BOOKS She wouldn’t treat a dog that way

Book chron­i­cles vet’s ex­as­per­at­ing bout with cancer

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - PETER ROBB

Sarah Bos­ton was fol­low­ing her usual daily rou­tine in the bat­tle against time.

She was ap­ply­ing ex­pen­sive skin cream on her face and es­pe­cially on her neck. She’s a lit­tle vain about her grace­ful neck and wanted to keep it look­ing youth­ful.

That’s when she dis­cov­ered the lump. It had not been there the day be­fore. It was also wor­ri­some be­cause the lump ap­peared to be on her thy­roid. Bos­ton knows a thing or two about cancer be­cause she is an on­col­o­gist — a ca­nine on­col­o­gist who is used to find­ing tu­mours on her four­legged pa­tients. And while people dif­fer from dogs, there was enough sim­i­lar­ity to send Bos­ton to her doc­tor look­ing for some im­me­di­ate ac­tion.

That did not hap­pen. In­stead Bos­ton, who is orig­i­nally from Saskatchewan and was in south­ern On­tario at the time, met a sys­tem that was, in her case, slow, bu­reau­cratic and, in some in­stances, down­right un­sup­port­ive, pa­tron­iz­ing and even dis­mis­sive.

It is also an un­even sys­tem. In her new book, Bos­ton re­counts shar­ing a hospi­tal room with a woman from Poland, a new­comer to Canada, whose breast cancer was not treated quickly, while a friend had his testicular cancer dealt with very quickly.

An­other pos­si­ble is­sue fac­ing Bos­ton is the “funny” re­la­tion­ship be­tween vet­eri­nar­i­ans and doc­tors. Some doc­tors re­spect the train­ing vets re­ceive, she says. Oth­ers don’t. “They are like: ‘Oh, you do chemo on dogs, that’s so cute.’”

For a per­son who treats her cancer pa­tients with speed and car­ing, the wait times around her own cancer were, frankly, dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. And the at­ti­tude she met was mad­den­ing. She says she felt like she was treated as a hypochon­driac. And, “my en­docri­nol­o­gist lit­er­ally pat­ted me on the knee and said, ‘You don’t have cancer.’”

She started to push and be­gan a diary of sorts about her jour­ney through the med­i­cal sys­tem, the ori­gins of what be­came a book called Lucky Dog.

The book is gar­ner­ing a lot of at­ten­tion with ap­pear­ances on na­tional tele­vi­sion and ra­dio. For Bos­ton, who now is at the Univer­sity of Florida, the at­ten­tion has been a sur­prise.

But she also thinks her ex­pe­ri­ence is not unique.

“I re­ally didn’t start out to write a book,” Bos­ton says. “I re­ally just started to write for my­self. It was such a strange ex­pe­ri­ence to be some­one who treats cancer in an­i­mals and then to think I had cancer. I was pretty frus­trated with the wait times and it was some­thing to do while wait­ing.”

She started send­ing the writ­ing to close friends and her par­ents to let them know what was hap- Sarah Bos­ton (House of Anansi) pen­ing. And she kept on writ­ing af­ter each treat­ment. And then she had a chance meet­ing with the writer Noah Richler at a fundrais­ing din­ner and told him her story.

“I didn’t know who he was,” she said.

Bos­ton was in at­ten­dance to read about her ex­pe­ri­ence. She read what would be­come the first chap­ter of her book and sat down. Richler leaned over and said he would put her in touch with the House of Anansi. He was as good as his word. And so, sur­pris­ingly, a book was born.

What takes the book be­yond a use­ful rant about the prob­lems of Canada’s health-care sys­tem are the sto­ries about dogs.

“Ul­ti­mately, I was re­ally struck by the fact that the way that I treat thy­roid cancer in a dog is that I can have them in hospi­tal and have the mass re­moved in two or three days.” But her own ex­pe­ri­ence was drawn out and ag­gra­vat­ing.

The other thing that is ev­i­dent in read­ing Bos­ton’s mem­oir is that there is a cul­ture that has emerged with dif­fer­ing classes of ill­ness and treat­ment and con­cern. Thy­roid cancer, maybe not so bad, breast cancer very pub­lic, very im­por­tant, very well funded. The re­sult is that some can­cers are not treated with the same ur­gency as oth­ers. And that, for Bos­ton, and likely for any­one suf­fer­ing from the ill­ness, is trou­bling.

That makes ca­nine can­cers such an in­ter­est­ing con­trast with hu­man can­cers. Dogs don’t know cancer. They just know they feel bad. When they are treated, they feel bet­ter. Ig­no­rance is in­deed bliss.

It’s the dog’s owner that feels the emo­tional pain and worry of their dog’s ill­ness. Bos­ton calls them par­ents in her book.

Take the case of Car­ney the St. Bernard. She had de­vel­oped a case of bone cancer in one of her forelegs. Car­ney needed help and Bos­ton was in­volved in a cen­tre where a new treat­ment was be­ing tested.

Her “dad” Marty, who lived sev­eral hours from Bos­ton’s clinic, asked to have his dog treated. Bos­ton said sure and he pro­ceeded to drive the dog to and from ap­point­ments and pony up a lot of money. The treat­ment fore­stalled Car­ney’s death by a year-and-a half.

People do get very stirred up by the fact that dogs get this treat­ment. They com­plain about the cost, for ex­am­ple. Bos­ton is very clear on why these treat­ments are nec­es­sary and im­por­tant.

“It’s such a per­sonal de­ci­sion to treat an an­i­mal for any­thing, that I don’t un­der­stand why people who don’t know the in­di­vid­ual would ques­tion that bond and ques­tion why some­one would want to spend money on that an­i­mal.

“For some rea­son when some­one chooses to spend money on an an­i­mal, which is a lot more emo­tional than play­ing golf or va­ca­tion­ing in Hawaii, people just feel the need to give their opin­ion.”

In other words: none of your busi­ness.

To­day Bos­ton is mostly out of the woods, cancer-wise, and one of the first things she did was res­cue a dog. His name is Rum­ble and he’s an Aus­tralian red heeler cross. Lucky dog in­deed.

Krys­tal Radlin­ski/The Cana­dian Press

Vet­eri­nar­ian Sarah Bos­ton, seen here re­lax­ing with Rum­ble, wrote the book Lucky Dog about her ex­pe­ri­ence as a cancer pa­tient.

Lucky Dog: How Be­ing a Vet­eri­nar­ian Saved My Life

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.