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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue 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

      Korine,
      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

    HEllo,
    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!!!

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