Fetching Tag’s Jen Cleere summarizes what so many of us who have dealt with pets with cancer have had to face: When is the treatment worse than the problem?
My dog Ruth’s 1st round of cancer at age 7 seemed to be easily dispatched. A little surgery to excise the grade 2 mast cell tumor on her side and a change in diet from kibble to raw, and she was soon thriving. For a month or three I had felt sure that this was the tragic end to her young life, but doom took the back burner when she returned to full speed. And full speed was a blazing 35 mph for my fleet-footed, flashy red & white crackhound.
When a mass started to develop in her throat 3 years later, I pretended to ignore it for months, as the weight & certainty of cancer’s return settled heavy on my heart. When I finally took her in for an exam, my fears were confirmed. Although the tumor was too bloody to get a conclusive needle aspiration, X-rays showed that her hyoid bone had already partially dissolved into the growing mass. The vet advised me to take her collar off, creating the irony of a dog that had launched an ID tag company who was now unable to wear one. She also wanted Ruthie to avoid contact play with other dogs and over-exertion to prevent, as much as possible, some horrific bleed-out of the tumor.
Surgery was not a simple option this time, and that definitely informed my decision, but more than that, I Knew This Dog. I had spent 10 years with her and I knew how much she disliked vet visits and medical “treatment” of any kind, including first aid for even the most minor wounds. And I knew that if she was dying, I certainly didn’t want to spend whatever time she had left putting her through something painful as a bargain for the chance at a little more time.
It all sounds so noble & wise now, but at the time I wallowed in the tragedy of our circumstance. I was completely devastated by the thought of losing this, my first, my heart, dog. Tears came to my eyes whenever anyone would ask how she was doing. But I stuck to my guns and kept the promise that I’d made to Ruth the day that we left the vet & I slipped the collar from her neck: I promise you will never have to set foot in a vet’s office again. She didn’t. And when the mobile euthanasia doc came to the house one morning 4 years later, she was stunned to hear just how long Ruth & her tumor had lived together and commended me for making the brave choice of ‘no treatment’.
That she lived so many years with no veterinary care after the grave diagnosis is sort of a punch line to the story. I did carefully tailor her diet & supplements to the best of my knowledge and in response to her condition. As she got older, she tolerated less & less variety in her diet, so I simply let her body determine what she could eat.
The tumor was scary – it grew from lemon to grapefruit sized over the years – but it didn’t really affect her in any noticeable physical way except to make her breathing loud if she slept on it wrong. Then she just got old – her hearing dulled and she was stiff in the hips. It was not possible to separate symptoms of the downhill slide of aging from what might have been cancer, not that it mattered – especially to her.
And that is what I believe is the key. Cancer didn’t matter one bit to Ruthie. Dogs just don’t give a flying crap about cancer and they’re certainly not consumed with thoughts of impending tragic death or whether or not to try chemo. The equation was simple for her, and as it turned out in the end, for me: Ruth trusted me & I trusted her and what I knew about her. Whether it bought us 4 years or a single day, the math was perfect.