I want to talk about something amazing.
My dog has bone cancer.
That’s not the amazing thing (I’m not a heartless savage, after all). The amazing thing is how the internet and the proliferation of information are saving my sanity while I mentally wrestle with the next six months to two years (general life expectancy rates after a diagnosis like this in dogs).
My dog’s name is Penski. He’s an eight-and-a-half-year-old Greyhound, an ex-racer, and the goodest of good boys.
He started showing a bit of a limp a couple of weeks ago. It’s not terribly unusual for Greyhounds to dislocate toes or “wrists,” sprain those same joints, or just step on something strangely. But when it didn’t go away on its own, Penski was taken to the vet to get it checked.
A quick x-ray revealed a fairly textbook example of an osteosarcoma growth (bone cancer) low on the front leg that had been troubling him. We were given a brief overview of treatment options by the vet, some medications to keep Penski a little more comfortable for the time being, and basic instructions for the next few days.
As of this writing, we haven’t made any official decision or signed any paperwork, but our general outlook is most likely full-limb amputation, a couple of rounds of chemotherapy, eventual palliative care, and all the love and affection we can give him until the end. As you might imagine, it’s been an emotional few days here at Casa Maffessanti.
A New Era of Specialized Information
Unfortunately, while I have a pretty solid idea of how this entire process happens with humans, I’ve never gone through this with a pet, much less a fairly unique breed of dog like a Greyhound. That’s a very niche segment of knowledge that I never thought to add to my own. I never had any need to, before now.
Fun fact: I used to be a librarian. When I was a senior in high school, I worked in the Reference/Non-fiction section of my local public library. Though it seemed very ordinary to me at the time, later experience would tell me that the library was an exceptionally good one. But even my significantly-above-average non-fiction fiefdom never even dreamed of having so specific a section as “dog health,” much less the hyper-specific “Greyhound whole front-limb amputation post-operative care.”
And why would they? We had no veterinary schools nearby. I never knew a single person growing up who’d even seen a Greyhound in person, much less owned one. There was no reason for my local library to fuss with the expense and logistics of incorporating such books into their inventory. Statistically speaking, there’s no pressing reason for any local library to have it. It’s simple economics; the demand just isn’t there.
In this latest round of attempted anxiety-reduction, it struck me how easy it is to find highly-specific, low-demand information.
But I am the kind of person who attempts to counter fear with knowledge. While that sounds fancy and noble, it really means a lot of frantic Googling and compulsive YouTube-watching. And in this latest round of attempted anxiety-reduction, it struck me how easy it is to find highly-specific, low-demand information.
Don’t know the first thing about cancer in dogs? No problem. We have DogCancerBlog.com where experienced vets and dog owners can tell you all about it. Looking for more specificity? Can do. Follow this link to BoneCancerDogs.org. Want to know about it for Greyhounds specifically? Ohio State University, the leading researcher for all things Greyhound, has a detailed PDF you can read. And over here, you can watch some YouTube videos about Greys losing a front leg, how you can expect them to look and act during recovery, what you can do to help them cope and balance, and then see them cheerfully gamboling around on their three remaining limbs.
The Human Benefits of the Internet
There’s a lot to be said about the tangible, quantifiable, economic benefits for everyday people all over the world thanks to the internet and the general ease of obtaining information that it facilitates. They’re undeniable and profound. The very human, emotional benefits are mentioned less often.
My family and I don’t have to muddle through this heartwrenching situation alone or in ignorance. We can learn from other people’s experiences, both the mistakes and triumphs.
The simple fact is we’re going to lose Penski sooner than we expected or would have chosen, and that remains heartbreaking. But my family and I don’t have to muddle through this heartwrenching situation alone or in ignorance. We can learn from other people’s experiences, both the mistakes and triumphs. We can prepare the children for what Penski will look and act like after surgery and chemotherapy. We can commiserate with and take comfort from other dog owners who are going through the very same thing through online forums. We can keep non-local friends and family up-to-date quickly and cheaply.
And this is by no means limited to this specific situation. I’ve done this song and dance with my own complicated health issues. And, more happily, I use this same tool to stay in touch with distant loved ones in foreign countries. I have meaningful relationships with people I’ve met only briefly in person that enrich my life on a daily basis. I’ve used the internet to offer and receive all manner of emotional support for a variety of situations. Quality of life is not limited to GDP. And neither are the benefits that access to information can bring.