Bob and Diane Stoner of Lombard knew something was amiss with their beloved 8-year-old dog, Hope. Their 2-year-old dog, Grace, kept licking Hope's face as if she were trying to heal a wound.
"We did notice two small lumps in her neck," Diane says about Hope, an Australian shepherd mix. "There were more in her chest."
That was just the start.
"It's unbelievable how fast it went. Her whole face was swollen up," Bob says. "At night you could hear her wheezing."
Their veterinarian diagnosed Hope with lymphoma, a common canine cancer similar to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in people. It often goes into remission with chemotherapy, but "there's the initial shock when they give you the treatment options and the cost," Diane says.
"Lymphoma will kill a dog in four to six weeks normally if they don't receive chemotherapy," says Laurie Kaplan, a veterinarian medicine researcher and writer who wanted to donate money from her 2004 book, "Help Your Dog Fight Cancer," to people who couldn't afford chemotherapy. "I couldn't find such an organization, so I started The Magic Bullet Fund."
Named after Kaplan's Siberian husky, Bullet, The Magic Bullet Fund has doled out about $650,000 to help pay for canine cancer treatments. Hope is the 608th dog to receive funds. A typical series of chemo treatments costs $4,000 to $6,000, Kaplan says.
"We were devastated at first and didn't know how we'd pay for it," recalls Diane, who heard about the charity from a friend. She filled out an application at themagicbulletfund.org. The charity helps dogs that have a good chance to survive a year or more and live with families that can't afford treatment. A review panel, made up of veterinarians, clinic managers and other experts, deemed Hope and the Stoners a worthy cause. Hope's second treatment is Feb. 2, and she'll get four more chemo doses in the 12 weeks following that.
Diane, 47, works as a special education teaching assistant at Willowbrook High School, picks up a few extra bucks from helping with after-school activities and has a part-time job at Home Depot in Oakbrook Terrace. Her husband, 53, works as an associate test engineer at Navistar, putting trucks and buses through tests designed to make sure components don't fail, and works overtime whenever he can. Son Corey, 16, lives at home, but the Stoners are paying to send Austin, 20, to Augustana College in Rock Island.
"This is my daughter," Diane says of Hope, realizing some people think it's foolish to spend so much to extend a dog's life when so many humans need help.
"She is part of our family," Bob says of Hope. The couple note that they didn't seek chemotherapy for their dog Sassy in 2015 because the diagnosis came near the end of her expected 13-year life.
Hope has regained lots of her old energy and seems to be doing well, the Stoners say.
The Magic Bullet Fund set up a special account for Hope, and, with help from two dozen dedicated volunteers, solicits funds from corporations and individuals for all their dogs in need. Visit themagicbulletfund.org for details.
"We've always been a two-dog family," Diane says. "The Magic Bullet Fund has given us the option to do that."