Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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On Blame

For those coping with dog cancer, there is usually a very large amount of pain.

First is the shock of the diagnosis, which is common. After this comes a flood of emotions of various kinds. For some it is confusion, trying to make sense of what it actually means to have a dog with cancer. For many there is overwhelm, trying to decide the best approach in dealing with this disease. Some get angry. Others feel as the bottom has simply fallen out of their every day life.  And for all, an overbearing sadness.

At some point along the line, most guardians dealing with this will begin to feel a basic and profound sense of injustice. “What did my loved dog do to deserve this? How have these events lined up this way? This is not right.”

And at this point there is frequently an urge to find something to blame for the cancer.

There are many targets. Some look at the diet. Some point to vaccinations. Others pinpoint flea and tick medications. Occasionally guardians will start to research electrical fields or environmental carcinogens in water, soil and air. Sometimes the breeder gets the brunt of it, or perhaps the vet.

But the aim of this post is not to discuss these items, which have been addressed at length in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Rather, it is to clarify a very common situation that is rarely discussed, but often experienced.  Some guardians will blame themselves.

When self-blame is created, it is not usually spoken of, or even realized by the person doing it. Yes, sometimes the thoughts do form into clear concepts like, “I blame myself for this.” “I did not act quickly enough.” “I wish I had not made that choice.” But honestly this is not always the case.

The majority of the time, self-blame is subconscious or pre-conscious.  This means there is no actual clear thought in the mind. Rather, the thought is experienced as a feeling.  Some examples of this feeling are a dullness, a knot in the stomach, lack of energy, crying at unexpected times, a feeling of wanting to isolate the self, the sensation of being in a continued fog…and others.

Yes, often these are just the feelings of grief, stoppered up inside until they can be experienced away.  Yet we must be aware, be conscious of this added wrinkle of self-blame.  It can be buried deep within, locked away somewhere, radiating these emotions upwards and outwards like some kind of dark sun.

This dark sun can be dissolved, or at least made a little lighter,  in a variety of ways. The first is simply the realization that any choices made by you were the only choices you could have made…or you would have made a different choice.  The second is the understanding of cancer in that it is rarely the result of a single act, and often the result of generations of separate events piling up on the cancer scale until a tipping point is reached. The third is atonement, perhaps the most soothing balm there is for guilt.

Because we exist in a culture where there are deep seated beliefs about guilt that are now part and parcel of who we are, it can be difficult to shake buried guilt, or even guilt we are aware of. This is where atonement comes in.

Atonement is a magic spell to make guilt soften and slowly melt away.  It fixes the guilt by resetting some internal balance that we live with .

What is meant by atonement?  Well, it will differ between people. But atonement will always have action as a part of it, if it is to liberate guilt that comes from self-blame. Some will use the Joys of Life as framework for taking daily or weekly steps for their dog. Others will make their dog food. Some will do massage or other touch therapies.  Still others will bring their dog to beautiful places outside, or places that their dog loves that may not be so beautiful. Some will tell their dogs their life stories, play them music, or meditate with their dog. Some will gather the family around daily to clap and praise their loved family member for simple tasks accomplished. Others pray.

It does not matter what form you choose. Simply make a mental note that you are doing it for your dog each time, create a program, and do it on a regular basis. Even if you don’t feel self-blame, it is still a good idea to soften the injustice.

Best

Dr D

 

About the Author: Demian Dressler, DVM


Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is known as the "dog cancer vet" and is author of Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity. Visit his blog and sign up free to get the latest information about canine cancer. Go to http://www.DogCancerBlog.com.

  • Tammy G

    Thank you for this article. It helped me a lot and I realize I blame myself when I am not to blame. We just lost our 8 year old pup to t-cell lymphoma 6 days ago and I am very slowly healing from it. He was my heart & soul and I will be forever changed by having him in my life. I wish that his life was longer and that I could’ve spent many more days, months, years snuggling with my sweetie but it was not to be. Overall I think I struggle with the fact that I will never see him again and wish I knew if there truly is a heaven or some other place that he is waiting for me.

  • Julie Isidro

    Thank you so much, Dr. Dresser. We have experienced all of this. We lost our girl Haley just over a week ago after a months’ long battle with INC. She didn’t experience the really nasty symptoms as we caught it in the very early stages and didn’t even realize it was LLC until after radical surgery to remove the mammary chain. The subsequent tumor in the other chain disappeared while she was on chemotherapy, but the cancer went to her lungs. I still wonder if there was more I could have done. I relied heavily on the Guide, and one statement that helped me was to remember that each day I did the best I could for my girl, including the very last day.

