NICEVILLE, Fla. –– A Niceville couple is seeking the community’s help in getting the medical treatments needed for their two dogs, both of which have been diagnosed with cancer.
Joseph and Sara Lee are appealing to people to consider donating to their Go Fund Me, shopping with their online store, and sharing their story on social media to raise awareness of their plight and that of others dealing with canine cancer.
The Lees moved to Niceville late last year after Joseph was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base. Stetson and Cheyenne, their two rescue dogs, came to Niceville with them. Soon after, they discovered their beloved companions had cancer.
Sadly, the couple said, tests found that a small lump on Stetson’s jaw is lymphoma. Making matters worse, a small lump on Cheyenne’s chest has been diagnosed as a mast cell tumor.
According to the Lees, Cheyenne’s surgery has been scheduled, but they won’t have any answers as to what grade it is or how far it has spread until the removed tumor has been sent to a pathologist.
They said they found some hope for treating Stetson’s lymphoma in a bone marrow transplant. The cost is staggering: $35,000 or more.
Despite the heartbreaking diagnosis of both of their dogs, Joseph and Sara said they remain hopeful.
“They changed our lives. We’re on a quest to save theirs. We are raising money to cover their treatment cost,” the couple said in a statement.
“It is our hope that this campaign will also bring awareness to the costs associated with canine cancer treatment and the far-behind-human canine cancer treatment options available to pet parents.”
Here is the Lees’ story of Stetson and Cheyenne:
Stetson won her heart from the start. She was a Marine Crew Chief who had recently gone through a painful breakup and was looking for love. She found it that day at a small animal rescue farm in Godley, Texas.
“Stetson was the bounciest puppy you’ve ever seen. He came bounding up to me away from his siblings and licked me straight in the face.” She giggled. “I’ll take him!”
Having grown up with dogs, she was excited to adopt her first dog as an adult. He was her best friend, and she took him with her everywhere she went. When she deployed, she was heartbroken to leave him, but they didn’t miss a beat when she returned, and things went back to ‘normal’ for a while.
Fast forward two years. Sara has gotten out of the Marines and gone on to culinary school. Then she meets Joseph, a Lieutenant in the Air Force and a Christian who loves dogs, country music, and two-stepping.
They have so much in common, from their shared love of music, God, dogs, their country, and the outdoors.
They began to dream of their life together, and on the eve of their engagement, they decided to adopt another dog.
“We found Cheyenne at a shelter outside of Houston; she was the biggest of her litter and was already the lanky, awkward, happy girl we love today.”
The minute they brought her home, she pounced on Stetson.
“I was terrified at first. I thought they were fighting,” Sara said, “I’ve never seen Stetson play that hard with another dog.”
Three hours later, they were still at it, jumping, running, barking, and play-fighting. It was an instant connection.
“They have been inseparable ever since.”
In 2022 they received PCS orders to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Sara had her real estate license in Kansas, where they had been stationed, and had to stay behind for a month to finish her job while Joseph took the dogs to Florida.
“It was so hard to be apart from them – I got depressed and lonely. For Thanksgiving, I just worked and ate a frozen dinner.”
Before the move, Sara had noticed a small lump on Stetson’s jaw. Since he had previously had harmless salivary mucoceles that eventually went away on their own, she didn’t think much about it.
“I’ll get it checked out after the move,” she thought to herself.
While Sara was away, Joseph also noticed a small lump on Cheyenne’s chest, which he thought was an inflamed nipple, and since he was so busy with his new job and unpacking, he waited to see if it would go away on its own.
Eventually, Sara made it to Florida – back with Joseph and the pups. There was still a lot of unpacking to do, but she went ahead and made time to get them scheduled at the vet.
“Our orders were for an October move, I didn’t even make it to Florida until December, and I wasn’t able to get Stetson into the vet until late December.”
Because of the holidays, getting Stetson’s cytology results back took a few weeks.
“It was New Year’s Eve, and I got a call from the vet. It’s lymphoma. We were absolutely gutted.”
Newly motivated to check out any cause for concern, Sara immediately got Cheyenne the next available appointment.
“I left that appointment with the diagnosis in my hand. She had a mast cell tumor. I cried so hard.”
Over the next few weeks, they spent their time researching what these diagnoses meant for their dogs. They said they learned while initially highly responsive to chemotherapy, the majority of dogs succumb to lymphoma within one year.
After spending hours and hours poring over peer-reviewed research, studies, and experiments, they discovered something that gave them hope.
A bone marrow transplant.
A bone marrow transplant has approximately a 90% cure rate with an allogeneic donor. The catch? It’s costly. Starting at around $35,000.
“Some people have asked if our dogs are worth it. The answer is an emphatic and unequivocal yes,” the couple said.
“Our dogs are fighters, and so are we. Let’s do this!”