After Finding a Throat Tumor, Special Fund Means More Life for Phife

Hip-hop fans know about the late, great Phife Dawg, one of the founding members of the groundbreaking alternative hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. 

This story is about Phife the dog, a boxer-Australian shepherd mix named after Phife Dawg. Phife the dog is a patient in the radiation oncology service at the NC State Veterinary Hospital.

Phife was adopted about 12 years ago by Bryce and Keischa Williams of Wake Forest. He was the last puppy in the litter, and the Williams’ drove all the way to Louisburg to make him part of their family. And he is definitely a family member, basically growing up with their two children.

Their daughter, now 15, was just 3 years old when Phife got his new home, and their son was 5.

Keischa Williams describes Phife as a sweet boy. 

“He loves kids, and is really gentle with them. I’d describe him as playful, energetic and loving,” she says. She adds that he is always protective of the kids. Phife is such a part of the family they even read to him.

Recently, though, the Williams family noticed Phife doing something he’s never done before: snoring.

“We wondered if it was because he was older, but we took him to the vet, anyway, just to check it,” says Keischa Williams. 

A thorough examination revealed an alarming answer: a tumor in Phife’s throat.

After a referral to the NC State Veterinary Hospital, it was confirmed that Phife was suffering from a neuroendocrine carcinoma, a cancer affecting the left side of his nose and throat. The prognosis was not good. Left untreated, Phife would only live a few more months.

“We talked with the oncologists at NC State, and we discussed the options with them,” Keischa Williams says. Mike Nolan, associate professor, radiation oncology and biology, explained the different courses of treatment to the Williams, including the costs and likely outcomes.

“We were concerned because Phife didn’t act sick, and we didn’t want to hurt his quality of life,” Keischa Williams says. “We were trying not to cry over our baby. We didn’t want to do unnecessary surgery, but we didn’t want to give up, either. And we don’t have pet insurance, so we were concerned about the cost.”

She says that Nolan could tell they were stressed. He told the Williams family about the funding available to assist qualified pet owners from the Petco Love (formerly the Petco Foundation) and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund. Through a generous grant to NC State, the fund helps clients defray the cost of cancer treatment for animal companions. 

“That made all the difference,” Keischa Williams says. “That is saving us a tremendous amount of money so we could go all-in on the treatment. There’s really no decision when it involves the life or death of a loved one. It’s just, ‘how do we fix this.’”

Phife has undergone a series of radiation treatments that should significantly extend his life. He tolerated the treatments well and even got excited about his visits to NC State. 

“It was like ‘I know this place,’” Keischa Williams says. “Everyone was so nice to him.”

The family is grateful for the assistance that enabled them to provide Phife with the best possible treatment. “We thank Petco so much. They lifted a huge burden from our shoulders,” she says. “It means Phife can live out the rest of his days happy and healthy. We’re so grateful that NC State let us participate in the program.”

The Williams family is also pleased to support NC State’s educational mission. 

“It’s great that this is helping future vets learn and grow,” Keischa Williams says. “We’re glad that Phife can be a part of that.” 

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine