Buddy was our big love who got cancer six years into his Golden life. He was our second dog to get cancer. Our first dog got Hemangiosarcoma and it was so pervasive and aggressive that by the time we found it, we only had two more days with him. We thought it was a fluke. When Buddy got cancer, we knew there was more to it. Buddy had a slower moving cancer so we had time to learn about this evil and how often it struck our pets. We learned about the different forms and the treatments. We did research and studied and asked questions and then decided to make some good come of our bad situation. We decided to share our journey and what we learned. We knew there were a lot of other scared families out there with nobody to talk to who knew that it scared you just as much when your pet had cancer as when any other loved one did in your family. So we shared. Buddy shared, mostly, and he also shared how he kept right on living and being the dog, because that’s what dogs do.
We pass on a lot of information here and we try to share all of the newest, most cutting edge technology as soon as we learn about it. We try to post all of the options that are available for each type of cancer that might strike one of our pets. We always say knowledge is power: power of the paw. Lately, though, we have had a few messages that make us realize that there is a message we don’t always make clear or maybe we should make clear. Those are ALL the options. Each family then makes decisions based on their situation and what they think is best for their family and their pet. Never forget that YOU are in the driver’s seat when it comes to treatment and options. You are your pet’s number one advocate and that is your key role during this process. No article or blog or doctor or study should make you feel that you need to follow a certain path. With that said, allow me to share some very practical advice we learned the very hard way.
When you notice a bump or lump, there is a very logical and strategic way to examine each one. If it is small or squishy (technical term there) keep an eye on it and watch to see if it grows and how quickly, changes color or texture or form. Each lump should be addressed. No doctor can tell, just be feeling one, that it is benign or of a certain type. The best doctors who are very confident taught me that. They can be 99% sure, but not certain. The next step is not surgery to remove the lump to examine it. The next step will be possibly x-rays or a needle aspirate to determine the composition of the lump. The aspirate removes some cells for examination with minimal invasion of your pet’s body. This is important, as many pets develop multiple lumps and you don’t want to keep slicing and dicing on your pet like a science experiment. If test results show the lump is benign you still watch the lump. An aspirate only tests a portion of the cells, so you still watch and if it starts changing and acting hinkey (another tech term) you have a pro look at it again. More watching and evaluating than cutting.
The time does come for treatment when it is cancer and that is when I get a lot of messages from truly distraught pet parents. This is what I want to remind you all of today. I am not a doctor, but this does not take a doctor to help you understand. This takes years of experience with pets with cancer and thousands of pets and their stories shared on this page alone. The decisions you make are personal and will be right for you and your pet. When you take that pet into your life you promise to give him or her the very best life possible. You will be as loyal to that creature (or try to be) as he or she is to you. This means you will bankrupt yourself emotionally for your pet, but it does not require you to do so financially where you both end up out on the street. That does not really provide a good quality of life for either one of you. If you are constantly stressing about the cost of a treatment, that stress will transfer to your pet.
When presented with a diagnosis, it is time to do research because knowledge is power. It is tempting to go all “deer in the headlights,” but don’t go there. Learn all of your options. That does not mean you are going to take advantage of every option. You have to consider at the very top of the list how treatments will affect the quality of your pet’s life. You also have to factor in cost in the real world. A surgeon may sit across the desk and tell you that he CAN get that tumor out of your dog. That is true. Then you have to weigh the fact that it will cost $10,000 and your dog will have a lengthy and uncomfortable recovery that will limit his activity. I use this example because it is a situation we were in with Buddy. Then we considered that the tumor was on his liver and the cancer had become systemic and we would probably only be buying him six more months of life at most. The time had come to make a decision in Buddy’s best interest that was right for us and for Buddy. The option and technology was there to do more. After many sleepless nights and much research into odds and projected outcomes, we made the difficult decision to stop the assault on his body. We chose instead to spend our money heating the pool in March and April so it was warm enough so he could do his most favorite thing in the world; swim. Buddy died in May. We were left with wonderful memories of joy and he had the best time. If he had surgery, he may have lived a few miserable months longer and would not have understood why we put him through that pain and suffering. Instead, he knew only joy and got to be a dog until the end.
So please, always be gentle with yourself as you travel this path. Learn all you can, and then do the very best you can by your pet. Feed them the best you can, but if after reading an article you find that the suggested diet is just too expensive for you, don’t worry. Do the best you can which will be a true gift to your pet. Learn what treatments are available and get the best care you can for your pet. We have articles posted in our resource library about places to apply to for financial help, but if all else fails, just do the best you can and then keep your pet comfortable. We didn’t sign up to be able to keep them alive forever. Oh that we could, and we feel that is our responsibility. It is not. Our responsibility is to love them to death, not prevent it. We are all capable of that. It is the ultimate lesson in “Being the Dog…” to just be with what is, and enjoy the ride!