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The two words sound far too dramatic to be real. They sound like they come out of a bad Lifetime cable TV movie.

Brain cancer.

I never expected to be hearing those words, and certainly not from a veterinarian.

My beloved white Boxer dog Jasper suffered three terrifying and violent grand mal seizures early one Saturday morning in January. After four days in the hospital having every bodily fluid tested and re-tested, Jasper was given an MRI. The MRI revealed the bad news.

The recommended course of treatment was radiation therapy. It was actually the only option, other than doing nothing and letting Jasper die within days or weeks.

So what’s a dog owner to do? It would be expensive. It would mean taking him to the hospital every day for three weeks. It would mean a lot of drugs and a lot of caregiving of a rather sick pooch. It would mean my normal “go-go” schedule wouldn’t be going like usual.

I’ve always looked down my nose at dog owners who are under the delusion their animals are people. I detest seeing dogs in clothing, or seeing them carried around in designer purses like fashion accessories. I dislike dog owners who force their dogs upon people who don’t have a lint brush in every drawer. As a woman without children, I’m especially sensitive to any notion I consider my dog in any way equal to a child.

But for nearly eight years, Jasper has been at my side giving me his all … all his loyalty, devotion, energy and yes, I believe dogs feel love and certainly affection. How could I not give him MY all and see to it that he had the best fighting chance possible?

The veterinary oncologist told me that with medical skill and a little luck, the cancer’s growth would be arrested and it would be a race between the cancer and old age.

So began my medical odyssey with Jasper, a journey that I learned many, many other San Diegans were taking. I met and talked with dozens as I spent time in the halls of the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Sorrento Mesa the past month. And bonded with them in seconds over our mutual devotion to our companions.

Have you traveled this road? Join me in a conversation today in Café San Diego. Help me explore and explain to the world what it is like to be the caregiver and guardian of beloved animal in your life, wondering if you’re doing what’s best for them, or whether you’re just trying to hold off the inevitable and searing pain of this unique loss. Lets talk about veterinary care in San Diego and the many interesting and wonderful people you meet along your pet’s road to recovery. Technology is advancing in veterinary medicine, just as in human medicine. But the difficult ethical and emotional questions remain as old as our ancient, mysterious bond.

— GAYLE LYNN FALKENTHAL

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