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More than 4 million people tune in each day to hear E! News correspondent Ashlan Gorse dish about celebrity news. But there's more to Gorse than that. Her 15,700 Twitter followers know that she "loves cars, puppies and wine ... not necessarily in that order." Those closest to her know her as a fearless adventurer and devoted dog owner — traits that were evident last year when her newly adopted Siberian Husky, Aurora, was diagnosed with cancer.
Gorse chatted with us about how she dealt with the diagnosis, what Aurora's treatment involved and what she hopes other pet owners will learn from her experience.
Oh, and we don't want to worry — Aurora completed her treatment and has made a full recovery.
Gorse adopted Aurora in June 2010 — or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Aurora chose her. "I knew I wanted a Husky, but I also knew I wanted to adopt. I saw her on a website and went to visit her at the animal shelter. She was beautiful, but she had a huge [mammary] tumor, and I didn't really know what to do because I didn't want to adopt a dog that had cancer, you know? So I waited. I cried on the way home. I cried that whole weekend. And I called that Monday morning to see if anybody had adopted her, and someone had, so I figured, that's not my dog. It wasn't meant to be.
"I was upset, so I gave myself a week before I looked again, and then I found a picture that looked just like her on Petfinder. It turned out she'd gotten adopted by a Husky rescue organization. When I went to pick her up, she remembered me! She started jumping up and down, and barking, howling, and the woman who runs the organization said, 'Oh, my gosh, she's been kind of scared and skittish since she got here. She really must remember you!' And that was that. I took her home — she wasn't getting away again."
"When I first got her, she'd just had a mammary gland tumor removed. It was benign. I thought maybe she'd been a puppy mill mom who they'd decided they didn't need anymore once she got a tumor, so she ended up in the shelter. That was always in the back of my head, so whenever she had any bumps or lumps, I'd get them checked out immediately because of her history," Gorse says.
And it's a good thing she did. She found a lump near Aurora's elbow just a year later. "As a Husky, she's so freaking fluffy that it was kind of a fluke that I even noticed it," Gorse says. She scheduled an appointment with her vet right away. That lump turned out to be a nerve sheath tumor.
Fortunately, she learned that this kind of cancer was rarely known to spread. However, because Aurora's tumor was located on her elbow, the possibility of removing enough surrounding tissue to contain the cancer was questionable, and Gorse was afraid they would have to amputate Aurora's leg.
As you might expect, Gorse took the news hard. "I don't have anybody in my family who's ever had cancer, so even to hear that word from a doctor is so scary. I'm a very emotional person. When the doctor first told me cancer, I just couldn't believe it. I called my parents, and my poor father couldn't even understand my babbling, 'My dog has caaaancerrrr!' 'What?' 'Caaannnncerrrrrr!' 'Uhh, talk to your mother,' " Gorse recalls.
"It was about 15 minutes of me losing my mind, and then this switch went off in my head, and I just went into, well, I guess 'mommy mode' is the best way to describe it. I was in a ball on my kitchen floor, weeping to my parents, but after I hung up with them, I composed myself and got online to try to look up what exactly a nerve sheath tumor was and learn about the treatment for it. You have to remember when you hear horrible news like that, that it's OK to be upset and sad, but you can't let that overshadow getting it fixed."
Gorse immediately went into action, acting on her vet's referral to City of Angels in Culver City, which has a veterinary cancer wing. The doctors there determined they would not need to amputate Aurora's leg as Gorse had feared. Aurora underwent surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, and two weeks after that, began six weeks of radation. And that was as challenging as anything.
"It was every day, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. She was actually on a human machine, but the problem with a dog is you can't tell them to sit still, so she had to go under every single time. The good thing is that they had her on a very quick sedation, so we were in and out very quickly, in an hour, each day.
"Through this whole thing, she was such a trooper. You'd never even know that she had, more or less, third-degree burns on her arm from the radiation. She's just so happy and sweet and so excited to get in the car to go see the vets. She was friends with everyone who worked there."
Gorse was very fortunate to have loads of support — her mom offered to fly out to help, and whenever her boyfriend was in town, he'd offer to take Aurora in. Another major source of support came from her job with E! News. "I get off work at 2:30 p.m. every day, so Aurora and I were able to have a standing appointment at 4 p.m. The days that I did need to take off or leave early for Aurora, they supported me 100 percent."
Gorse also acknowledges that she's lucky to have had a bit of money saved. "It's expensive! Around $8,000-$9,000. And I didn't have pet insurance," she says. "Thank God I'd been saving to try to buy a house, so I had some money, and I couldn't imagine, with the economy the way it is, having to make that decision about a family member.
So how has this changed her relationship with Aurora? "My dog really taught me a lesson. Things really could be worse, so just make the most of every single day. If my dog can smile through radiation, not understanding what's going on or why her leg hurts, I mean, if I'm having a bad day, I just need to suck it up."
Gorse hopes her story will make pet owners think twice about ignoring any changes in their dog's behavior or physique. "This is a family member. If you see something that doesn't look right or your dog is acting different, take him in! Take him to the vet. And if you get a diagnosis, just like with people, you can always go get a second opinion. Explore all your options before you make a decision."
In addition to using her celebrity status to help pet owners realize that canine cancer can be treatable and that it's important to seek out a treatment plan you're comfortable with, Gorse has some other big plans. "Now that her arm is healing, I'm actually trying to get Aurora certified to be a helping dog so we can go to the children's hospitals and visit kids who have cancer. I think that would really help them, and Aurora loves kids. She would love it."
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