Being a cancer specialist means often delivering tough news. The cancer has spread. The cancer has relapsed. The cancer is no longer responding to treatment. Still, I believe the general practice veterinarian and team have the hardest job because they have to tell the client that the biopsy or aspirate of the mass was cancerous or that there is a high suspicion the patient has cancer.
“Cancer” is a scary word that is often equated with death. Cancer equals pain and suffering. Cancer treatment will make the patient sicker. With cancer, there is no hope.
I disagree. Cancer is not a death sentence. While we all want a cure for cancer, I encourage thinking about many cancers as chronic conditions that may require chronic therapy, such as kidney or heart disease. As an oncologist, I recommend treatment when the patient is likely to live longer with it than without. Thankfully, most patients feel good, if not great, during treatment.
My motto is “live longer, live well.” My patients need to do both—and they do. I think that is one of the reasons I love being an oncologist.
Most people think my job is sad and depressing. There are frustrating and heartbreaking moments when I lose a patient after sharing months or years together but, most of the time, treating cancer in animals is about providing quality of life, providing more quality time through treatment, and hope.
Most of my cancer patients are quite healthy despite the cancer, and treatment allows them to lead happy lives. Dogs and cats do not get sick like humans. I have watched human friends and family members get very sick after chemotherapy and hospitalized from side effects. I am grateful that is not how animals respond.