FITHIAN — Jasmin Custer will enjoy plenty of presents, hugs and smiles when she hits her 11th birthday on March 22.
However, for the first time, there will be no cake for the American Staffordshire terrier as she battles cancer.
“We’re trying to keep away from sugar and carbs,” owner Melissa Custer of Fithian said.
Jasmin was diagnosed with lymphoma on Jan. 6, and is undergoing several weeks of chemotherapy at the University of Illinois Veterinary Hospital.
“She’s doing really good,” Custer said. The dog has lost some hair on her tail and is on anti-nausea medicine.
When Jasmin was diagnosed, the veterinarian told Custer that she could let the pet go, or fight the illness.
“I went back and forth on it,” she recalled. Finally, she decided to pursue oncology for her pet, who has been in the household since she was a puppy.
Knowing the cost of cancer treatment can be formidable, Custer was happy to find help through the Magic Bullet Fund, based in New York. The fund was founded in 2005 by Laurie Kaplan, whose Siberian husky, Bullet, had cancer. She wanted to help others with limited financial resources who were helping their best friends fight cancer.
She also published a book, “Help Your Dog Fight Cancer.”
This year, the organization decided to help cats with cancer, as well. One cat is going through the intake process.
Kaplan said in a phone interview that 711 dogs have been helped since the fund started. Of those, nine were from Illinois, and Custer’s pet is the first from Vermilion County.
An owner can apply for help, but needs to meet two criteria: the person must have financial need and the dog or cat must have a good prognosis. In Custer’s case, she has a good chance of long-term survival with treatment.
Once a pet is accepted by Magic Bullet Fund, the organization launches a fundraising campaign and makes a donation to kickstart the campaign.
Custer’s goal is to raise $2,000 for Jasmin, with more than $800 raised so far. Each owner has 30 days to raise funds, and Custer’s deadline is March 10.
Kaplan explained that, in her experience, donations taper off after a month, and that’s why a 30-day deadline is set.
Custer isn’t expected to raise $2,000 all by herself, although she is asked to make an effort to engage friends and family.
The Magic Bullet Fund has 30 volunteers across the country who help screen and promote the pets. Also, there are sponsors on an email list who like to know when a new pet is added; they make donations in general or to a specific breed.
Kaplan said she and the volunteers are always working behind the scenes to get discounts from veterinarians or some type of help to lower the cost of the medications.
Also, any donations made to Jasmin’s fund will go directly to the veterinarian at the time of each treatment.
Even if Jasmin’s fund doesn’t hit $2,000, Kaplan said, “We’re going to get Jasmin through it one way or the other.”
LIKE A PUPPY
Custer said Jasmin will go through 25 visits. For now, she’s going weekly; in about three weeks, she will have treatment every other week.
Jasmin is tired after each treatment, but after a couple of days, she’s back to herself and acts like a puppy again.
Custer cooks all of her meals instead of buying food.
“Everything is natural now. She loves it,” Custer said. “She eats vegetables I would never eat.”
She cooks skinless/boneless chicken breast and thighs or beef with vegetables, including carrots, broccoli, kale and sweet potatoes. Custer makes it ahead and freezes portions.
Jasmin loves people. “The more attention she gets, the happier she is,” Custer said. “She’s a baby. She thinks she’s a lap dog.”
She enjoys playing with her squeaky toys, including Lamb Chop, a monkey and Olaf. She carries around a blanket that people have prayed over.
Although she’s nervous going to the U of I, Jasmin likes the workers there.
Custer said, “I couldn’t ask for a better oncology team. They’ve been amazing with her.”
Custer also described Kaplan as an amazing person, and praised the Magic Bullet team and its efforts.
As for Jasmin’s prognosis, Custer said she did a lot of research and found dogs receiving treatment for lymphoma live three to four years longer than they would have without treatment.
If she doesn’t reach the goal, she said, “We won’t be able to finish treatment. We’re hoping we’re going to reach the goal or close to it.”
She wants Custer to enjoy a few more birthday parties.