The Optimistic Oncologist

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“Cancer is the number one natural cause of death in dogs and cats in the United States, Europe and Japan.”

On Sunday, October 9, 2011 I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. Greg Ogilvie at the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha Nebraska.  Dr. Ogilvie is a veterinary oncologist – a cancer specialist, and also an internal medicine specialist.  He is world renowned for his research, clinical work and writing.  I have wanted to meet him for years.

Do you know what impressed me the very most about Dr. Ogilvie?  Before the day started, another of my favorite veterinary specialists, Dr. McIlnay, Omaha’s veterinary ophthalmologist, brought her three year old daughter into the room to meet Dr. Ogilvie.  He was going around the entire room  shaking the hands of every single person there.  (That is what impressed me the second most.)  What impressed me the very most is that he stopped talking with the professionals and knelt down to meet the very small person and compliment her on her sparkly, flashing shoes.  They discussed the merits of having shoes that sparkled and flashed in three different colors.  I thought, “This guy is as neat as I have heard he is.”

We have discussed cancer here on Life with Dogs before, and the topic – for good, usually very personal reasons – can be so discouraging.  I thought I would add another post from the perspective of one of the leading veterinary oncologists in the world, because his amazing attitude is as impressive as his credentials and his extensive experience with cancer patients.

There were about ninety of us there that day, mostly veterinarians and veterinary technicians.  I wish you could have been there too, but I thought I would try to impart a small bit of the wisdom he shared.  I left the six hour meeting on veterinary cancer feeling encouraged, which I had not expected.

Joy, Ebony and Noodle as Dominoes last Halloween. Ebony died soon after of (probable) hemangiosarcoma. She is dearly missed.

So here goes… A few excerpts from the day that I think are worth discussing, a few of my favorite quotes and some links if you would like to learn more.  Cancer is never good, and is sometimes just straight out wicked bad, but in the midst of cancer, there is always hope.

Cancer Prevention – “Cancer prevention is effective.”

Genetics – Genetics play a large part in the susceptibility of certain breeds to many different cancers.  If we can influence breeding, we can decrease cancer rates.  For example…

  • 70% of Flat Coated Retrievers get cancer.
  • 70% of Bernese Mountain Dogs get cancer.
  • 56.6% of Golden Retrievers die of cancer.
Environment – Some environmental factors are beyond our control, but some things we can influence.  For example…
  • Second hand smoke predisposes dogs to several cancers, among them respiratory tract cancers and lymphosarcoma.
  • Being overweight predisposes dogs to many cancers, but keeping dogs at an appropriate weight is emotionally difficult.  As pet lovers we equate food with love and fat pets with well loved pets.


  • Nutrition is important in cancer prevention and cancer management.
  • DHA (docosahexaeonic acid) – This is an omega-3 fatty acid.  According to Dr. Ogilvie, it is the most important fatty acid for reducing cancer risk.  The ideal source is algae-produced DHA.  Ask  your veterinary team if this would be a supplement to consider for your pets.
The following information on comfort care and controlling the side effects of chemotherapy is meant for veterinarians of course, but I thought you would be encouraged to know that we obsess about these things when we treat your pets.  Side effects of chemotherapy are scary, but they are uncommon – much less common in pets than in people, and veterinarians work hard to keep it that way.  I thought “The Three Commandments” emphasized well what is most important…
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The Three Commandments of Cancer Therapy
Don’t let them hurt!
Don’t let them vomit or have diarrhea.
Don’t let them starve!
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The next section is a bit random, but it is my favorite quotes of the day from Dr. Ogilvie…

“The single most important aspect of veterinary medicine is compassionate care.”

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“Cancer is the most curable of all chronic diseases.”

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“Cancer is a disease of emotion.”

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“There is only one thing more frightening to clients than cancer, and that is cancer therapy.”

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“Prevent adverse events from happening.  That should be true of everything we do.”

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“Vomiting from antibiotics is annoying.  The exact same vomiting from chemotherapy is frightening.”
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“Practice saying ‘Good news!'”

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“Practice saying ‘It’s a miracle!'”

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“Promise:  I will never say, ‘Let’s watch and see if it grows.'”

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“Give clients options.  We are a profession of options.”

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“Our attitudes and the attitudes of the people at home make at least as much difference as our treatments.”
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More Information about Dr. Ogilvie:

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Recommended by Dr. Ogilvie:
by Mike Lingenfelter and David Frei
by Dr. Atul Gawande
by Dr. Atul Gawande
by Gerald N. Callahan, PhD
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May your dogs’ tails wag to their very last days, as Ebony’s did.