When Cancer Sits on Your Shoulder

By Sharon A. Aronovitch, PhD, RN, CWOCN
Lead Faculty Program Director, Graduate Nursing Program

Cat on shoulderSome people are lucky and never have to hear or say the word cancer when speaking about family members, whether they have two legs or are furry and have four legs. I am not one of those individuals. Both of my parents had cancer, though only my father died from his cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, after having been in remission for several years from large B-cell lymphoma. My husband is a survivor of renal cancer. We have two furry “cat-kids” ages 12 and 17. The eldest, Allie, is recovering from her second cancer surgery (metastatic pancreatic cancer) and undergoing chemotherapy again.

I share a piece of my personal life to help people see beyond the statistics identifying the number of people or animals diagnosed with the disease and understand how it touches the lives of others. A diagnosis of cancer creates a numbing effect about the disease. There may be one or more members of the immediate family denying the cancer diagnosis and what has become a new reality in their lives. Though many cancer therapies have improved immensely, many have not. How does one live with a diagnosis as the patient, family member, or caregiver? There is no right or wrong way to live your life once cancer enters the door. Each person eventually finds a way to cope and persevere in this new reality.

Cancer.net has a large volume of information on types of cancer, treatment, coping with cancer, research and advocacy, and survivorship. The coping with cancer section provides helpful information to guide family members and friends through the difficult process of treatment and recovery.

Not as much information is available about cancer in pets as there is about cancer in humans. Comprehensive sites such as Cancer.net do not exist for those whose pets have cancer. However, if you spend some time searching online, you can find many websites for small animal cancer centers and research foundations, and interesting content such as this video about dog cancer research that’s informing the treatment of cancer in humans.


Image: Coss and Johanna, 2007. Shoulder cat. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pirateparrot/568510660