A Cancer Diagnosis Changes You Forever

Over the years I’ve heard friends talk about life after their dog’s cancer diagnosis and comparing it to living with a post-traumatic stress disorder of sorts. And I can’t disagree. Once you are blindsided by cancer, especially one of the more aggressive forms of it, it’s hard not to be forever changed. I’d argue that it’s IMPOSSIBLE not to be forever changed. 

In some ways it’s good. You become more vigilant and you pay more attention to the details when it comes to diet and nutrition, regular vet visits, the latest advances in veterinary medicine…you want to be more prepared next time. And let’s be honest, you want to do everything within your power to make sure that there ISN’T a next time. But, when 1 in 3 dogs are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, chances are, if you have enough dogs in your life for enough years, it’s going to come back around at some point. You just have to hope that the next time you will be better at dealing with it, and there will be more options to cure it. You pray that the next time, there will be a different ending to the story.


My handsome Sampson, loved beyond words.

But the shadow of cancer always lurks somewhere in the distance, and every time something is a little off with your dog or something crops up that mimics a symptom of cancer, that’s the first thing that crosses your mind. And until you hear otherwise, that’s the worry that sticks with you night and day.

I’ve known all of this for a long time, and I’ve seen close friends go through it — sometimes finding out that all their worry was for nothing, and sometimes finding out that they need to face the demon again. Luckily though, that was never me. Until this week.

My husband noticed a small lump on the front of Sampson’s right leg yesterday. Just a strange little reddish bump that kind of looks like a large wart. Nothing dramatic, nothing painful, but something weird. Something new. Something not quite right. And so the landslide begins. 

I start thinking about the fact that Sampson hasn’t been wanting to go for walks lately

…But, he always has plenty of energy to play in the back yard for hours…Still, it’s out of the norm. 

Has he seemed a little blue lately?

…Of course, bulldogs are legendary for their glum faces and their ability to nap nearly 24 hours a day (in between meals at least). And, it is that time of year when he’s inside more and the days are shorter — aren’t we all a little less enthusiastic about jumping out of bed when the mornings are cold and dark?

Statistically, I know he’s at risk for developing mast cell tumors at some point — he’s a bulldog with a history of severe allergies and ear infections. Clearly a sign of a dysfunctional immune system. And now that he’s 7 going on 8, his risk increases each day.

…But, he has a great diet, gets lots of good supplements, and his ear problems and his allergies have been under control for a while now. He’s completely healthy and in great shape by all accounts, so I’m just overreacting.  Right?

Probably. Maybe. I hope so.

It’s interesting to be here right now. Worrying as moms do, but trying to learn from my own experiences, and to take my own advice. On Saturday, we’re going in for our semi-annual vet checkup, and he’ll have full bloodwork done, and we’ll have this weird little bump looked at, probably biopsied if it’s still there. I’d rather pay for a test to tell me all is well than to worry for no reason or do the dreaded “watch and wait,” which rarely seems to work out well for anyone.

So tonight, I am worried because I am a mom, but optimistic because I am a realist. I know that just like people, dogs get lumps, bumps and weird little skin growths all the time, and usually, it’s nothing serious. But, as I’ve told many pet parents over the years — better to get it checked out and find out for sure. No use getting upset until you know something is really wrong. Being proactive and prepared…it’s the best you can do. 

I guess it’s a good reality check that no matter how much you study, research and try, you can never really rise above it all. In the end, we do our very best for our pets and we work to make each day special, and to not take a single day for granted. But, no matter how hard we try, we will always worry about them — worry that they will be sick, or hurt, or leave us someday. It’s a curse that we humans have, of worrying about a future that we can’t see or control.

Sometimes I wish I could be more like Sampson, who is cuddled up under a blanket near me and clearly not worried about a single thing in the world right now. He really knows how to live.

About Kerry Malak

I am a Bulldog mom, Reiki Master/Teacher, pet loss counselor and canine cancer advocate who loves working with people and animals to help them live longer, happier and healthier lives.
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2 Responses to A Cancer Diagnosis Changes You Forever

  1. Thank you for sharing this Kerry, and for always leading by example. I’m in tears, because I too am guilty of the fear. I’ll follow Sampsons lead on this and hope for the best. Fingers and paws crossed that it’s nothing. Thanks again for sharing this message. It’s an important one. xoxoxxox

  2. I’m new to your site – the Dugan Foundation here in Tacoma Washington sent me your way. My lab, Darby was diagnosed with a Mast Cell Tumor on her leg, we had it removed and we are on a journey that is now steering us toward her first Chemo appointment next week. I hope that you receive good news and I will keep you and Sampson in my thoughts as you await test results.

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