Your Turn: Melanomas, the sequel

Last week, Megan Rust’s cautionary tale “Don’t Shrug Off Melanomas” got over 2,000 reads. Today she follows up with a post-debridement update on her mare, Juno.

Top: Some eighty percent of grey horses will get melanomas at some point during their lives. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

From Megan:

Whew. Juno and I are back from the animal hospital, where she had her melanomas debrided. The melanomas are gone now, but others might grow in the future. However, now I know what to do to make sure neither Juno nor I have to go through this again.

We left about o’ dark-thirty for the three hour trip to the animal hospital. I gave Juno some ace before we left–ace is acepromazine, equine Valium–because the trip to the hospital included a ride on a ferry to cross Puget Sound, and the ferry scares the heck out of Juno. I didn’t want to add ferry anxiety to hospital anxiety, for either of us, so I gave her a low dose of ace.

Once we arrived, we were escorted to her day stall, so she could start to detune before the surgery. An hour later, I led her to the surgery room, prepared to wait for her there. I was told the laser equipment was too dangerous for civilians to be around, so I couldn’t watch. The vet and techs probably just didn’t want a frantic horse owner–me–in the way, so out I went.

An hour later, I was taken to Juno’s stall, where she was easing out of her sedation, and another hour later, she was ready to load for the trailer ride home. She got another dose of ace for the second ferry ride, then we were off.

That night I had to start the aftercare for Juno. That included Bute twice a day for three days, then Bute once a day for three more days, and SMZ (sulfamethoxazole) antibiotic twice a day for ten days. In addition I was to apply Neosporin burn ointment twice a day for five days to the surgery “wounds”, since the laser actually burns the melanoma off. Juno had an Elastikon bandage over the top of her tail, hiding some of the surgery sites, but everything else was right in front of me, and it looked hideous. The skin around her anus, where the melanomas had been, was swollen and bloody with “craters” where the lasers burned the tumors off. I was so glad that I had Bute for her, to help with the pain.

The next day, when the Elastikon bandage had slipped down, I cut it off, which revealed even more surgery sites. These had been too large for the laser–one was slightly smaller than a quarter, the other about the size of a dime–so they had been removed with a scalp, and the edges were cauterized with the laser. I applied the Neosporin to the edges of those bigger sites, as well as the smaller craters. She got Bute twice a day for the pain, and I mixed the SMZs with her grain to prevent infection. Since the SMZs dissolve in water very easily, and have little taste, she didn’t turn her nose up on the adulterated grain, which was a real relief.

Today–four days after the surgery–Juno seems to be feeling better. When I turned her out this morning–her 12×40 paddock is attached to her stall, with a 2 acre turnout field–she raced off, bucking and farting for the first time since the surgery. Tonight is the last application of Neosporin, and the laser craters have almost disappeared, though the larger scalpel cuts are still visible and might not scab over for several more days. We’re down to Bute once a day until Wednesday, and SMZs twice a day until the weekend. We’re almost out of the woods, and nothing untoward has happened.

What have I learned? Small things like: SMZs are really easy to dissolve in water; even though I didn’t get any from the animal hospital, Bute comes in flavored powder, and I’ll get flavored Bute in the future; spraying hay with water makes it easier for the horse to pass.

The big thing I learned was that I would have paid real money to go back in time to the day I found the first melanomas on Juno, and had them removed when they were small. If I’d known then what I know now, Juno wouldn’t have had to go through this ordeal with the surgery.

I’m not trying to scare you with this update. If you see melanomas that are removable, and you’re so creeped out by my story that you choose not to have them taken off, you’re missing the point of my experience. Leaving them is NOT the answer. The point I’m trying to make is, “As soon as you see a melanoma, have it removed, preferably when it’s tiny.” When my local vet took five small ones off three months ago, all Juno needed was one dose of Bute. She didn’t need multiple doses of pain killer, SMZ for ten days, and several tubes of Neosporin. I plan to have Juno–and Athene, my other grey mare–checked for melanomas every year when I have their teeth done, so that the melanomas will still be small if I find any. THAT’S the point of my story.

Is it “Your Turn”? Horse Nation welcomes reader submissions. Check out our contributor guidelines here.

Megan Rust lives in Port Townsend, WA, after spending 44 years in Alaska, where she worked as a professional pilot. As a teenager, she started and showed a Morgan-ish grade mare, but took a 30-year hiatus from horses after high school. She returned to a horsey life in 2003, and now she shares her time with a husband, a tuxedo cat, two Pomeranians, two WB mares, a Lusitano mare, and two miniature jennies.



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