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Finding an Oncologist

We got Atticus’ osteosarcoma diagnosis on a Friday afternoon, right before Labor Day weekend. I spent the long weekend ugly crying, especially when I could tell Atticus was in pain. A few times he seemed particular unsettled, groaning and struggling to get comfortable on the couch. After seeing that, I went out into our backyard and loudly sobbed. A big group of neighbors were outside socializing at the time. They probably think I’m really weird.

I’m in a Facebook group for Catahoula owners in the Pacific Northwest. I joined because I liked to look at pictures of dogs that look like Atticus. When I got the diagnosis, I posted there asking for advice and resources. I got a deluge of kind words, great advice and recommendations. One person recommended I check out Several others told me their stories about their Catahoulas with osteosarcoma and amputations. I got several referrals for veterinarians as well. Someone mentioned that this would be a roller coaster ride, which was so true.

I’m an analyst by profession, so I spent the long weekend researching. I read everything I could find on the Tripawds website. I read median survival times without surgery, with surgery, with chemo, etc. I read that the medial survival rate with palliative care only was 30 days. I soul-searched with Kevin. And of course, we spent a lot of time with Atticus. One thing was clear- he was in pain. His leg was swollen at the site of the tumor, and when he lied down he lay awkwardly with his leg out. Every groan was a knife to my heart.

Atticus and Spaghetti in our guest room. Spaghetti is showing off his left hind leg which is not riddled with cancer.

The idea of the amputation surgery was terrible, but more terrible to me was the idea of the progression of the disease without surgery. It meant the short time Atticus had left would be characterized by quickly increasing pain. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to let him suffer like that for long. So we decided to go all in for surgery and chemo if the oncologist thought he was a good candidate.

I woke up Tuesday with the goal to schedule a consult with an oncologist. I called the clinic my vet referred us to. The would be happy to see us, and their first opening for a consult was October 26th. I was calling on September 7th. It would take us almost two months to get in just for a consult (remember that 30 day median survival rate!). I made the appointment, but that wouldn’t do.

I called another clinic that someone mentioned on my Facebook post. I called to schedule a consult, and their first opening was October 21st. I started crying on the phone. They were an oncology practice, didn’t they understand what that sort of delay in treatment meant for osteosarcoma? The uncomfortable-sounding employee mentioned my vet could perhaps call and talk to the specialist about getting in sooner, but that was no guarantee the specialist would agree or have availability to see us any earlier. I didn’t bother to take that appointment.

The overwhelming grief started to take back over. I had committed, in my mind, to doing the surgery and chemo if the surgeon recommended it. But now there was a chance that no matter what I did, that might be out of reach because of the current demand for veterinary medicine. I had a quick break for an ugly-cry, then I put on my big girl pants and went to work. I would call every clinic in Oregon, Washington and California until I found one that would see us quickly.

I picked another clinic that someone had recommended. This one I will name, because they heard me say osteosarcoma, and immediately offered me an emergency appointment the next week. This was Veterinary Cancer and Surgery Specialists in Milwaukee, Oregon. I will be forever grateful to them (and the more we see them, the more grateful I become). One hurdle was down- we were seeing the oncologist!

One thought on “Finding an Oncologist”

  1. Oh man what a rollercoaster from the get-go, especially now when vet clinics are so overwhelmed. Your analyst brain worked in Atticus’ favor! That hard work of yours paid off in finding him the clinic that could get him in.

    I can feel the anxiety just reading about your decision making process for him. You did everything right by creating processes to guide you, instead of letting information overload overwhelm you. YAY!

    We are so honored someone on FB mentioned us to you. If you ever talk to them again, please thank them. You and Atticus are pretty new here but already you’ve been so so helpful in sharing your experience and offering support. THANK YOU!

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