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

Why I love being an oncologist

Updated: December 17th, 2018

In my first blog, I wrote about that many people I meet cannot believe I am an oncologist for dogs and cats. I know it sounds weird, maybe even corny, but I am so thankful for my job. As the year comes to a close, I have thought a lot recently about how grateful I am for all that I have. Especially after Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown CT shootings, I am thankful for my family, my friends, my home, electricity and heat, getting gas without 2 hour lines, my kids coming home safely from school each day, my co-workers and my job. While I love being a mom, a wife, a friend, I also love my work. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Cancer in dogs and cats is very treatable, more treatable than most people think.
  • Chemotherapy is very well-tolerated in dogs and cats – more tolerated than most people think and better tolerated than in people.
  • Getting hospitalized due to chemotherapy side effects is uncommon in pets.
  • Dogs and cats don’t have to deal with the psychological and emotional aspects of the cancer diagnosis – they don’t worry if they will go into remission, get side effects, or will live longer or shorter than the statistics predict.
  • I have a special opportunity to help the pet moms and dads, the pet Guardians, deal with those psychological and emotional aspects.
  • The looks of skepticism I get at initial appointments when I tell pet Guardians the chemotherapy is well-tolerated become trust and belief as they observe the minimal side effects in their pets.
  • I see my clients more frequently (weekly, every other week, or monthly) than general practitioner vets, which allows me to develop close relationships and often friendships with pet Guardians.
  • Metronomic chemotherapy (low dose oral chemotherapy) has given new options for pets with metastatic disease.
  • CyberKnife RadioSurgery, which allows us to treat some tumors in 1 to 3 treatments (vs the traditional 15-20 treatments with conventional radiation), meaning less anesthesias, less trips to the hospital, less radiation side effects, and great responses.
  • The wags, purrs and hugs I get daily.
  • My chemotherapy nurses – who give chemo, monitor anesthesia, take X-rays, hold patients during procedures, and love and comfort our patients. They also guide the Guardians through the ups and downs of cancer treatment, give medical advice for dealing with vomiting, diarrhea, & inappetance, when to medicate (and tips on how to get pills is a dog who has become wise to the pills in cold cuts, peanut butter, bread, cheese cream cheese etc.), how to stimulate appetite in a picky pet, and most importantly give emotional support.
  • My nurses who share our patients’ successes, and more importantly comfort the pet Guardians, me, and each other when we share the defeat or cancer relapse or the loss of patient. They also make work a enjoyable and wonderful place to be all day.
  • Complete remissions.
  • Long remissions that are longer than reported survival times
  • The joy of telling pet Guardians that based on testing, the cancer is in remission.
  • The joy of a patient achieving another remission after relapse.
  • Partial remissions and even stable disease, because sometimes being in complete remission is less important that tolerating treatment well and feeling good.
  • Did I mention the hugs, purrs and wags?

Yes, cancer does suck, but my job is all about helping dogs and cats with cancer live longer and live well. I feel very grateful to be a veterinary oncologist.

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. Brenda Bodill on April 17, 2018 at 3:37 am

    Hi Dr Ettinger,

    After reading your article about telling sceptical guardians of pets that chemotherapy is well tolerated by dogs I had to tell Coco (my furbaby’s) story. Coco my Labrador was diagnosed with Mast Cell Cancer on her elbow 4 years ago when she was 7 1/2 years old and I was devastated! I was told there wasn’t enough margin to remove the lump as it was rather large and we would probably have to amputate her leg. I asked if there was any other option available and was told about the chemo treatment that was quite successful so I decided to give it a try. Best decision I could have made for her as the lump was gone within 2 weeks. She had intensive weekly treatments for a while then spread out and now for the past year it has been every 6 weeks. I also changed her diet from Hills JD to Orijen 6 Fish, added some homeopathic meds and she has thrived. I read Dr Dresslers book from cover to cover and got great tips on how to remain positive for your furbaby which was difficult at first. Getting the correct information is crucial and never giving up of course! She is happy, leads a really good life and loves going for her 6 weekly treatment with the doctors & nurses at the Clinic. Hope my story helps give someone who is struggling to decide if chemo is the way to go that it really can help your furbaby if this option has been recommended to you.

