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Seek an Outside Opinion: The input of a diagnostic specialist can be valuable; it may confirm a suspected diagnosis or give insight into the type and severity of the cancer. Ask your veterinarian if conferring with a pathologist (for tissue samples) or a radiologist (for x-rays) would be beneficial. Get Educated: Once you know what kind of cancer your pet has, I recommend reading all you can about the disease, treatment options and expected outcomes. Ask your veterinarian where you can find good information (bearing in mind that not everything you read on the Internet is trustworthy), and make a plan to talk later to ask questions.
Remember That a Talk Is Just a Talk: The last thing to do, after gathering your thoughts and getting all the information you can, is to decide how to move forward with treatment. This brings me back to that decision we discussed earlier. At this point, pet owners often feel that they have only two options: choosing palliative care (keeping their pet comfortable for as long as possible) or starting oncology treatment.
I always stress to pet owners that, at this point, treatment or no treatment is not the decision you have to make. What you do have to decide now is whether to provide palliative care, or make an appointment just to talk to the veterinary oncologist about treatment options. Too often, pet owners feel that if they go to the oncologist, they are obligated to proceed with extensive therapy that they don’t know anything about. This is definitely not the case. You can always schedule a consultation with an oncologist purely to discuss your options and to hear about their experiences and recommendations. If advanced treatment doesn’t sound right for your pet, you can still decide palliative care is the best course.
Ultimately, Joel’s owners elected to keep him comfortable, treat him at home and celebrate the time they had with him. We put Joel to sleep three weeks after he came to see me about his cough.
While Joel’s passing was very sad, we all felt we did what was best for him. Joel never suffered, and his owners knew what to expect in the progression of his disease. Together we carried out a treatment plan that was best for his specific case, and I think that’s an accomplishment that pet owners and veterinarians can both be satisfied with.
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