“It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”– John Steinbeck
A few weeks’ ago I lost my friend of fourteen years, Morwen. I was lucky to have had her in my life for so many years. She beat cancer (twice,) as well as a serious illness in her kittenhood, and, although I would have liked to have had more time with her, she slipped as gracefully from this world as she lived her life the afternoon of Friday, June 1. She had been fading for a few weeks despite four veterinarians and two specialists’ attempts to help her. A few days before she died, a small shadow was found in the bones of her pelvis confirming our fear that cancer had once again returned after a two year remission. We all fell apart, including the veterinary staff, even though we all had known, I think, in our hearts that this was coming and coming quickly.
What a horrible word. One we have come to dread these days. There is generally nothing pleasant that is ever associated with this word. It is estimated that nearly 7.5 million people die from some form of cancer every year. That is a devastating number. And, yet, the odds of survival once cancer has been detected today are much better than they were even 10 years ago. Every year we get closer to earlier diagnosis, better treatments and more optimistic chances of survival.
My kitty had a lump. It developed almost overnight on her right side near her back leg. It felt small, hard, and perfectly round like a little marble lodged under her skin. I wasn’t that worried about it. Mammary cancer in younger cats, especially those who were spayed before their first heat cycle is very rare. There’s a slightly higher risk factor in Siamese cats, but Morwen is your average, American shorthair with a bit of Bombay thrown in the mix, a sweet little kitty with a smooshed in nose and big yellow eyes. It certainly wasn’t mammary cancer, but maybe it was a lipoma, not unusual in cats, although not usually quick-growing or hard in nature. Lipomas, of which my elderly cocker spaniel had many, are usually squishy, round lumps filled with fat. Older dogs and cats often develop them and they are, usually, not dangerous. My cocker spaniel has had more than one aspirated and another two removed, all of which were benign.
The impact of cancer on humans and pets is enormous today, and according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) the number of pets with cancer is growing each year. In fact, the AVMA states that approximately 1 in 4 dogs will develop a tumor of some kind in their lifetime, and the Veterinary Oncology and Hematology Center approximates that cancer accounts for nearly 50% of all disease related pet deaths each year.
There’s an old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when it comes to cancer. Our pets cannot tell us when they feel poorly so we need to pay special attention to their behavior and physical appearance.
Welcome to the first Pet Care Column! As one of only 178 board certified veterinary oncologists in the country and Chief of Staff at Veterinary Cancer Group, the largest private comprehensive cancer center in the world, I look forward to bringing you educational information about cancer in animals, as well as, other important tips to help you keep your four legged family members healthy and happy for years to come.