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

Is The Hammer The Tool For The Job?

Updated: April 27th, 2020


How a flexible and vulnerable mindset can help us identify the problem correctly, and choose the right tool to solve it.

My dog Bjorn is recovering from an orthopedic surgery I performed today.

Here I am, a veterinarian with access to the best conventional pain control medicine has to offer. He has Hydromorphone, Metacam, and massive doses of Tramadol on board, with other drugs in reserve if need be. [Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2009. Dr. Dressler’s most recent pain control advice is in this article.]

He has technological help, too: a device on the surgery site that is used in human surgery for post-op pain that creates a voltage field.  Supposedly they will be using this loop on upcoming space shuttle missions.

On top of that, he was receiving Reiki treatments tonight.

So I had all the bases covered for pain control: medicine, technology, and spiritual.

And he was still not happy and relaxed, and neither was I.

Why Can’t Bjorn Relax?

So I’m using the best pain control and healing modalities available, and it wasn’t until I gave him something for his anxiety that he started to relax.

Ah, the power of the mind. It was anxiety, not pain.

Anxiety and pain look a lot alike!

I was so focused on what I always think about (pain) that the puzzle almost beat me.

The point is this:

Sometimes we get so focused on solving difficult problems with our usual tools that we miss the solution.

If You Only Have a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail

There’s a saying that if you only have a hammer in your toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.

In other words, if a problem doesn’t require a hammer, you won’t be able to solve it … but you’ll hammer away at it anyway!

The carpenter uses the hammer, the surgeon the scalpel, the acupuncturist the needle, and the oncologist chemo and radiation.

Sometimes our tendencies, patterns, and default mechanisms will prevent us from seeing what is really needed.  This is a fact that I have seen in my own life and those around me.

Get a copy of this informative webinar to learn more on Treatment Plan Analysis for Dog’s with Cancer

It is critical for us, when we are faced with problems, to be flexible and vulnerable enough to realize that we do not have all the answers with the tool we are accustomed to using.

Only then will we top hitting everything with our hammers.

One cannot use a hammer to fix every problem.

Vulnerability and Imperfection Are Gifts

We need to allow our vulnerability and imperfection.  This position allows us to realize our limitations, and realize our hammers are not always of use.

It is only from this mindset that we become flexible enough to step out of our patterns and default ways of thinking.

From that vantage, we can then move sideways to make real gains, whether it be in resolving cancer, dealing with the hardship that the disease imposes upon us and our loved ones, or just getting a breath of fresh air to recharge.

Sometimes widening back is more important than charging forward relentlessly.

It is this mindset that encourages leaps in medical evolution, and in problem management overall.

Yes, this book is full of treatment advice and nowhere-else-to-be-found helpful insights. But possibly it’s most valuable gift to readers is a mindset that helps us relax, learn, and choose treatments with confidence. Read it and feel empowered!

Take Care of Your Mind to Care for Your Dog

Tonight, I needed to step back and take a few breaths to see that I’d been using a hammer — pain medication — when I needed to use another tool.

Taking care of my own mind, oxygenating my brain, and lowering my OWN anxiety levels helped me to see that Bjorn was anxious, and that might be why he was unhappy.

It can sound simplistic, and hopelessly so, but the more I deal with dog cancer and my own life, the more I realize the truth:

Healing yourself helps your loved dog heal.

So, allow yourself the space to breathe and recharge yourself. Realize there are hardships and our own limitations in our lives.

Sometimes admitting what seems like our own powerlessness can be very therapeutic.  Then we can move forward and find new ways of handling the situation.

My thoughts are with you in these challenging days.

Thank you

Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. Ann Schonert on April 29, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    I have a Boston that was diagnosed with Mast cell cancer August 2018. I was told in 1 yr I’d probably lose him. I’ve done Benedryl, Prilosec & then on my on added a series of Doxicycline… The tumor has not gotten any larger.

  2. margaret on June 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I’m sure you all will understand my situation. I have a wonderful Shih Tuz , Tommy. He’s ten years old now and last fall he developed mast cell tumor in the lymph node in his chest. Since then we have lived through surgery and 18 sessions of radiation. Currently Tommy is okay, but I can tell he’s slowing down. This is breaking my heart. I have 3 vets currently working with us, but not one has said the cure word. We are just attempting to keep him happy for as long as we can and put off that terrible day in the future, which I know is coming. Watching this process play out is so hard. Every time there is the slightest change my heart breaks. I’m fortunate in some ways. I have two dogs and Toby dog is fine and often put a smile on my face in spite of the situation. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone , and to read the comments and see that others have experienced this and feel the same way about their pets as I do about mine. thanks for the sharing marge and the jersey boys Tommy and Toby.

  3. Sarah Bertsch on June 13, 2009 at 4:34 am

    When is the next webinar????