  • Julie Isidro

    Spell check messed up my comment…my dog had inflammatory mammary cancer.

  • Marsha

    This article came at the exact right time. My dog was just diagnosed with a meningioma tumor by the brain. I’ve decided against surgery/radiation at this time since she is 11 years old but I’m considering radiation only. I don’t know what to do. From everything I read, I wish radiosurgery was available in NC. Thank you for the article on Blame.

  • Mary Emmons

    Great post! Thanks Dr. D!

  • Judith Clark, RN

    As a NP, following Dr Dresslers protocol to a “T”,immediately,upon completion of reading and rereading your Cancer Survival Guide. My 10 yr old Scotty totally and repeatedly relapsed while receiving the Wisconsin and Rescue Protocols from May-September. I soon discovered that the recommended Tx was “killing the host”.
    Chloe(my Scotty), was Dx in May, 2012 @ which time I began all of the recommended supplements (Apocaps, K-9 Immunity, Transfer Factos, etc) with little to NO improvement in fortifying her immune system.
    I continued my Canine Cancer research,discovering Tumexal, by Dr John Nice, a cancer biologist in Pa. Following extensive conversations and review of a Power Point presentation identifying the action of Tumexal in Canine Cancer Tx, I began Tx as prescribed, since, at this point Chloe was rapidly failing, with little recourse offered by the Traditional Veteranarian Oncolgy Tx.
    Chloe is into her 3rd wk of Tumexal Tx, and each day is a” gift”. To date she is now eating,drinking, taking walks again, with “gusto”, etc. In contrast, maintaining her on her prior Tx, she surely would have had to be euthanized by now.
    I will be returning to the Oncologist @ 4wks of Tx to complete a lab panel, ultrasound and physical exam with tissue aspirations as recommended.
    I am sharing this with you, simply to extend the courtesy of your inquiery into Tumexal. Hopefully, you will maintain an “open mind” to this approach, as many pet owners have to your Integrated Tx protocol to Canine Cancer.
    Thank you for your time taken to read my “story”, which may hopefully open new doors.
    Judith Clark, RN

  • http://www.facebook.com/teamwyla Jaime Dellachiara

    I have read these comments and can relate to all of you! I urge you to come to Team Wyla on facebook, message me personally through Team Wyla’s Page or my yahoo. It helps to surround ourselves with those whose loss is fresh, who’s fight is just begining or close to ending. Team Wyla is filled with support for those like us. Please lean on me and let me lean on you. I fought the biggest fight of my life for over a year and a half with Wyla, she wanted to stop fighting on October 5, 2012 at 3:26pm. I’m heartbroken, but feel her and see signs of her everywhere. Lets all help each other help each other. That is what Teams do right? It helps me to know I am not alone, we are not alone. Our dogs were/are family… our best friends. Love, Jaime aka Wyla’s Mom.

  • Sandie in PA

    My 10 year old Pug just had surgery a few weeks ago for adrenal cortical carcinoma. Since it’s not a common cancer, there is a lack of good research out there to show whether or not chemo can really extend her lifetime. We caught this cancer quite by accident. She had a spontaneous bleed in her pericardial sac followed a week later by a hemhorrage in her right eye. That raised the finger of suspicion and led to an abdominal ultrasound which revealed the tumor. It was still contained in the adrenal capsule and had not spread to the blood vessels or the vena cava. All her organs looked clean; no lymph node enlargement and chest films normal. The fly in the ointment is 2 tiny nodules on the other adrenal gland, too small for the surgeon to biopsy without removing that adrenal as well. We elected not to remove them both due to the difficulties that arise when trying to replicate the adrenal hormones orally. So, is there cancer in the left adrenal or are the nodules benign myelolipomas? No one knows. I have my baby on immune boosters and transfer factors until December when she will have another ultrasound to see if there has been any growth in the nodules on the left adrenal. I’ve done everything right for her since she was 12 weeks old. No guilt there, but for me, the guilt lies in my gut feeling that chemo is NOT something we should undertake. Might it help? Yes. But it might not and I am not willing to put her through the hell that is chemo just to extend her life for a few more months ~ a life that may not even be worth living with the side effects chemo is more than likely to cause. I feel guilty that I may be depriving her of the only thing that MIGHT help her vs. my gut feeling that all I would be doing is allowing the oncologist to pump poison into my already sick dog. In the end, I can only do what I feel is right and then live with that decision, knowing it was made out of the deep love I have for my girl. We don’t get second chances to do the “right” thing, but then is there really a “right or wrong” path when cancer is the enemy?

