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Susie’s Story: Fighting Bladder Cancer with Immunotherapy

Updated: Mar 17


We recently spoke with Susie's dad Enrico Pontelli, who shared their story after Susie was diagnosed with bladder cancer or TCC (Transitional Cell Carcinoma).



This is Susie’s story, in her dad’s words.



“That was kind of shocking because we were not really expecting it, and it confirmed the diagnosis of Transitional Cell Carcinoma.


The initial diagnosis was only 3 to 6 months, and now we are almost two years, and she's still with us. So obviously, something is going okay.”



Susie’s Diagnosis


We discovered that Susie had cancer in December 2021, and it was just a complete surprise because she had absolutely no symptoms. When we took her to a specialist, they discovered that there was something unusual, and they suggested that we do further tests. That's when we contacted Dr. Knapp at Purdue University.


We took her there, and it was a 19-hour drive from New Mexico to Indiana. It confirmed the diagnosis of TCC, and that was kind of shocking because we were not really expecting it.


Finding an Oncologist


Fortunately, we found an oncologist that was not so far away. Santa Fe, which is still about a four-hour drive, but that's better than 19 hours. Dr. Kelly has just been amazing because she's a holistic oncologist, so she looks at the complete picture of the dog. In fact, she decided not to pursue the protocol that Dr. Knapp prescribed, which was a traditional protocol with Piroxicam [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) ] and an anti-tumor medication ] and chemotherapy, because she was very concerned about the side effects of some of those medications, especially Piroxicam.


Immunocidin Immunotherapy


We decided to pursue immunotherapy with Immunocidin. For the first period, we were going up there every three weeks to introduce Immunocidin directly into the bladder. And at the same time, we started the regimen of Previcox [Cox Inhibitor drug] every day. We also completely changed her diet, and we started cooking for her every day. Plus, we introduced some supplements like Turkey Tail, and milk thistle to protect the liver and kidney.


The initial diagnosis from Dr. Knapp was three to six months, and now we are almost two years old, she's still with us, so something is obviously okay.





Yale Vaccine


We also recently learned about the Yale vaccine trial, so this summer, my wife and I decided that we needed to somehow find a way to get Susie into the study. The closest site was Phoenix, but Phoenix, especially in the initial stage, was not taking patients out of state. Fortunately, we were accepted in Santa Cruz clinic in California, so we decided to just go to Santa Cruz. That required three trips to Santa Cruz for the two vaccine injections, and then a follow-up visit for the blood work. We did that nice long trip with Susie, but that's okay because she does very well in the car; she just sleeps.


Introduction of Chemotherapy


So, at some point, Dr. Kelly started chemotherapy as well, and the first time she got chemo was a little bit rough. For a couple of days, she was not feeling good, but then she went back to her normal self, and the following chemo did not give her any problems. She got a little bit sleepy just immediately after. The only situation where we really got very scared was when she had a UTI at a certain point, and Dr. Kelly prescribed antibiotics. We got very scared, so we stopped everything for a week because of the side effects.


Every time when we visit Dr. Kelly, she does X-rays and ultrasounds. I think there has been a small growth, but nothing that Dr. Kelly made us very worried about. It's still away from pipes, but she's peeing more often than usual now.


More about Susie


She's doing well. She's always very hungry. She's an extremely food-driven dog. Every morning, when I prepare food, I take it out of the fridge. I put it in the microwave to warm it up a little bit. She barks on the microwave until the food comes out. That's not changed at all. She is an interesting dog.


We have a little statue of Susie. She is about 25 pounds. I think at a certain point, Stephanie did blood work on her to figure out what her DNA was. It is a Boston Terrier and Brittany Spaniel Mix with a little bit of pug, so it's a strange combination.


We found her on the street when somebody just dumped the little puppy. It has been amazing, and she's almost 16 years old in December.


Living with a dog diagnosed with TCC


With this cancer, there's no cure and as long as she seems to be not in pain, we're going to continue taking care of her. We try to change our lives, and we realize that she has other problems. We try to during the day take turns who goes home a little bit earlier to let her out, making sure that she's comfortable. You know, she's old as well, so she has all the other effects of being old, like her back legs have been a problem for quite some time and she has a little bit of a back problem as well. She's moving much slower than she used to, and she used to be a pretty fast dog. She's moving much slower, and we have adapted the house a little bit so that she has pillows to kind of climb to the bed.


She's a great dog. She's very, very smart. When she was younger, she would actually come to bed and demand her to go under the cover. Now, she just sleeps at the bottom of the bed, and we do have another dog, Bob. Bob is the one who sleeps in the middle.


Immunocidin Successes


Dr. Kelly introduced us to another dog that has TCC when I was at the clinic for our regular appointment, and she asked me to introduce Susie to the other dog. She was starting him on immunocidin as well, and she uses immunocidin for other types of cancers as well.


She seems to be having a lot of success. The last time I was there, there was this lady who was telling me that her dog went into complete remission, and immunocidin was the only thing that the dog received, nothing else, and the dog looked great.


Administering Immunocidin


In the first rounds of the immunocidin, Susie received Immunocidin in the bladder through [intravesical] injection. She wasn't sedated and she got an injection very quickly. Then for a while, she was getting it through IV infusion. We were a little bit concerned about the [intravesical] injection into the bladder because of the risk of possibly spreading the cancer. Dr. Kelly never expressed that concern.


Well, immunocidin itself, I don't think, is very expensive. I think when I get the one to take home, it is about $200 for the vial. The expensive part is everything else: x-rays, ultrasound, etc.


Thank goodness for insurance.


Cause of TCC?


Now that we've learned a lot of lessons through Susie, we can also do better for more. We're asking ourselves, how did we get here? Why? What caused it? Because we read a lot about pesticides as one of the things that may [cause TCC]. We used to regularly use pesticides and herbicides around our house. Obviously, that's stopped now. It's scary.



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