  2. Lizette Fitzpatrick on December 22, 2015 at 5:35 am

    UPDATE: Chanel was able to make it for a little over a year after the Melanoma diagnosis. I did give her Apocaps, had the vaccine, surgeries to remove tumors and a cancer diet for food. It seems I fought a battle for her. I never had a moment that I thought I would lose her to cancer. By Aug. 27, 2013 I had to put her to sleep. It happened very fast after I thought she was doing well. She became disoriented and would walk into corners and not know how to get out. Also, when taking her out she forgot how to do regular things and would just aimlessly walk around. We think there was a tumor in her brain that we couldn’t see or treat. It was so hard to give up and say goodbye. I know I had an extra year with her, but I’m not sure I would move heaven and earth again to fight it. Cancer sucks!

  3. Korine on February 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    While you haven’t treated my Jasper, he’s still alive 1 year after being given 3 months to live after being diagnosed with a nasal tumor because of your book. I posted on your FB page in Dec when we learned that the cancer had metastasized to his lungs, and you were kind enough to respond. So I’m very thankful for what you do too. A chest x-ray showed that the carboplatin is helping (it’s helping! The tumors are shrinking!) but now a small fistula has opened up between his eyes. The bone is gone and the skin is so damaged! I just need him to survive long enough to get him to the beach again.
    Thanks for all you do. My dog is alive and my 4 year old son will remember how amazing he is because of you.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 24, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Awe, thanks. You made my day! That’s the reason I love my job, people like you and stories like Jasper!
      Wishing him many happy days at the beach!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  4. Darcy Tolle on February 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I read your article on bone cancer and wanted to express what I have gone through. My Springer Spaniel , Riley was diagnosed at age 9 with bone cancer in the front wrist and after reading what can cause this; I feel that his jumping off a high bed onto the tile, may have been the cause. Being a naturalist I went against the oncologist and treated Riley naturally. I started with a parasite kill, detoxed him, build up his immune system, and keeping up his PH. I make his food, and give him cottage cheese and flaxseed. The only problem I have had is chronic inflammation in his leg and finally found something natural that worked instead of giving him Rymadal which I found that long term will do its own damage to the body and that is parsley that has lutolein which I add to the cottage cheese and also omega’s 3-6-9. After reading on Hulda Clark’s theories, I believe that parasites have a lot to do with illness, along with toxins. Riley is doing good for being 13, just dealing with old age issues. I find that he has lost a lot of muscle and have cut back the meat and adding protein powder to get the amino acids. Do you think that to much meat is the issue or is it just old age? Thanks for putting out the blog, I find it interesting and wanted to tell Riley’s story. I am surprised you do not practice integrative medicine, for you seem to lean that way. I find that natural work better with the body but you have to be relentless. Thanks for helping us on with your blog. Darcy

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 9, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Hi Darcy,
      Thanks for sharing Riley’s story. Was it OSA or one of the less common bone cancers? I am not sure why Riley has lost so much muscle mass but I recommend a visit your your vet and some basic blood work and urine tests. Some disease like kidney disease, GI disease, etc can contribute to this.
      I am pretty integrative but I think there is a place for both conventional chemo and holistic care in the cancer patient. It’s pretty exciting to use both.
      All my best, Dr Sue

  5. carrie on January 19, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I am inquiring about your views on, and access to, experimental treatments in animals who are good candidates for such type sof interventions-i.e. those who have run out of standard options but for whom there are new human treatments that have been tested in animals to some extent (but not extensively). I find myself in that position now and think it calls for BLOG post. The blog post could deal with:
    (1) When to consider experimetnal therapies and/or clinical trials for your pet;
    (2) How to gt your pet enrolled in a clinical trial and/or petition an cademic instituion to start one for your pet; and
    (3) How to overcome standard vet objections and inertia to get your pet the care they need.
    (4) How/when to contact the FDA CVM and/or a drug manufacturer to petition for compassionate use, etc.

  6. Judy Brown on January 19, 2013 at 1:19 am

    My heart aches for N – thru losses I’ve endured with previous pets only God can heal the hurt thru His Holy Spirit – go to Him for comfort to walk thru it – and trust Him that our animals are His creation that return to Him. Look up Jesse Duplantis ministry – he has book, dvd etc about his trip to heaven and he seen dogs and cats!!!