  • Paul

    What a wonderful article. I lost my 12 year old pug, Bradford, almost 3 years ago. It was 2 weeks before his 13th birthday. I came home from work and he was fine. I went to take a shower and when I got out I found that he had vomited 7 times and had multiple bowel movements. I rushed him to the vet. After some blood work, I was told that he had a mast cell tumor that had burst. He wouldn’t eat or drink. He just laid in my arms. I had to let him go. I have lost a spouse, a parent and many friends but this was even harder. I never had to be the one to make the final decision. As much as it killed me, I knew I didn’t want him to suffer any more. I was overcome with guilt for a long time. He had depended on me to keep him safe and I failed. How the hell did this happen? How could he go from being fine one minute to not moving the next without some sign? He was fine on his last vet visit. Never any major health problems. How could I not know? Thank God I have the vet that I do. A very well informed and compassionate woman. She explained to me that the tumor was inside and that they wouldn’t have found it during a routine exam. I wouldn’t have been able to feel it on him. She never made any decision for me. She gave me a list of options. I trusted her enough to go with what she thought was best. After informing myself on mast cell tumors, I realized that I did make the right decision for Bradford. As much as I love him and miss him, I never wanted to see him suffer needlessly. So maybe I didn’t fail him after all. Now I’m at peace knowing that I was there for him at the end and got to tell him what a joy he was and what a gift in my life he was and will always be.

  • Ms. Charlie W.

    My heart goes out to all who have loved our precious furry friends and who have had to receive the worse news of our lives, that our beloved pet has cancer. Dude is my doggie love of my life, Dude was diagnosed with soft tissue fibrosarcoma in his upper jaw. It was only detected when I took him in to get some dental care. It was too late for surgery as the tumor is large. I tried one round of chemo with Piroxicam he got deathly ill a whole 8 days afterwards-oncologist are not sure if it was the chemo or the Piroxicam. Now he is going through a series of radiation. I am grief stricken and cry every day, but try to spend as much quality time with him as possible. He is so smart and just loves me unconditionally. I have been blessed to have him in my life for 12 years, and he is so happy and seemingly healthy otherwise I just can’t believe this tumor localized in his mouth will kill him someday! I have done tons of research and found an oncologist that said that it’s possible to do surgery and take off his upper jaw……..at times I feel desperate and think….should I look into this. Would it be fair to him. I’m so conflicted……I just want to give him the best chance without suffering. It’s says dogs adapt to this surgery quite well……the rest of his body is fine. Is this selfish? My life has been turned upside down and sadness follows me everywhere. I am trying to do the atonement thing but it seems so little for all the joy he has brought to me…..I guess I will try the Team Wyla page for support.

  • Michelle

    Ms Charlie W we are going through an horrific time with the love of our lifes, our 4 year old Goldendoodle Cooper. He has a surgery for an SCC where they removed part of his jaw and 5 teeth. We were told by our oncologist that the margins were clean and that there was no need for radiation. We thought we were home free until we saw that he wasn’t recovering as quickly as he should have been doing based on what were told from our medical “team”. We are now watching him deteroriate from metastised bone cancer which is now in his lymph nodes and there is a nodule in his lung. It is devasting to watch. We have him on Tumexal (check out the website) in hopes of a last ditch miracle.

    Michelle, Guy

  • Paf

    Hello, our 8yr old boy was just diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, and has all his ribs affected. Our vet told us his days are but few. No surgery or chemo available for this, we are desperate. We came across the caninecare web and found about the Tumexal. Since there’s not much info about this therapy, and we are not wealthy, we would like to know that this is not a hoax. Our whole family has agreed to chip in for our little guy to be treated, in order to spare him from pain. But I’m afraid this could be not serious. Does anyone have any info or experience on this. We are thankfull for any info you could provide. Thank you very much.

