Why I love being an oncologist - Dog Cancer Blog

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

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Why I love being an oncologist

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.

About the Author: Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology)


Susan Ettinger, DVM. Dip. ACVIM (Oncology) is a veterinarian oncologist at VCA Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in New York, and the co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity.