March 22, 2005: 7:02 PM
I just found out today that our little Georgia, the love of our life has lymphatic cancer. She’s a 4 year old English Bulldog, and just an amazing little soul. She is the sweetest, most sensitive little person (furry or otherwise) that I have ever encountered, and the idea of living a life without her seems impossible – especially since she is so young. I’m just not prepared to deal with this. She’s in great shape…we’ve tried so hard to do everything right to make sure that she lives a long and healthy life. So, obviously, this news comes as a complete and devastating shock. Right now, we’re considering our options, which seems to point towards chemo, but wondering if anyone else has experience with lymphoma and bulldogs. Or just any advice at all on how to figure out what to do at this point.
That was my very first post on the Pet Cancer Support group, just hours after getting a call from the vet saying that Georgia had cancer. I can remember with complete clarity the overwhelming fear and confusion that filled me that day and how helpless I felt. This is where I started the journey and, as I’ve discovered over the past 7 years, it’s where most pet parents start.
No matter what the circumstances, a cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming, and sorting through all of the options can be really tough. We want to do the very best that we can for our furkids, and we want to keep them with us for as long as possible, but how can we do this? How do we know what information to trust? What if we make a wrong decision or don’t provide them with the right treatment, or supplement, or diet? What if we fail?
Does this sound like you? Then STOP HERE AND BREATHE.
Panic is never a good place to start from when it comes to making decisions and in most cases, you have at least a little time to weigh your choices and decide on a game plan to help your pup. Even after you do choose a path, most decisions are not set in stone. In fact, a good cancer treatment plan will be flexible enough to be fine-tuned as time goes by to maximize your dog’s comfort and to adapt to their changing needs. So, let that knowledge take at least some of the pressure off of you.
Once you’ve caught your breath and are ready to tackle the challenge of cancer, what then? Here are just a few tips to help get you started.
Gather information about your dog’s type of cancer. Hopefully your vet will be a good source of information about your dog’s diagnosis and what treatment options are most often used to combat it. Additional information can be found online about various types of cancer. A great place to get trusted information about specific types of cancer is on the websites of Veterinary Teaching Hospitals or Vet Schools. PetMD.com also has a lot of reliable information on animal cancers that you can use. When doing your own research, try not to get too caught up in statistics. Your dog is an individual, not a statistic. This information can be helpful, but it only tells part of the story.
Find out where you can go for treatment and what that process will look like. Not every vet clinic can offer quality cancer care. You may need to work with an oncologist, a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary radiation facility in order to pursue the treatment option you want. Find out what your nearest options are, what their experience is in treating the type of cancer your dog has, and what you could expect in terms of time and cost, if you decide to pursue that treatment.
Provide good nutrition. A good diet is the foundation of health, and that’s true even after a cancer diagnosis. Focus on high-quality food that is rich in nutrients. That may mean changing to a different brand of food, creating a cancer diet for your dog, or doing more home cooking. Dr. Demien Dressler, author of “The Dog Cancer Survival Guide” has a great free download about diets for dogs with cancer that can be requested at: www.dogcancerdiet.com. In general, a diet that is higher in protein and Omega 3 Fatty Acids and low in carbohydrates is better for dogs with cancer, and supporting the immune system via healthy veggies and things like medicinal mushrooms can help to rally the body’s natural healing ability. One thing to keep in mind though is that there is really no “perfect” diet for all dogs, and sometimes our best efforts won’t be appreciated by our pups. Aim to provide the best diet that you can, and one that your dog will still enjoy.
Be open to natural options. There are many complementary and alternative cancer approaches that can be very beneficial either as standalone treatments or when used with conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. Some of the most commonly used include Acupunture, Herbal Supplements, Homeopathy, and Reiki. While all may provide some level of benefit, one or two may seem to suit you and your dog more than another. You may also have limited access to experts in all of these areas. So, instead of trying to incorporate all of these modalities, choose them based on what feels right to you and how easily you can access professionals who have experience using these methods with animals who have cancer. A great place to start to find a veterinarian who has experience using different holistic treatment options is at www.ahvma.org.
Trust your instincts. Forget about being perfect – there’s no such thing. It’s also impossible to try EVERY option out there, even if you are one of the few lucky ones with unlimited financial resources and time. You WILL have to make difficult choices at every step of the way and you will have to pick and choose which treatments and support options to select. It’s okay though because there is no one right path for every dog, and, there are no guarantees no matter what you do. That may sound like a negative, but it can actually be a positive for you during your journey. It frees you from the worry about making a wrong decision. There simply aren’t any wrong decisions if you follow your heart and make the best decisions you can with the information and resources you have. Those choices will be different for every family, and every dog.
Sometimes those choices involve not pursuing any aggressive cancer treatments and focus on holistic supports and hospice care instead. Sometimes it’s about putting together a complex, integrative treatment plan for your pup that combines cutting edge conventional cancer treatments with complementary therapies and nutritional supports. But instead of agonizing over making a mistake or choosing the wrong supplement, food, etc., trust that you know your dog best and that your intuition will guide you to what is right for YOU. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence in researching options and getting information along the way to help with the decision-making process, but don’t convince yourself that the future lies solely in your hands. It doesn’t. There are a lot of variables involved in how well a dog does after being diagnosed with cancer, so focus on today and just do the best you can.
Don’t try to do it all alone. Put together a good medical team that you trust and who respects your role as your pup’s advocate. Trust their expertise and guidance, while still listening to your making final decisions based on what feels right for you. When adding supplements or complementary therapies, keep everyone in the loop and avoid the temptation to create your own secret customized plan of care. While natural options are usually safer than conventional treatments, they are not without risk and some may be contraindicated for your dog.
This also means reaching out for the emotional support that you need, whether it’s from friends, family, or an online support group. Research has shown that grief is the same whether we are mourning the loss (or anticipated loss) of a loved human OR animal. Stress affects us the same way too no matter what the cause. You can be a better caregiver and advocate for your dog if you take care of yourself first. So, connect with others and spill your fears and worries, request time off from work if you need it, ask friends or family members to cut you some slack if you are less available to them than usual or if you need their help getting your dog to vet appointments, watching them while you’re away, or whatever it is that you need. Your dog will pick up on your stress and anxiety and it will eventually affect them if you aren’t managing it well, so don’t try to be a superhero – let others help take some of the weight off of your shoulders.