I never really believed I was the right man for this mission. Before Malcolm I hadn't had a spiritual bond with a dog and prior to the walk, never spent a second in an animal shelter and my experience with and understanding of canine cancer was limited to just osteosarcoma.
The ideal person would've been comprised of equal parts Steve Irwin, Bear Grylls and veterinary oncologist. Nonetheless, I left Austin in March 2008 without a clear understanding of my mission, what I wanted to accomplish, or even where the most pressing needs are with canine cancer.
Now well into the back nine of our cross country trek and with our March on DC fast approaching, I find myself oft reflecting about such things. I have met with thought leaders, academics, and an odd lot of animal lovers along the way who through their vast insights and experiences have taught me a lot. But mostly I've learned from the ones who should be doing the teaching.
Either in person or spirit, I've gotten to know hundreds of dogs touched by cancer and here's what they have taught me:
(1) We Get Cancer, Too. Most of you have absolutely no idea how few people out there know that dogs get cancer. Having walked across 8 states thus far the vast majority I've met don't.
(2) You Say Tumor, I Say Tuba. Not fluent in dogspeak yet but I assume when dogs tell me they have a tuba, they mean tumor. And what science teaches us is that it's the same as in humans. Dogs get brain cancer, breast cancer, bone cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, etc., and using them as a model to help not only pets but people, too is an area of research called comparative oncology. Learn more about it here from the National Cancer Institute.
A veterinarian oncologist I met in Louisville called dogs our 'Canaries in the Coal Mines' and what they're getting at a much more accelerated rate, we're going to get, too.
(3) I'm Only 3, Why Do I Have Cancer? During the last month alone several of our supporters have lost dogs to cancer all under the age of four. Just like in people, canine cancer is no longer a disease of old age.
(4) In a Few Decades I'll Only Live to Be Five Years Old. You won't find any statistic or organization that'll back this statement but what I've seen and heard supports it. The trendlines are frightening. Even now the lifespan of certain large breeds are being downgraded from 8-10 to 6-8 years.
Awareness and education are our absolute number one priority now and there's nothing more important than the March on DC