  4. Karen Stout on June 13, 2009 at 3:20 am

    Sandi, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your mother, Phantom and Beau. Many of us reading your post understand the depth of your grief. Like you, my pets are my family as I do not have children of my own. I lost my beloved dog, Lily, to cancer last week. Lily’s sister, Sarah, also has cancer but is doing well. Only one of my sister’s understand my grief as she loves her pets as I do mine. Everyone else just doesn’t understand my loss. I only had Lily for 1 1/2 years (Lily and Sarah are rescues). I comfort myself with the thought that Lily and Sarah had the best home possible in their senior years and were deeply, deeply loved and I let them know that everyday. I hope you will bring another dog into your life. Please do not think that you are replacing Phantom or Beau. A new dog is not meant to be a replacement as each animal is unique in its own way. There is always room in the heart for more love.

    Best wishes,
    Karen Stout

  5. Karen Bender on June 12, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Dear Dr.Dressler – as always, I thank you for your knowledge, info, and spiritual words. My golden boy, Mack, has just turned 11yrs and was diag’d with a brain tumor in Sept.08. He was given 3-6 months to live. It is now 9 mos and he is starting to slow down. His breathing is somwhat labored, his gait unsteady, his footing unsure – but he is still eating like there is no tomorrow and the tail is still wagging! I am just anxious over knowing when to let him go. I pray he helps me make the decision. He still takes his supplements with and between meals.
    Again, thank you for all you do. Karen

    • Dr. Dressler on June 14, 2009 at 8:08 pm

      Karen, did you see these posts?

      I Can See The End, But I Am Not Ready
      Joys of Life Scale

      You have already beaten the odds. Good work being your dog’s health care advocate.
      Good luck

  6. Sue Johnson on June 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks so much for your help….I love my 11 year old Welsh Pembroke corgi as though he were my child and I have agonized over his bone cancer that was diagnosed two months ago. My vet may be caring but he does not show it. I started Mr. Socks out on Deramax and switched him to Travadol but it still was not helping so I tried a quarter of my 5 MG Diazapan and it really helped a lot. I decided not to do anything about his cancer due to his age and I am just trying to keep him comfortable until it is time for him to leave me. Once again thank you for your compassion. Sue

  7. Sandi Ferguson on June 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I can’t tell you how very therapeutic your words above have for me today. I lost the last of my two dogs, my black Lab, Beau, died 3/15/04 2 months before losing my Mother to Systemic Lupus. Both were the light of my life with both kids grown and moved away, the “boys” brought such love, joy and companionship from 1990 until 4/17/9. My Weimaraner (blue), Phantom, passed away 4/17/09 – at age 14 years and 7 months, to complications from pneumonia and lung cancer from a non-smoking home, Innova (best dog food ever), litany of vitamins (Omega 3, Milk Thistle & SAMe), organic cleaning products and an abundance of love! My 2 kids are grown, one resides in Pompona Beach, FL and La Jolla/Pacific Beach, CA. I have been so lost — not like me but, for the first time since July 1990, I am totally alone now. I can’t bring myself to think of “replacing” Phantom or Beau for that matter, both were precious, each with his own personality. I don’t believe people in general give much credit to the vast importance of “4 legged furry family members” to some it’s just a dog — to me, it was a member of my family!

    It isn’t like me to be depressed but the weekends at home, time we spent together playing ball or at the park for a walk – no matter the situation, I miss Phantom so very much. Again, it isn’t like me to feel so terribly alone but, I do, I am still grieving. Had it not been for this precious little boy, Phantom, when I lost Beau (our black lab) and my wonderful Mother 2 months after Beau, I just don’t know what I would have done. I would have made it but oh, what joy and laughter Phantom brought in the midst of a storm — I was a very good doggie Mom — researched his care not only to Liver disease and Lung cancer but mindful of his overall health – on top of things and constantly sharing my research with our specialist, Dr. Doug Bronstad and our loving, wonderful vet, Dr. Chip Cannon — both of Dallas, TX. I must say, when I feel sad I grab myself internally and say, wait a second, I am SOOOoo GRATEFUL for the time we had with Phantom, he lived a reasonable long life — wish it could have been forever — but, I am so grateful for him being a part of our family and my life! Grabbing a moment in time to be grateful when everything around seems to be falling apart is hard to do but, it is really healing.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your wonderful words above and your incredibly poignant insight and vulnerability it reflects is so special — thank you for making a difference in my day and days to come with your kind, true words.

    If only people realized what animals experience in medical treatment not only benefits animals but people too, we be much more gracious and grateful everyday — they continue to make a difference in our quality of care!
    Best to you and yours, Sandi and Family

    • Dr. Dressler on June 14, 2009 at 8:03 pm

      I believe your gratitude will be the salve that heals. Keep doing what you are doing. Sometimes volunteering in local shelters or other acts of service to honor the gifts the departed gave us can be very restoring also. Thanks for your words.

  8. Anu Shyam on June 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    That ‘s beautiful! We learn so much from our fur babies. Mine have taught me that it is not as important to make a living as it is to make a difference! And they are right.

  9. JamesD on June 11, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

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