A Big Word Called Cancer



Oh hell. With just six letters that’s a really big word, isn’t it?


Well, I guess if you haven’t had to deal with it, it’s just another word. But once it enters your life – either with yourself or a loved one – it becomes a pretty damn big word, doesn’t it? Like POW! KABAM! A punch in the gut or a slap in the face. It quite literally knocks the breath right out of you.

That little word suddenly takes over your life. You can’t think. You can’t breathe. It robs your mind and spirit of all hope. It destroys plans, dreams, aspirations, and visions of the future. With a simple word your life is changed forever.


It’s something we have difficulty understanding or wrapping our heads around. It’s not normal and it causes death, so it must be some type of foreign thing. An alien or demonic thing growing in an otherwise normal body. We envision black, gooey, smelly, hideous cells forming into monstrous growths. It’s an “ick” that needs to be removed, destroyed, cut out, fought against, yelled at, cried over. Then life can go back normal.

But life won’t be normal again. Not life as we knew it.


As a veterinarian, I deal with this word daily. Through the years I had developed a certain detachment from the word. I practiced a great deal of sensitivity and compassion whenever it came into conversations with clients. Because I could see the impact that unmentionable word had on people when it had to be finally mentioned, especially regarding their beloved pet.

And so I found myself in that same spot facing that same unmentionable word when Luke, my Chessie, was diagnosed with …


When I went through vet school, I remember the pathology professor explaining cancer as “normal cells that go haywire”. Meaning that cancer is a “mistake” in DNA sequencing that turns normal cells into abnormal or cancer cells. These abnormal cells do not understand cell boundaries, limitations of growth, or that they are supposed to stay in their own part of the body and not go elsewhere. They have since discovered that this “mistake” or genetic mutation is there from the moment of birth and a matter of preset destiny. So there really isn’t some icky black “thing” taking over the body.

For me, knowing that cancer is a “mistake” and a preset destiny somehow lessens the blow. I can forgive a mistake, just like I can forgive a friend’s misplaced forgetfulness. Plus it’s less disconcerting looking at Luke and envisioning “messed-up” cells interfering with normalcy instead of icky black crap destroying his body. And there is a sense of comfort knowing that no matter what – cleaner living, better choices, thinking more happy thoughts – it would not have changed this outcome. It is what it is.


This word no longer scares or terrifies me. I choose to live life to it’s fullest irregardless of what time is left or some doctor’s prognosis (medical terminology for ‘best guess”). I will not regret the choices of the past nor sit with remorse or guilt worrying over what I might have done differently. I will choose to cherish the precious life I hold in my arms now, and wait to grieve my losses when it finally comes – not before. I will not let the fear engulf me but choose instead to have faith in something greater. Because I know that no matter what, no matter how it happens, everything will be OK. I may not have the outcome I want, but that’s OK.

Because that is life.

Mistakes and all!


Traveling With Your Pet

This is the time of year when plans are being made for holiday travel. If you are taking your pet or furry kid with you, a little extra planning is important to insure a safe and smooth trip for everyone. Here are just a few pointers that I as a veterinarian give to clients:

  • Is your pet current on all vaccinations and preventives? Sometimes what is recommended as vaccinations and preventives for your pet is based on lifestyle. Recommendations for a pet that never leaves their yard will be much different than the frequent traveler.  Inform your veterinarian of your plans and find out beforehand if there are any changes you should make.
  • Does your pet have any ongoing health problems? If your pet is on medications, be sure to have plenty on hand and take it with you. It also helps to know your veterinarian’s policy on filling scripts away from the clinic in case you lose or forget to take the medications with you. Veterinary clinics are not pharmacies, so a clinic in Minnesota cannot fill a script from a clinic in Iowa. So check ahead of time.
  • cat in sunHow are you traveling? By air? By car? Airlines will require certain paperwork ahead of time, so be sure to find out exactly what their policies are. Health certificates are required any time an animal crosses state lines or the U.S. border. These must be obtained from a veterinarian within a thirty day period prior to travel. It never hurts to have your pet’s rabies certificate with you also. If you are traveling by car –  is your pet used to it or is this the first time. Always try to acclimate or accustom your furry kid to car rides long before you head out on that 6 hour drive to Grandma’s.
  • What about tranquilizers? This is something you need to ask your veterinarian about. Tranquilizers are never a good idea for pets traveling in the cargo hold of airlines since these drugs make it difficult for the body to stay warm. And at thousands of feet in the air, those cargo holds can get pretty chilly. Pheromones are available as a spray or collar and are pretty effective at easing pet anxiety without drugs.
  • Does your pet get motion sickness? If so, there is a very effective drug available through your veterinarian called Cerenia. One dosing will last for the whole day and it’s much more effective than Dramamine in dogs.
  • Must your furry kid go with you? Yikes, this is a tough question. But you have to consider your pet. Maybe your fur kid is like Luke – a seasoned traveler up for anything. It is more stressful on him to be boarded somewhere than to be confined in a small space as long as Mom is nearby. Or maybe they’re like Eddie the cat, who totally freaks out if I carry him out the door to go anywhere. He would rather stay a home by himself for days alone (with someone stopping by daily to check on him and freshen his food and water) than to step a foot out of the house. So you have to think of your kid and do what’s best for them, not what you may want to do.

Things can get pretty hectic as the holidays approach, so it’s important to keep your pets in mind while making travel plans. If you do, rest assured both of you will have a safe and fun trip.

Tetanus Miracle

I would classify this story a miracle. You can find it here from the Lemars Daily Sentinel. It’s about a Labrador named Buddy who survives a case of tetanus. Remarkable since most animals do not survive.This is the same tetanus bug that we humans get tetanus boosters for. Yep, it’s that bad.

Dogs and cats do have some resistance to tetanus, so vaccination is not recommended like it is for other species (horse and man). It is a very difficult disease to diagnose since by the time you see the symptoms, it’s too usually late to treat. I’ve seen one case of it in my career and that poor pup didn’t make it. He had a laceration or deep cut two weeks prior, but the owner had been doctoring it at home. He brought the pup in when the wound became worse and he started acting strangely. This pup showed many of the same symptoms as Buddy in the story and developed such severe muscle spasms he couldn’t open his mouth or sit upright. This progressed to seizures. We tried all we could, but he passed away within hours of entering the hospital.

I can hear your worry – how do I keep my pup from going through something like that? Tetanus is in the soil and feces, so you need to have the combination of a deep injury or puncture wound and being outdoors (or in unsanitary conditions) to have an issue. It will be a bigger concern for a hunting dog running into a barbed wire fence on a muddy day versus a maltese with a clipper wound. This is why it is important to seek medical treatment for any cuts or puncture wounds so they can be treated appropriately. Antibiotics are also very effective and are indicated in these cases. If you can’t get medical attention immediately, clean the wound the best you can (use damp towel and never use peroxide!), cover the wound to keep out any dirt, and get your pup medical attention within 24 hours.

If you take good care of your pup, you will never need to worry about tetanus.