The best response I ever got when asking about cancer was from my veterinarian. Paris, my Cocker-Spaniel had just been diagnosed with “a rare form of nasal carcinoma.” She was not asymptomatic, so leading up to the diagnosis I had no clue. One day she was healthy, happy, and thriving and the next day she was having nose bleeds. After the first nose bleed there was a two-week interval so I mistakenly thought it was a fluke. I Googled “dogs with nose bleeds” and read a host of explanations settling for the one that said nose bleeds in dogs may occur from the dog getting a “sticky burr” caught in their nasal passage. Since the route we took on our daily walks had “sticky burr” patches I decided it was the cause of her nose bleeds. I made a vet appointment, took her in, and told the vet I was sure she had a “sticky burr” caught in her nasal passage.
He examined Paris, and told me I needed to make an appointment with a specialist. He assured me it was routine. If Paris indeed had a “sticky burr” in her nasal passage surgery was the only option to remove it, and that would require a vet specialized in that type of surgery. I panicked. My gut told me something more was wrong. But a tiny part of me was in denial. He called the specialist and set up an appointment for Paris. The appointment was the following Monday.
Later that evening I Googled “nose bleeds in dogs” again. I read until my eyes were bleary. The information was not good. Several websites made reference to cancer. I didn’t want to believe it but had enough experience with cancer to know anything was possible. I was one year and six months out of treatment from stage two breast cancer.
That week was long. And Paris was lethargic. She didn’t want to eat, and was not excited when it came time for her walks. And the nose bleeds were more frequent. I knew something was very wrong.
Monday I took her to the specialist. He examined Paris, took x-rays, and said he would get back to me no later than Tuesday with his prognosis.
Tuesday afternoon he called me and asked me to come in because he needed to talk to me. I went to his office for the consultation and he informed me that Paris had a tumor in her nasal cavity, which couldn’t be removed. The tumor had been growing for quite some time. It hadn’t reached her brain but that was certainly a possibility. He said “I can give her a few more months with you by doing a chemo therapy regimen.”
I was in shock. I could not fathom losing the dog that got me through cancer treatment, to cancer.
I said to him, “are you serious? You want me to put this dog through chemo therapy but the end result will still be the same? I just finished that poison a few months ago and I cannot imagine putting my girl through that when I wouldn’t even be able to explain to her what was happening.”
He said, “dogs don’t react to chemo therapy the way people do.”
I stared at him for a few seconds and said, “just give me bill, so I can get out of here.”
He replied, “I can give you a day to reflect before you make the final decision but time is not on your side.”
I got up, walked out of his office, went to the front desk and said, “what do I owe?”
On my way home I stopped by the vet that had been treating Paris most of her short 8-year life. I told the receptionist it was an emergency and I had to speak to the doctor now. I was nearly insane by this time. I took Paris’ diagnosis worse than I took mine.
The vet came out to the waiting area, saw me sitting there crying and said, “step into my office please, it will be a few minutes, I’m just finishing up with another patient.”
I sat in the doctor’s office for what seemed like an eternity but was only about 10-minutes. He came in and asked, “what happened?”
I explained to him what the diagnosis was from the vet specialist.
He said, “Doctor Smith (not his real name) is a good doctor, I’m sure the diagnosis is correct.”
I said, “I don’t have a problem with the diagnosis being correct, because all along my gut told me something was very wrong. What I have a problem with is his suggesting chemo therapy to prolong Paris’ life by maybe a couple of months when the end result is going to be the same. That’s what I have a problem with.” By now I was angry.
Doctor Jones (not his real name) replied, “what do you feel you need to do?”
I said, “I need to put her to sleep so she can have some peace.”
Doctor Jones said it was a wise decision. He went on to explain he agreed with me because the end result for Paris was death, and it wouldn’t be an easy death.
The appointment was made for Saturday morning to euthanize my beloved Cocker Spaniel. I wanted a few more days with her. That week was horrible. Paris went downhill fast. She ate hardly anything, was lethargic, couldn’t walk but a few steps outdoors, and slept a lot.
By Saturday I was a wreck but knew I made the right decision. A friend went with me to the vet. I stayed with Paris as her vet administered the lethal combination that ended her suffering. I was heartbroken. The vet gave me a few minutes with Paris then came back into the room and asked how I wanted to handle Paris’ body. I decided on cremation. I would pick up her cremains in about a week and dispose of them myself.
I asked Doctor Jones how this happened.
He replied, “when we find out why that first cell divides, we will have the answer to cancer.”
Having been to specialists myself, and treated at one of the finest cancer centers in Houston, Texas, and seeing an oncologist that taught at that center; I was amazed that it took a veterinarian to utter the most intelligent response I had ever heard about cancer.
That was 11-years ago. And we still don’t know why that first cell divides. We are inundated with a ton of theories that never seem to pan out. We are inundated with treatments that cost millions of dollars and keep the pharmaceutical industry wealthy but we still have no answers.
We are told that cancer is caused by everything from the food we eat to our environment, to our genetic make-up, and Woo Woo attempts to sell us on the idea we attracted it ourselves by our thought process.
But at the end of the day we are no closer to answers about that first cell dividing. Millions of dollars spent on research, and treatment, and we are no closer.
What is wrong with this picture?