  7. Judy Brown on January 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    P.S. Looked up integrative vet (not familiar with that term) and there is one in Columbus – 2 1/4 hrs – will ask Dr. Tripp about this suggestion. Thanks again.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

      My pleasure, Judy. wishing Mr Peepers good health and a long remission!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  8. Judy Brown on January 18, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks so much for answering – Mr. Peepers is still fighting the battle – strengths are he’s tough, my vet, Dr. Tripp is so amazed at him and is working with us – Mr. Peepers has an incision with holes in it from last surgery – didn’t have enough skin to cover it — and this mass tumor has segments that keep breaking thru and dying and Dr. Tripp removes them — Mr Peepers is generally feeling well and has been great – walks etc. and his demeanor is good – and eats well – but lately having bladder problem and gotta call Dr. Tripp tomorrow concerned about his straining to do bowel movement – he did get some out this afternoon but tonight I don’t think he was able to go – he was straining and trying – Dr. Tripp did a cath Weds. and gave me a prescription for Bethanechol and one for antibiotic Cephalexin – Mr. Peepers still had urine problems today, tried to do a cath myself and got some small puddles and then he kept wanting to try and go — then later did get some stream out — otherwise he’s been perky and pretty good — doing a lot of praying!!!! Dr. Tripp very impressed with the Dog Cancer Survival Guide – and told me to use the Apocaps – also very impressed with your Ettinger name – showed me textbooks he has by a Dr. Ettinger. Mr. Peepers is also on
    Rimadyl and Tramadol for pain and inflamation. Dr. Tripp put a see thru patch over incision and we’re to go back next Wed.

  9. Karen Gaulin on January 11, 2013 at 6:21 am

    We have a 10yr old Golden Retriever that had cancer when he was 3 yrs old. He wasn’t expected t live more that a year so we do feel like we got a miracle dog here. So thankful & so blessed that he is still in our lives, for that, we are so very grateful that we had the surgery to remove the tumor attached to his liver.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      Great success for your Golden and you! Thanks for sharing and reading!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  10. Judy Brown on January 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    My dog Mr. Peepers – a beagle – soft tissue sarcoma – fast growing – had 3 surgeries vet could not get it all – ended up sending us to Ohio State University and x ray showed nodules in lung and kidney – had 2 chemo sessions then transfered to Metropolitan Vetrinary In Akron – closer to home – OSU was 2 hrs 15 min. —today was to be last session of first series and Dr. Gamblin had x-ray taken and there were more nodules in lung – and one of original ones was larger – advised me to discontinue chemo – said it could do more harm than good – and he has an open wound from last intensive surgery than tumor is pressing on — has a large mass on left side of chest and small mass above that under left front leg – I had gotten Dr. Dresslers book and have had him on Apocaps since 11-27 and also K- factors == started a citrus pectin each day and a krill oil each day —– help!!!!

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Sorry about Mr Peepers. I agree with your oncologist – if the cancer is progressing, continuing that therapy is not recommended. Glad you found the book and are trying supplements.
      Hard to be more specific through a blog, but I hope he improves! If you’ve exhausted conventional therapy, maybe see an integrative vet?
      All my best, Dr Sue

  11. Lizette Fitzpatrick on January 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Hi Susan, I live in Kentucky, but got on the boat with the help of your book for the cancer diet. I am in a battle to keep malignant melanoma tumors from returning in my sweet Lhasa-Pom, Chanel.So far so good with 3 surgeries, the vaccines(4), diet, RO water and supplements. She was first diagnosed in August 2012 in her left eye. We had that removed (with clear margins)and thought that might have been the end of it. Should have started the vaccine right at the same time, but waited another month when the 2nd tumor on her right cheek materialized. You can bet that all my work started kicking in right then. While we were waiting to get thru all our vaccines, another tumor near the last one popped up. Had that removed too. So now we wait and see if all this can put her in remission I guess. Last vaccine Dec.6 and last tumor removal surgery was Nov. 20. Her lungs and liver are clear. jf you know of any other thing I should do. please let me know. I sure wish you lived closer. We would be visiting you. The doctors here don’t even discuss diet and supplements with their patients. Thanks for sharing your work with us!

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      I am sorry to hear about Chanel’s melanoma. Sounds like you are covering all the bases. Are Apocaps one of the supplements?
      Thanks for reading and sharing her story!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  12. Mary Emmons on January 10, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I am thankful for my family, friends, my home, my health, my fur babies, my job, and you Dr. Ettinger! You give us hope and I thank you for that!

