My hardest lesson during Mina’s 20 weeks of chemotherapy and her final illness with cancer (about nine weeks) was in becoming her advocate. I’d read a few paragraphs about it on some canine lymphoma sites similar to this one, but I wasn’t sure exactly what was required. Some of the sites suggested that someone besides myself should be Mina’s advocate, attending all her chemo sessions and talking to her vets, etc.

Well, I didn’t have anyone available to do that for us. During Mina’s first quarter of treatments I felt like I was drowning in a see of information from the Internet, but suffering through a desert of information from her vets. They told me the basics and that was not enough to help Mina get through chemotherapy.

So, I had to buck up and get tough and do more homework and write down questions and make phone calls and take care of Mina. Eventually, my job as Mina’s advocate meant that most of her cancer vets didn’t like me very much but that was OK as long as they did what I knew was best for Mina.

Sure, her vets are far more educated than I am in treating canine lymphoma, but they didn’t know Mina as well as I did and they relied on me to report on her behavior and symptoms in the days between treatments. One major area that her cancer vets failed in was nutrition. They simply had no advice for me on the best diet to feed a canine in chemo for lymphoma. That was information I sought on my own and I got lucky one afternoon at our regular vet’s office when one of the LVTs gave me a flyer from Chow Now Petfood. Carol and Norm gave me great advice, even when Mina no longer wanted to eat Chow Now, and proved to be real friends to us. In the end it was Mina who decided what she wanted to eat and that’s how I got into the chicken and cow carcass cooking business.

What I’m attempting to convey here is that you can’t be afraid of pissing off your vets or of asking them very pointed questions about your beloved’s treatment and care. YOU are the one who knows your dog best; YOU are the one he or she relies on for decisions about their health. Do your research; leave no stone uncovered. Ask questions. Ask them every single day, if need be. If you believe your beloved dog needs a procedure or that your vets are missing something important, TELL THEM. Demand their time, after all you’re paying them a small fortune to treat your beloved for a serious disease. You don’t have time to be shy or timid or uninformed, there’s too much at stake. I sat in the lobby one day waiting for Mina to finish her treatment with a woman who’d brought in her cat for the same chemo. She had no idea what the drug was intended to treat, how it interacted with living bodies, what side effects to expect, etc. That is the kind of advocate most vets are accustomed to dealing with, I’m sure. You can do a better job.

One of the biggest issues I had to face was, “Is it the chemo or the cancer?” Mina had, according to her cancer vets, unusually violent reactions to chemotherapy drugs. One of them insisted, until near the end when I demanded – and got – an ultrasound, that her sickness was due to cancer in her stomach. I knew better, I knew it was the chemo and it turns out I was proven right. Trust what you know about your canine companion!

Not all dogs will react the way some vets expect to chemotherapy drugs. Mina was different; she vomited, she lost her appetite, she had diarrhea with every drug in the protocol but one. Canines are individuals just like humans – remember that.

Seek advice from sources you trust. If you don’t get consensus, keep looking until you’re confident of the information. There are a lot of Web sites on the Internet like this one, some more or less detailed, and I think I read all of them, as well as the major medical Web sites.

Remember, just because you’re questioning your vets and asking them for more detailed answers doesn’t indicate a lack of trust. They may see it that way because some of them are impossibly arrogant (only one of Mina’s fell into that category), but remember that you know your friend better than they do! BE TOUGH.