When Cure is Not Possible, Hope is Not Lost

I was in the local animal food place when I overheard someone asked about mushrooms for a dog with cancer. I can't ignore conversations like that and so I joined in -- and that is how I met a woman and her German Shepherd who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer (the dog not the woman). 

This woman was desperate. She had that deer in the headlight look - I recognized it well. The local veterinary internal medicine specialist had told her there was nothing to be done and the dog was going to die -- and so long.

And so she was looking for mushrooms and buying fermented goat's milk and getting advice about feeding organ meats - anything that might give her what that veterinarian had so cruelly stripped away: Hope.

I have a terminally ill dog right now: Zoey. Diagnosed with Lymphoma last May, she became critically ill with a relapse last month and I thought we would lose her. It was terrifying; I think we were at her veterinarian's office at least 50% of the days in October for one thing or another.

Given all that, I want to tell you that I have never stopped hoping. Ever. Hope sustains me. 

FYI: Zoey is not alone -- every one of us has a terminal condition called Life. Does that reality stop you from hoping for more good things?!

When your dog is terminally ill, the things you hope for change. I hoped that Zoey could chase more balls -- and she does.

I hoped Zoey could do fun things -- like have a GIANT pupachino from Starbucks -- and she does.

I hoped that we have more time - and we do.

I continuously hope that Zoey can be happy and comfortable and enjoy her life -- check, check, and check.

None of these things just happen simply because I hope -- rather, my hopes for Zoey provide a direction for her (palliative) care. Together with her truly outstanding veterinary team, Zoey's life demonstrates that even in the face of a terminal diagnosis, there is SO MUCH that can be done.

Remember this: When CURING isn't an option, you have to bring out your A Game and change things up...

And being a caring and compassionate professional means you help people find new ways to hope, even if very short-term. You do not land yet another sucker punch by telling someone there is nothing that can be done and sending them on their way to desperately search for anything that might help -- and to pour out their questions, confusion, and sorrow to random strangers at the dog food store.

Even when death is the only reasonable option, there are still things to Hope. No pain, peace, easy transition, loving people around, etc. Although there often isn't a cure or even more time, there is always something that can be done.

I think we sometimes forget that *caring* is something. In fact, it is everything.


by CA Heidi on Fri, 11/24/2017 - 11:30

Mary-Ann, you know my heart better than most on this subject, having done so much for me and my breaking heart with Harley. I guess I can just say I so very much agree with you.


by Barbz on Fri, 11/24/2017 - 13:04

Can't love this enough! I'm so happy Zoey is getting more quality time and is surrounded by love and hope.

by Lynn on Fri, 11/24/2017 - 17:44

It doesn't take so much to extend a hand in kindness, but it is something that doesn't happen often enough. My anguish over getting the worst diagnosis ever for Floyd was magnified by the person rolling down her window to ask for my parking spot as I am crying and trying to get my dog that had just collapsed into my car. So much riles around in me when I see that parking spot. You gave the woman something so simple, kindness. I hope that is what sticks in her mind along with HOPE rather than the negativity of the vet.

by Sue N on Sat, 11/25/2017 - 10:12

This is such a great blog, and I agree so much. I honestly didn't realize just how much hope sustained me until a few weeks ago when 2 hours before our meeting with the oncologist to discuss the next plan for Chance and his lymphoma she sent me an email saying that I should be grateful for the time I had, was lucky I got so much, and while there were probably more things that could be done, should we, because we need to consider the dog. Basically she was giving up on us all. I was sick to my stomach.

Then she saw him - being his charming, energetic, JOYFUL, self - and somewhat changed her tune, but by then the damage was done for me. She didn't get us and what we were doing. We were hoping for all the things you said above, and all with only one thing in mind, the quality of life for Chance.

On our next visit we were able to see a new oncologist who seems to be a better fit for us. Once again hope is returned and I immediately felt better. Not that we will cure him, I know that isn't going to happen, but that we have someone we can work together with to get as many great days as possible, limit the lousy days, and who we can talk to about finding a way to keep him comfortable when there is nothing else that can be done to stop the lymph nodes from growing so big they make it hard for him to breathe. Just knowing we have that support, and the return of hope, has made a big difference to me and how I manage each day.

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