A few years ago, I lost my soul dog, my very first foster and unequivocally the best dog of all time to cancer right before Christmas. His name was Chance, and he was my heart. I had him in my life throughout my career in vet med, through a marriage, the birth of a child and through several moves as my life changed. I found metastatic lung cancer in his chest right before Thanksgiving. The pressures of being a single mother trying to provide for Christmas and knowing the cancer had spread left me with some choices. I had to choose palliative care and there is nothing harder for a technician to admit than she can’t fix her own.
Despite my sadness at his diagnosis, I spent Thanksgiving feeding him scraps from the table which he happily consumed. As I baked Christmas cookies, he got the imperfectly baked Christmas trees, because if I wouldn’t fix him, well I was surely going to spoil him. Without question, I scrubbed away at the carpet he had peed on, because the steroids that were trying to buy us time made him have accidents in the house. You could see the shame in his eyes, thinking he had done something wrong.
Shortly before Christmas, I got the gut feeling something wasn’t right, and I could hear him starting to cough more. I took him into work and my heart sank when I saw the chest X-rays we had taken. His chest was full of cancer, he was running a fever and he wouldn’t eat or even wag his tail. Surrounded by my coworkers I had to make the choice to say goodbye to my best friend. As I held him in my arms, ugly crying, he wagged his tail at me. I told him how much I loved him and then he was gone. I went home empty and had to tell my son who had grown up with Chance that he wasn’t going to be here for Christmas.
It has gotten easier, but the holidays still break my heart when I think of Chance. As I felt the holidays begin to loom closer, my world became just a little less happy. I threw myself into my work at the clinic and tried to mentally prepare myself for when I would see the annual reminder in my Facebook memories. Then something changed my outlook. My technicians heart dog had mildly swollen lymph nodes. When we are in the field and know more, our brain jumps to the worst conclusion ever. She had already decided it was lymphoma. My team listened to her while she shared her concerns, we drew blood and sent aspirates to the lab. The next day, when I could see the sadness in her eyes, I called the lab asking if they could get us cytology results as soon as possible because this was a very emotionally charged situation.
Within a few hours the cytology results came back, and my technician crumbled. It was lymphoma. My team offered hugs, our empathy and quickly pulled together to perform any further tests and prepare her very special boy for chemotherapy. Seeing the sadness in my technicians’ eyes, as a manager, I was able to remember the pain I had felt and do what I needed to do to make this horrible news just a tiny bit easier. My team saw her shaken to her core and came together to help any way we could. I know she will be spending her Christmas giving extra table scraps and burnt holiday cookies to her pup. I knew that pain and I knew that process.
When we discover devastating news or lose one of our own, it is life changing. The pain dulls over time, but it is always there. A constant nagging memory or aching of wondering: what else we can do? As professionals, some of the best gifts we can offer someone is our empathy, our medical skill and our ability to soften the blow of a devastating situation. These are the gifts we bring to our clients when they come in with their old dog a couple days before Christmas to euthanize. We have no idea the struggle they have been dealing with before walking in our doors or the guilt they feel after they leave. These are the gifts we give to the family who brings in a sick dog on Christmas Eve and are scraping up funds to try and provide treatment. Continue to give those gifts wherever you can. Never lose the ability to share what makes us good at our jobs. Our hearts, our compassion and our empathy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
Jade is a licensed technician of 9 years who lives in Port Orchard, Wash. She enjoys emergency and critical cases, dentistry and creating a bond with her clients and team. During her off time she is busy keeping up with her two crazy Basenjis!