As the Chair of the VCA Pet CancerCare Alliance and an oncologist at the VCA Animal Diagnostic Clinic in Dallas, I’m in the unique (and exciting) position of getting to participate in the field of veterinary oncology at sea level, in the trenches, and from the top of the vision mountain. 

I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I knew almost as soon as I started studying oncology that this was the medicine I wanted to practice. And I made the right choice. Every day I get to do meaningful work that offers unique challenges and gives me a sense of purpose. 

At sea level, I love the challenge and opportunity of oncology care. It’s the last frontier. There’s not a cure for cancer, but it is a field with lots of breakthroughs. While there’s a clear standard of care, there are not a lot of concrete right answers. So every case has opportunities for creativity. While that makes it hard, it’s never boring.  

It’s true for all of veterinary medicine that every case is unique. And it’s true that all our clients and their pets need us. They need us to advocate for pets. And it’s that opportunity to really engage that I love most of all—the human commitment. 

After 15 years, the cases that fill my cup are not necessarily the ones where you get the profoundly greater than expected outcome. It’s the ones where the client’s belief about what their pet was up against was all wrong—and then they still found the experience satisfying. Even in bad outcomes, if clients are grateful for the experience, that means I did a good job. 

That focus on the client experience element is especially key for me. Whether the outcomes for the pet are good or not as good, I want to know that I prepared the client appropriately. Whether they got more time than expected or less, I want them to feel they were right to trust my advice and to be happy about the path they picked. 

Of course, it’s great when the treatment is more effective than you expected and the pet lives longer than you thought it might. But in my very favorite cases, the cancer is almost in the backseat compared with the experience. The dog is happy to see us every time, not fearful or upset. We have a great bond with the client. We see them often, we get to know each other. We laugh. The pet feels like a mascot for the practice. Those are great cases.

It doesn’t happen every time. But when it does, that’s the whole point of the job. 

On the clinical side, because there are fewer clear answers in oncology, every patient can teach our team something that will help that pet and others in the future. Sometimes that learning comes in a more informal way, from just one case. And sometimes we’re engaging in a collaboration that extends beyond one oncology team, by participating in a clinical trial. 

That’s a place where the VCA Pet CancerCare Alliance vision really starts to get exciting. Our network of oncologists are spread across U.S. cities, so we’re more likely to identify more qualifying cases faster. Accruing more patients means gathering more data. Together we can advance science faster and help bring new and better solutions to light for pet cancer patients. 

We might have 10 or even 20 oncologists all working on a clinical trial in urban areas across the country. That level of collaboration is unusual in veterinary medicine—revolutionary, even. I’m thrilled to be in a position to help bring that kind of exchange and partnership to the profession. 
“The VCA Pet CancerCare Alliance is spread across U.S. cities, together we can advance science faster and help bring new and better solutions to light for pet cancer patients. ”