The past week has been rough for me. I found out that two good buddies of mine have malignant cancer. To make matters worse, the cancers have metastasized in both cases, meaning surgery is not an option. Yes, my friends Brutus the Rottweiler and Benson the Golden Retriever probably have only a few weeks to live if they receive no treatment. Happily, their pet "parents" have elected to have them undergo chemotherapy for their cancers.
"What?! Chemotherapy? For a dog? You have got to be kidding! I would never put my dog through that. Who wants their beloved pet to have all his hair fall out, vomit all the time, or waste away from chemo? Besides, the expense must be ridiculous. I mean I love my dog as much as the next person, but...chemo?" This is a typical response a person gets when their friends find out they've chosen chemotherapy to prolong the life of their pet.
What's important to understand is that chemotherapy in pets is pretty different from chemotherapy in people. The primary difference is that in people, the goal is usually to affect a cure. In pets, the goal is to improve and prolong the life of an animal with cancer. We use the same drugs as in people, but at lower doses. Side-effects are still possible, and potentially very serious, but whereas side-effects are expected and accepted in human patients, our goal is quality of life throughout the treatment process for our canine and feline patients.
Cost certainly can be a factor. Benson's chemo (which will be administered by a veterinary oncologist) is something like $500-$600 per treatment for four or five treatments. Brutus' chemo will be given by me (he has a more common form of cancer), and will average $100-$150 per week for twelve weeks. There are no guarantees of success for either dog, but we are hopeful to give them each another happy year with their families.
I'm certainly not saying that everyone who has a pet with cancer has a moral obligation to put them through chemo, but many people dismiss the notion immediately, before they even understand what they're rejecting. It is true that some pets are just too sick to get chemo, and in those cases I don't even recommend it. Almost all the patients I've given chemo to have benefited, for some length of time, from the improved quality and quantity of life chemo has given them.
So keep your fingers crossed for Brutus, Benson, their families, and me. I'd sure like to see their smiling faces and wagging tails for at least another year.
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