I’m on oncology service for two weeks here and am learning about all things cancer related. It is a very busy and very difficult service because we don’t really get to cure cancer, but rather just manage it as best we are able for various lengths of time. On an average day, we see a handful of new appointments and then lots of rechecks for pets who are already receiving treatment or who are coming in for treatment. Every day, we also receive transfers, which are pets that come into the emergency room over night that are believed to have cancer and were too unstable to wait for an appointment slot. These are the tougher cases because if these pets have cancer and are already showing clinical signs, the options for treatment are often fewer.
Last week, I had a transfer patient that ended up having very severe cancer that had progressed beyond any treatment options. The reality was that the patient came in after suddenly becoming very unstable at home. Even in the ICU, the dog needed intensive care to remain comfortable and stable. In cases like that the best option for the pet is often humane euthanasia. We called the owners and after hearing the results of our diagnostics, they were heartbroken. They couldn’t believe this had come on so quickly and that there was no real treatment option we could offer. They then asked to take their pet home for one more night. We had to tell them that we strongly recommended against that fearing that the animal would suffer and very possibly die at home without ICU and comfort care. They were heartbroken as they wanted one last day together. But after talking for some time, they realized that euthanasia was the most humane option versus taking their pet home and possibly having him die there in a manner that was neither comfortable nor peaceful.
As I watched these owners sob, wishing they could have had one more day, I wished I could tell every owner I see that one more day is never guaranteed. I wish I could tell the person with the puppy to treasure every moment of cuteness and the person with the middle-aged dog who still wants to run and play to take just one more walk with the dog at the end of the day. There will come a day when there are no more walks or snuggling on the couch or games of fetch. So make the most of the time you have with your pet, so that when the end comes, you have no regrets. As I watch pets fighting cancer daily and ultimately losing that battle, that is the message that keeps playing in my mind that I wish I could tell every client.