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.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.