I can be the first one to tell you; logical decisions are a bit ‘out the window’ once you hear those three words, “she has cancer.” Since making the right decision for you is so incredibly difficult, it’s best to write it out with a pen and paper under careful consideration.
One of the best ways I have learned to do this is by analyzing the risks. Take a look at the risks, the benefits, the potential outcomes, the best case scenario, and the worst case scenario of each decision.
I work alongside the veterinarian and they handle the medical side of the spectrum to ensure you are making the right decision for yourself, your dog, and/or your family.
Write everything down your veterinarian has told you about the cancer. Answering questions like the ones below will help you create the first step:
- What type of cancer does your dog have?
- At what stage is the cancer?
- What are the options being presented to you?
- How long is the treatment?
- How much does the treatment cost?
- What are the steps you have to take to get the treatment?
- What are the side effects of the treatment?
- How much pain would my dog be in with the treatment?
- How much pain would they be in without the treatment?
There’s no such thing as writing down too much information in your journal. Write down everything you possibly can about the scenario. Even the items you see as small could be relevant to your veterinarian.
Right below where you wrote out step one’s information, begin writing what your dog could gain from the treatment. Don’t add any negatives here. We only want positives in Step Two. The questions you may ask yourself and/or the veterinarian include:
- Will she feel better if she gets treatment?
- What type of medication will she be taking? Will she be on the medication for the rest of her life? How will the medication help?
- Can we do this in one surgery only?
- Will she be more comfortable once the treatment is over?
- How much more time will she get?
- What joys of life will she have with treatment?
Some examples of gains in cancer treatment include the following:
- Your dog is in significantly less pain. This is often particularly true with bone cancers.
- Her quality of life significantly increases.
- He is able to walk and run without pain.
- She can play during her remaining time.
- He can go for long walks with you again.
- There won’t be as much medication involved after the treatment.
Every dog is different and every case is different. The gains you have may be significantly different than ones another dog has. Be certain to determine this for your individual dog.
The Best-Case Scenario
Now, it’s time for the best- case scenario. Don’t forget to write it down. Best-case scenario… what is it? Ask your veterinarian. Actually, ask several. Find at least three opinions on your dog’s cancer to determine what the best-case scenario is. Each veterinarian has different ideas, experiences, and backgrounds. Every professional in every field is different.
There is a lot I still don’t know even after over a decade in this profession attending every seminar, college course, degree program, etc. I possibly can. There’s just so much to learn and science is constantly evolving. What one professional knows, another may not, and vice versa. That’s why it’s important we all work together.
Let’s say the best case scenario is your dog needs an amputation. Dogs do just fine in most cases with three legs. Let’s say your dog gets through the surgery with absolutely no complications whatsoever. She is now able to start walking again. Of course, it will take some adjustment since she has lost one of her limbs, but she can happily become accustomed. She’s back to eating and playing like a puppy again.
Your best case scenario may look different than the one above, but nonetheless, ask what the chances are this best case scenario happens.
Don’t base your decision on this alone, but rather take it into consideration when you are making your decision. Miracles happen every day. Numbers don’t always tell all. But, it’s worth getting a “guestimate.”
Keep in mind, veterinarians aren’t generally able to provide an exact number here. You can for not likely, 50/50 chance, or very likely. Or, on a scale of 1-10, what do you feel her chances are for this outcome?
Weigh the Risks
Continue writing. What are the risks? List every risk you can think of. What did your veterinarian say the risks are? You can also do a bit of digging for yourself if you would like. Plus, there are many conventional, alternative, and holistic veterinarians out there you can contact to understand the risks (and benefits).
Once all the risks are laid out, ask yourself if your dog could be happy with each risk. Which risks have you contemplating your decision? Which risks are acceptable?
Some risk examples include:
- The surgery could contain complications
- Anesthesia may be complicated
- Pain associated with recovery
- Age and health of your dog
- Any underlying medical conditions
- There may be a wound site from the surgery
- Other treatments may be necessary
Identify the Worst-Case Scenario
I despise this part, but it has to be done in order to make the best decision. What’s the worst-case scenario and how would it affect your dog/you/your family?
Once you have written the worst-case scenario, ask several veterinarians what the likelihood of the worst case scenario is. They likely won’t be able to provide you with an exact chance here either, but you can get an idea.
Benefits vs Risks
Time to put it all together and compare the risks versus the benefits. Are the benefits worth the risks? Take a close look at the comparison between the two scenarios. If you, your family, and your dog all stand to gain more than you will risk, do you think you should go ahead with the treatment?
This isn’t a clear-cut, dry answer anyone can give to you. Unfortunately, this is a decision that must be made carefully by reviewing the information provided to you and what you feel in your heart is right.
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