Cancer, or as doctors are taught, neoplasia, affects all of us dearly, deep in our heart of hearts. Both my father and eldest sister succumbed to the terminal spread of this most feared of all diseases. We were all very devastated as we watched the cancer spread and take its toll on what were previously vibrant lives.
Also, I watched one of my all-time-favorite pets, Sara Lee, a female black lab die rapidly from a malignancy of the lymph nodes. When she died, a portion of my heart was buried with her.
This last week, I was presented with a similar case as a new client brought his 11 year-old best furry friend for examination of a "lump" on her leg. I took a look at it and suggested we remove it surgically that week and submit the tissue to the Kansas State University Diagnostic Lab for analysis. Unfortunately, the test results only verified my suspicion-the lump was a spreading cancer endangering this kind and beautiful yellow Labrador's life.
As I conveyed the results of the analysis to my client, I watched his demeanor change immediately to one of grave concern. He and his wife were devastated. Did the dog know? Did the patient take in the full gravity of the tumor? Was the pet preparing for the end of its days?
It is very obvious that our pets do not know or understand their plight when the diagnosis of a potentially terminal cancer comes forth. They do not have their bags packed, so to speak. They do not prepare their obituaries beforehand. Interestingly enough, as I spoke to the owner of the limited treatment options available, the pet was eager to resume play, to get out the front door of my clinic A.S.A.P. her old tail was wagging to a steady beat.
Generally, veterinarians believe that when faced with a terminal disease, like cancer, in a pet, owners must be open to as many treatment options as available. Some owners immediately choose to end the potential for suffering and misery of the pet through euthanasia and, in some cases, this is the only option. Cost, treatment scheduling and other new burdens placed on the owner may also sway some decisions. In other situations, treatment options such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy or some holistic approaches may be feasible. These may improve quality of life or increase longevity while the pet owner comes to grips with the ultimate power of the cancer over the beloved pet.
Today, specialists in diagnosis and treatment of cancer in animals exist. These veterinary oncologists set up practices in regional animal hospitals or at teaching facilities like K-State or the University of Missouri. A consultation with an oncologist can answer most questions a pet owner has concerning the future of her pet.
Not all "lumps" and "bumps" found on an animal have a poor prognosis. Many growths can be readily treated by surgical incision and never return. But, to sit and watch a growth grow while doing nothing does an injustice to you and your pet. Do not be afraid to present your pet to your veterinarian for examination of a potential tumor.
The sleep you've been missing while worrying about your pet will have been wasted if you find out the tumor was benign. In either case, early diagnosis of cancer, whether for you or your pet, is paramount to effective treatment and cure.
My father, the physician, used to say, "Get on the stick and make your appointment today." We owe it to our pets to get an early diagnosis and treatment if possible. Don't let the cancer win - it is up to you to be the best pet owner possible.
As I watched my client walk his dog out to his car, all I saw was that big, bushy tail swinging side to side, her head tipped up toward her master's next move, not wanting to miss a beat or let him down. Such love they give us :