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks Mary!
      I am grateful for your kind words!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  13. n on January 10, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Dear Dr. Ettinger,
    On the day after Christmas I lost my beloved baby girl, a beautiful and unbelievably sweet 13 and 1/2 year old American Eskimo that I love more than anything, to a sudden metastasized cancer. About a year ago she had a tumor removed from her left leg that I was told was very low-grade and that even in the unlikely case that it were to come back, it wouldn’t metastasize as it is a localized tumor that affects nerve tissue. Since then I followed the raw cancer diet for dogs, added fish oil and cooked chicken liver and brussel sprouts for her everyday…all her xrays a couple months ago showed that she was completely healthy. Then 3 weeks before her passing, which was a month after her last checkup, she got these 2 pink growth on her skin and the next day she had a fever and moped. I immediately took her to the vet and they said she has an abses tooth and gave her antibiotics and fluids, they also did a cytology of the 2 masses on her skin. Something still didn’t feel right, especially as she had started being picky about food which had never been the case before. The vet said one thing that they were unsure about was why her tongue turned purple when she was brought into the vet so they thought maybe her circulation or heart had some trouble when she gets nervous (i.e. going to the vet) so they asked if I wanted xrays of her chest and abdomen done, which I said yes to. The next thing that happened is something I’ll never forget…I was put into a room with the doors shut where I received absolutely devastating news- my baby girl somehow had metastasized cancer and they gave her less than a month, which unfortunately turned out to be true, and said that the progress was so fast and sudden that there were no treatments that would work. The cytology of the 2 outside masses came back as spindle cell sarcoma which they thought was secondary, the primary being the tiny masses all over inside which they thought the main source was either in the lungs or abdomen or both. I don’t think they were wrong and given the fact that she really hated taking pills and what a struggle that was, on top of which she was terrified of going to the vet, but I still wonder if there was anything that would’ve improved the quality of her life the last 3 weeks or even longer. It doesn’t even make sense to me how something like metastatic cancer can happen so suddenly but the vet says a month in a dog’s life is a lot longer- still it seems like it would take a lot longer. Plus, they didn’t think it had anything to do with the low-grade tumor that was removed a few months prior to that but I don’t understand how a metastatic cancer can suddenly appear at such a progressed stage. And did all the diet additions I gave her, the fish oil and chicken liver and steamed broccoli, not do anything? What happened the next couple weeks has created an unbearable grief. Most of all, every moment I ache to just give her a hug and I really don’t know how to deal with this. How do you help your pet parents cope? I try to remember all the wonderful, happy years that she had, which she did until the last 3 weeks, but my heart aches for her so badly. I miss her terribly and I have no idea what to do. Everyone says it takes time but time seems to make it harder. Sometimes I don’t believe it, I think she’s still going to run to me when I get home but then when I get home reality hits hard, very hard. The love that our animals share with us, the love we have for them, is unlike any other. I have a very loving family, children and other beloved furry children, but no one will ever be able to fill the void in me. If you have advice on how to cope, I’d really appreciate it.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      I am so sorry for your loss. It is not easy – 5 years after the loss of my beloved Lab, I still have a hole in my heart.
      There is advice on loss in the Guide, but talking to someone can help. Some veterinary specialty centers have pet loss support groups and there are also places you can call. I would try googling pet loss support groups and try to find a group near you, or you can call one of the phone supports.

      Try to focus on the good times shared through the 13 years and hold on to the good memories.
      With sympathy,
      Dr Sue

  14. Lisa on January 10, 2013 at 5:48 am

    Dr Ettinger,
    Its doctors like you that keep parents like me hopeful. My “baby” Maxwell was diagnosed, went through an amputation and then 4 rounds of chemo before it was determined the cancer had spread to his lungs. 2 more chemo’s and they told me they were not able to do anything else for him. I cried for days. Then he developed a cough and when I called for assistance I was again told…sorry there’s nothing we can do for him. ABSOLUTE DESPAIR!
    After I was able to regroup I found Dr Dressler and subsequently you and this site. It gave me hope enough to not accept that answer and to find a new oncologist. It’s now some 14 months later and with the help of Dr Brenn, Oradell Animal Hospital, Palladia and Dr Dresslers cancer diet Max is happy and healthy and living a good life with cancer.
    So, for as grateful as you are to be an veterinary oncologist, WE parents are more grateful to know that there are doctors that CARE enough not to give up on our babies.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks Lisa!!
      So glad you found Dr Brenn (he’s a friend of mine and we did your residencies at the same hospital in NYC) and that Maxwell is living longer and well.
      Again, thanks for your comments, you made my night!
      All my best, Dr Sue

  15. Cheryl O on January 10, 2013 at 2:17 am

    That’s such a wonderful outlook, to such a rotten disease!! We thank you for caring, insite and knowledge!!

  16. txchick57 on January 5, 2013 at 5:07 am

    I so wish you were here in Texas. But I have bought health insurance with large coverage for my dogs in the event they get cancer. We will be coming to you if that ever happens.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      Awe thanks!! Well I hope you never need me, but you know where to find me.
      Wishing health, happiness and wags to you and your dogs!
      All my best, Dr Sue

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