an aggressive growing tumour and the only recommended treatment was surgery. He would need to have a large portion of his nose and upper jaw removed. The oncology veterinarian thought he was in a good position for full recovery, if they could remove the entire tumour. Kasey had been a very healthy dog up until this point, so we decided to go through with it.

Throughout the ordeal, the group at the animal cancer center was wonderful! I received daily updates (morning and night) after his surgery, and even received a call from his surgeon when his surgery had just finished. With time, he recovered wonderfully, and was well on his way to recovery, when I found out about Guelph’s “First Annual Smiling Blue Skies Walk to End Canine Cancer.” It was going to be held in September of 2014. Kasey and I were going to walk in it as a “cancer survivor.” Sadly, in June of 2014, at his 6-month follow-up appointment, we found out that the cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He passed away in July 2014, just a few days past his 11th birthday. It was from there, that I decided to get involved with the walk and volunteer my time.

I’ve always been a huge animal lover and I know so many dogs that have died of cancer so it just feels right that I would be involved in cause like this! This year is my first year organizing the walk. My 1 year old Bernese Mountain Dog, Willow, and I, will be there walking in memory of all the dogs that have lost their lives to cancer.

What kind of support is needed to keep “Smiling Blue Skies” a success?

MONEY… unfortunately, without money, these critical studies and grants cannot be funded. The 2015 report is located on the home page of The Smiling Blue Skies website, at www.smilingblueskies.com. It is through this report that you can see all of the things we have been involved in over the past year, and get a taste for our future goals. Without us, for example, there would be no clinical research coordinator. We have just extended the funding of this very critical position, for another three years. In addition, another key focus for us has been the creation of core communications tools and strategies, to promote clinical research studies and the Companion Animal Tumour Sample Bank. This focus is aimed to increase patient recruitment for clinical trials, promote collaborations and facilitate cancer research at OVC and the University of Guelph.

I was so happy that in addition to answering my questions, Kayla decided to share with me a personal story written by Doreen Houston. Doreen is a veterinary internist and now semi-retired. She is currently an OVC Pet Trust Board Member and for the last 5 years has been involved with “Smiling Blue Skies,” as a walker and fund raiser.

This is her story:

Rain-errr-shine, my all weather friend, Houston van Berkel the first (we just call her Rayner) lived to be 15 years of age. Truly remarkable given she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma 3-1/2 years prior to that birthday. It was March 17, 2011, I bent down to kiss Rayner's nose as I always do and there it was - a tiny lump beside her canine tooth on the right lower jaw. Within days, our veterinarian had a biopsy report and the news was not good, Rayner had Malignant Melanoma. We were devastated. I made an appointment at the Animal Cancer Centre at the Ontario Veterinary College and discussed all of the palliative care options; radiation, surgery and chemotherapy. Making a decision was not easy and through a flood of tears the decision was made to do all we could do for Rayner. The cancer was staged (blood work, lymph node biopsies, scans of chest/abdomen and jaw) and Rayner underwent surgery to remove part of her right lower jaw and all of the lymph nodes in her neck. She was a trooper and the gang at the Animal Cancer Centre were fantastic. Rayner came home and had to learn to eat without that part of her jaw. Not an easy thing when you consider that long border collie nose. She struggled and we struggled. About a week after surgery, I knew we were turning a corner. Kees, my husband, had barbequed chicken breasts for dinner and I was making a salad. Kees had left to go to the store. When he returned, I told him "I have good news and I have bad news". The good news is Rayner showed great interest in the chicken and, with hand feeding, ate it all!. The bad news is "you are having salad only" for dinner. From then on, it was a combination of hand feeding and Rayner eating on her own (home cooking, canned food and even kibble). As part of her therapy, she was on the melanoma vaccination - a unique form of therapy with a vaccine that targets the abnormal cells. Once through the initial program, Rayner went back to the cancer center about every 6 months for her checkup and vaccination. They were so good to her and the love and concern was obvious. I sat and chatted (and cried) with other pet "moms and dads" going through cancer diagnoses and treatments with their pets too. One thing was abundantly clear-we need to do more to stop cancer IN ALL SPECIES. I became a member of the OVC Pet Trust Board shortly after Rayner was diagnosed with cancer. I believe in the power of research and the difference it can make in the lives of our pets. I believe in improving the lives of the pets entrusted to our care. Rayner and I took part in our first Smiling Blue Skies Walk to End Canine Cancer in 2012 in Toronto. She was with me for the 2nd (Toronto 2013), and 3rd (2014 - the first time in Guelph). Rayner was euthanized shortly after the walk in 2014, having reached 15 years of age and developing a mass on her spleen and some other health issues. We decided it was time to say goodbye. I will keep on walking with her in my heart. This will be my 5th Smiling Blue Skies Walk to End Canine Cancer. What Suzi Beber (I should say Dr. Suzi Beber) has started in memory of her beloved "Blues" has been a phenomenal success. So many research projects into cancer detection and treatment have been made possible because of SBS. Rayner would not have lived 3-1/2 years post a diagnosis of Malignant Melanoma were it not for cancer research and the wonderful team at the Animal Cancer Centre. I know we are making a difference. Long live Smiling Blue Skies.

A big thank you to Debbie and “Holistic Blend” for supporting the pet community and thank you to Kayla, Doreen and all the amazing people involved with Smiling Blue Skies. I have learned so more about canine cancer and ways that we can work to treat the devastating disease that is cancer.

To learn more about Smiling Blue Skies Walk
Visit: http://uofg.convio.net/guelph2016

To learn more about Smiling Blue Skies and how you can get involved,
Visit: www.smilingblueskies.com

To learn more about OVC Pet Trust
Visit https://ovc.uoguelph.ca/pettrust/

Judith