Before I even knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, I had an interest in studying cancer. While in college, I worked in the blood bank of a hospital with a large bone marrow transplant unit. There, I began to understand that cancer is so different. It’s not just one disease, it’s many diseases with many different outcomes. It’s also a non-discriminatory disease; anybody can get it. You don’t have to be rich or poor, black or white, or a dog or a cat…anybody can be touched by cancer. I knew cancer was something I could see myself learning about for a long time.
After college, I thought about going to medical school to advance my scientific degree. But when I volunteered for the Denver Dumb Friends League, I realized that I really like working with animals and my interest turned to veterinary medicine. I decided to enter veterinary school at Colorado State University. It wasn’t until a lecture by a veterinary oncologist in my freshman year of vet school, that I discovered there was a cancer specialty in veterinary medicine, just like in human medicine. And during a summer job with the Flint Animal Cancer Center, when I saw how the oncology doctors interacted with the clients, the patients, and the nursing staff, I was hooked. I realized there’s a lot that I can do for people and their pets by studying cancer.
Cancer is a very emotionally charged subject and being able to function in all that emotion is an important skill. I have a lot of compassion for people, and I love being someone who can help people through a diagnosis of cancer. When people are upset or don’t know what to do, sometimes they need a calming presence to be there and say, “Here are some choices. This is how we can help your pet.” I can help to bring them hope. There’s just so much that can be done for pets with cancer, and that’s what I love being part of.
Seeing the advances in technology and the advanced supportive care that we can do to help patients now, has made this an especially rewarding career. We now treat a patient with multiple modalities – radiation therapy and surgery and chemotherapy – as well as do advanced procedures similar to what you would expect to be done for human patients. These advancements are due to growth in the fields of imaging, anesthesia, and critical care as well as improved techniques in medical and surgical oncology. Everybody involved, from the doctors, to the students and nursing staff contribute to the mission of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. We rely on each other to move things forward.
One of the differences between being a regular veterinarian, or a veterinarian in a specialty practice, and being at a place like the Flint Animal Cancer Center is we do more than just see clients and treat patients. We move the greater body of knowledge about cancer forward, for veterinary patients and human patients. All the other things that go into our days, like teaching, doing research, and collecting tissue samples, are equally important to our mission. These all combine to help the Flint Animal Cancer Center move forward – which helps all cancer knowledge move forward – and helps to apply what we learn to human cancer patients. It’s my hope that someday an oncologist treating human patients, will benefit from something that was learned here.