  • Julie C

    I am so glad to find this site. Our precious golden retriever, Lucy was diagnosed last month with bone cancer in her ulna. We have been told there is nothing to do but wait and provide pain meds. We did not want to put her through amputation and chemo as she has alreard had two knee surgeries and a cancerous tumor in her shoulder removed last year. The report from that surgery was of success. I initially researched the bone cancer and did not see anything about the drug Tumexal until this morning. The doctor told us she would only have a couple of weeks to a couple of months and that by the time symptoms (limping) present themselves there is no hope for a cure. It is apparent the tumor in her leg has doubled in size in the last four weeks. Is there anyone that can tell me of success using the Tumexal, especially in more advanced stages. Lucy does not show any other signs of illness at this time. She is still happy and loving with a good appetite and only has difficulty as she limps. We have her on Tramadol for the pain. We are devastated to think of losing our precious little girl, she is not quite seven and thought we had many years left to share with her. We too are trying to spend every available moment with her and cherish our last days together, but if there is something with some success rates that could eradicate this awful disease without amputation we would try it.

  • Kasey McMahon

    Dr Dreesler,
    Thank you for this article. I am still in shock and heartbroken. This morning my dog was diagnosed with a mass cell tumor. I was probably in denial since I ended up driving to my friend’s vet practice (which is much farther from my house) for a second opinion. I have a French Bulldog who is always prone to fatty tumors and most recently we had one removed from his back leg. Initially, the healing process went well but as soon as he was finished with his post op meds, we started noticing fluid build up again. Unfortunately we never sent the tumor out for testing after consulting with my vet at the time, and yes I feel partly to blame, but I’m also not a vet, so the decision sounded good at the time, so here we are. In the next couple of days I will know more about his cancer and what’s the best treatment approach. For now the only comfort I have is knowing that I’m not alone.

  • JK

    Thank you for hosting your site and providing an outlet for research. I am a firm believer that conventional wisdom in medicine must be aligned with alternative therapies. I recently transitioned my beloved angels to an organic semi-raw, supplemented eating regime due to a liver issue; I witnessed great changes. With that being said it was meant to be because 12/31/12 one of my angles has a presumed dx of transitional cell carninoma/bladder. Totally devastating to our family, I cannot get over it, he is only 9 and physically fit. All lab work so far indicates wellness except for the bladder tumor. Of course I will visit the Vet Oncologist totally armed with information so that we together can make an educated decision on therapy. I work in health care and have personal experience with family and friends that have had cancer (none are with us today). I have to ask why go down such a toxic path? I am looking into adding in immune boosters and some other products and will definitely consider Tumexal before embarking on the conservative standard of care for TCC. Out comes for TCC and standard treatment are not great….I must weigh the pros and cons and make the decision. Thank you again for providing such great information.

  • karla malcolm

    Hi I am curious about Judith Clark’s mention and use of Tumexal- Judith can you tell me any more about it? I am having trouble finding out anything at all- the website seems so vague and Dr. Nice has not returned my phone call- my 14 year old Bullterrier has a mass in her lung and I am exploring every natural and alternative treatment at this time- her symptoms are mild still and I would like to find a treatment that will support her overall health…. Thanks Judith- karla

  • Byron Barone

    What are your thoughts about tumexal for prostate cancer ? can it help with neoplasene?

  • jim snell

    please subscribe me .

  • jim snell

    I am having trouble getting my dog to eat much if at all and am forced to using other means to get some fine ground food down.

    Has cancer progressed too far or any recommendations?

    jim snell

    • Dr. Demian Dressler

      Hi Jim
      I’d be first making sure we are doing what we can to address the underlying cause of decreased appetite. Is there something new or a deterioration? As to addressing appetite directly, I’d be thinking mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant. Some like cerenia, some even use prednisolone (not my choice), famotidine (antacid), metoclopramide (anti emetic), and the old timers used winstrol (anabolic steriod). Herbals include slippery elm, ginger, probiotics, marshmallow. that should give you enough to discuss with your vet to reach a good plan.
      Dr D

  • jim snell

    For anybody looking for an excellent data source; there is a website from Australia called http://www.vetbook.org that seems to have clear concise excellent data for additional reference.

    My thanks to Dr. Demian Dressler/partners for excellent survival guide and diets and help provided to us all.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    So good to hear that your dog is doing well. The information released on Tumexal is not yet sufficient to enable an opinion on it either way; important data is excluded. But if your dog is thriving, that’s cause to celebrate!

  • humanegal

    BATTLEBORN:what type of dog do you have? I have seen you on another webite re. Dog cancer touting Tumexal. Are you with the company?

  • Dwee

    Did The Tx work?