By Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
You never know when something you put out there is going help someone. Sometimes, it helps in a small way – you cheer someone up, inspire someone to take a baby step, or make someone feel a little less alone.
Sometimes, you save someone in a crisis.
At the end of 2019, The Uncharted Veterinary Podcast pulled me back from the edge. Andy Roark and Stephanie Goss were recording themselves talking to each other over the internet with no idea (as they often lament) as to the impact they were having. Although I told them at the time, I want to tell them publicly how much their work means to me.
In October, my husband had an MRI of his spine that was so bad, they thought he had cancer. The intense pain he’d been having was bad enough when he thought it was arthritis from decades of helping other people in his chiropractic practice. He was prepared for repetitive motion injury, osteoarthritis, disc disease. What he wasn’t prepared for was two radiologists telling him he needed an oncology consultation STAT. When he looked at his films, he was strangely subdued. I didn’t realize that to his experienced eyes, the films showed more than just an old, tired back. I thought he was merely having a moment of realization that he was aging. I thought the sight of his back on film made him sad. Then he told me his concern, and I was floored. I instantly thought he was doing what most of us doctors do when we are too close to a case – he was imagining the zebra while staring a horse in the face. When the radiologists agreed with him, I still couldn’t be convinced.
We scheduled appointments with his current doctors and an oncologist. Derek is a prostate cancer survivor, and recurrence with metastasis was our worst-case scenario. Our happier options were lymphoma and multiple myeloma (you know things are bad when you’re hoping for these). We had to wait a week before getting in to see all of the doctors, and in that time we vacillated between imagining at least a couple more decades together and planning his funeral. I was still heavily in denial, my usually obnoxiously anxious gut refusing to get on board with a cancer diagnosis. I’m usually the first person to give in to panic in a situation like this, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I told him to tell me whatever he was feeling and not to hide anything from me. This was not exactly the best idea I’ve ever had. We rode the roller coaster (have I mentioned I loathe roller coasters?) for 3 weeks.
The Friday before his first doctor’s appointment, my mind decided to accept that losing my husband to cancer was a possibility. I was driving 50 miles away to help a family with an emergency euthanasia. My chest was tight, and I couldn’t get a deep breath. My incredibly fertile imagination was birthing the most amazing images of death beds and funerals.
I put on a podcast to distract my mind so that I could pull myself together. I love The Uncharted Veterinary Podcast, so I picked that one. My practice is a one woman show with a relief vet once a week. I don’t have a staff to manage or contracts to negotiate, yet I use the wisdom from this podcast on a daily basis. It makes me laugh and makes me think. As I sat at a red light, I scrolled through the episodes and stopped at 41: Help! I’m Totally Overwhelmed.
If ever there was a podcast I needed, I thought, this sounds like it.
I tried to concentrate, but the bands around my chest just kept getting tighter. I started to wonder if I was having a heart attack. I fought with everything I had through the podcast, alternately listening, crying, and overthinking so hard that I had to rewind to catch what I’d missed. Then Andy shared some Navy Seal level wisdom, and like magic, I could breathe again. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the pain and panic that had me thrashing around inside my head. I lived the rest of the day 10 minutes or one task at a time. I was able to help a lovely family through the loss of a pet that was in crisis (a kindred spirit). I was able to drive home safely. I was able to spend a quiet weekend with my husband.
On Monday, his primary care doctor expressed skepticism about a cancer diagnosis but agreed that a PET scan was in order. His urologist assured us that there was no way this was metastatic prostate cancer. The oncologist gave us an 80% chance of a good diagnosis. My breathing got even easier.
Three weeks after the MRI, we got word that his PET scan was normal. From his eyes to his thighs, there is no cancer. We cried with relief. Andy and Stephanie sent me flowers, and I was thrilled to thank them and tell them the good news. Our friends and family also breathed a sigh of relief that we had a good outcome.
We’re so incredibly lucky, and we are acutely aware that the people around us are often getting the news we feared. Like most people who dodge a bullet, we vowed to stop putting off the things we wanted to do. Derek decided to retire from practice. We grew closer as a couple, for which I am eternally grateful. We both agreed to be kinder and gentler to our bodies so they last longer. We became more mindful of how we spend our time.
As a veterinary educator, I often wonder how much I’m helping. Some days, I feel like I’m tilting at windmills. Other days, I feel like I’m really reaching people. Now I know that I will never hear about most of the people that I help. So, I decided to tell Andy and Stephanie exactly what they did for me.
For all of you out there who put yourselves on the line, you are doing good in the world. For anyone who is vulnerable with another person in order to seek or offer help, you are doing good in the world. For anyone who is having a crisis and feeling the world close in: there IS good in the world, even if you have to fumble or thrash in the darkness to reach it.
From now on, I will listen to the Uncharted Veterinary Podcast with a little extra joy and a heaping dose of gratitude. Though I’ve already reverted to some of the habits I vowed to give up, I will keep trying. I will put myself out there and make myself vulnerable in hopes that I will be able to give someone else the gift that Andy and Stephanie gave me.
With all my heart, thank you.