The patients are fun! They are self-selecting to an extent. My two dogs serve as an example. Denali is sweet but nervous. She wants to be around the family but doesn't enjoy a lot of human interaction and prefers to be alone on her bed. Sandy is the opposite. She is gregarious and prefers, at all times, to be around people.
If we diagnosed Denali with cancer, I honestly don't know that we would treat her if it involved anything more than oral medication given at home. Weekly visits to the clinic for chemo treatment would be stressful for her and result in a definite decrease in her quality of life. For her, quality of life means being fed her preferred dog food, getting a morning walk and then being left alone to sleep on her bed or chase a cat or two around the dining room table.
Sandy, on the other hand, would love weekly visits to the clinic even if it were for chemo treatment. Even surgery would present to her as an opportunity for more people to love her up and sit with her for hours on end as she recovered. It may sound at odds with our knee-jerk reaction to a cancer diagnosis, but Sandy's quality of life would increase. Of course, I never want that diagnosis for my dog, but my point is that it doesn't have to be the end of the world if you look at it from a different perspective.
Most of the dogs we see on a daily basis are in the Sandy category; they are happy to see us. First, they get to go for a ride in the car. Then they enter the lobby of the clinic and get to "say hi" to other dogs and people. Once we borrow them from their owner and walk down the hall to the treatment room, they enter another zone of love and affection and good treats—not the stale, cardboard bones, but soft, smelly, chewy treats. Chemo treatments leave them feeling better than they have in a long time because the medications are killing the cancer cells that were making them feel sick. Some dogs are even a little reluctant to leave us after finishing their treatment. We really have to convince them it's time to go home.
Another reason I love my job is that every great dog comes with a great owner. Disclosure, I am an introvert. I have never really enjoyed being in groups of people or being in the limelight even if that just means speaking from a position of authority. But meeting and talking to owners bringing their pets in for consults and then chemo treatments has been very satisfying and even, at times, fun. People are open-minded and optimistic. They know what I am talking about when I say that "Buddy" really likes to be pet under his armpit. "Oh yeah," they say, "he loves that, but he prefers getting belly rubs while stretched out on the sofa." Right there, I experience the human animal bond, and it is beautiful, and I get it.
Once an owner receives the news that their pet has cancer, they begin the process of saying goodbye. Hopefully, that goodbye lasts many months or maybe even years, but the point is that owners are careful not to take their furry family member for granted. Days are filled with walks, maybe two in one day, good food but most importantly, extra pats on the head and gazing eye-to-eye maybe with a lick sneaked in here and there. Owners never complain about the weekly visits even when it involves traveling a long distance. They thank us every time and are truly appreciative of our service.
Cancer can be a scary diagnosis, but it can also be a positive experience for everyone involved. I know this is true because I see it on the faces of the dogs every day and I read it in the heartfelt, and thoughtful thank you cards we receive once a patient finishes treatment and even after they have passed away. Those are sad days, but they are outnumbered by the great days. I admit it is counterintuitive, but treating dogs for cancer is a rich and rewarding experience for me, and I cherish it as much as my other experiences as a vet.