Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lucky Dog by Dr. Sarah Boston

Lucky Dog
How being a veterinarian saved my life
by Dr. Sarah Boston
2014
****
4 stars - both entertaining and thought provoking
ALR Green - mostly good stories about dogs with cancer


Dr. Sarah Boston is a veterinary surgical oncologist. When she feels a lump in her neck, she knows what it is. Her fingers have touched enough masses to know the difference between cancer and benign. This one is cancer.

Thus begins Dr. Boston's journey of dealing with thyroid cancer. She writes beautifully. While some characterize her style as "hilarious" I'm more inclined to view it as an honest voice (as opposed to memoirs which imbue their authors with great thoughts at all times whatever life has to offer). 

One of the contrasts Dr. Boston draws repeatedly is the difference between veterinary care and human medical care. With vets, diagnosis comes swiftly, multiple options are laid out, the patient's quality of life is always paramount. With human doctors, there are often long waits, few options, and survival is given priority over quality of life. We need to change that.

She also has some great stories about how vets are treated differently than human doctors. I've seen it myself. Even though vets have the same amount of rigorous medical training as their counterparts who deal with humans, pet owners balk at their costs and try to second guess them. Frankly, I'm always surprised at how inexpensive veterinary treatment is. It's only painful because it comes directly out of my pocket, but vets do major surgery every day for very little money. 

In addition to her dog stories, Dr. Boston talks about her cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. She's got some honest (and much needed) opinions regarding how people talk about cancer, how they treat friends and family with cancer, how we collectively perceive illness.

There are lots of quotable moments in the book. I'll give you this one from before her cancer was diagnosed.

So, six weeks of this thyroid mass business, and now four different doctors have felt my neck and told me that the nodes are small and that is good. But now they are big and that is... bad? Just guessing. But there are other reasons for enlarged nodes. It's possible the trauma of the repeated stabbing during the time-wasting, excruciating, non-diagnostic needle biopsy could have caused reactive lymph nodes, which is just inflammation, not cancer (but that was a few weeks ago). Or I could be getting a cold (but I am not sick), or maybe it is the bubonic plague. I hear that the Bubes has made a serious comeback since we started pumping cows, dogs, and people with antibiotics, which leads to superbugs, which leads to the Bubes. (But I haven't been in a prison in Madagascar lately, so this seems less likely.) I swear I can feel the capsule that surrounds the lymph node stretching to accommodate the inflammatory cells/Bubes/cancer.

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