Cancer: Now What?

As someone who finds great comfort in having a plan, I understand this question. Often, pet owners receiving this news feel shocked, scared and powerless. They frequently believe that their only options are either to make their pet comfortable until he or she passes away or is euthanized, or to jump into expensive surgery and/or chemotherapy treatments. The idea that anyone would feel they must immediately choose between these two rigid options bothers me deeply.

Six Steps to Take Before You Make a Choice

I have talked to many veterinarians about how they approach the “What do we do now?” question. Putting their answers alongside what I’ve heard from pet owners over the years, I’ve compiled these six tips for moving forward after a pet’s cancer diagnosis.

Stop and Breathe: Unless your pet is suffering or in immediate danger, you do not need to make an instant decision about how to proceed with his care. Take some time, even if only an hour, to collect your thoughts.

Every Pet and Case Are Different: Know that there is no one “right” course of action. The best plan for you and your pet depends on the type, location and severity of the cancer, on your financial resources, and especially on your pet. Some pets handle medical treatment and frequent trips to the veterinarian very well; others do not. Some patients have additional health problems that complicate treatment. Some are advanced in age, and their limited natural life expectancy may deter pet owners from pursuing aggressive treatment. Then again, other pets of advanced age may handle treatment wonderfully. Your goal should be to find the course of action that best suits your specific situation.

Consider Staging: Often, the first step to feeling empowered to make good decisions is to get more information. This is why I recommend talking to your veterinarian about staging. Staging involves doing diagnostic tests to determine the severity of the illness and get a better idea of the expected outcome for your pet. These tests may include x-rays, blood tests, urine tests, biopsies or tissue aspirates (tissue samples collected through a needle). Even if you decide not to do all the diagnostics, doing one or two may yield enough information to help you make a more informed decision.

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