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CancerCare: A Win for Vets, Clients, and Pets

Isabelle Perlman

One of the hardest things to hear as a veterinarian is that your client cannot afford the bill or procedure because they have cancer and are dealing with the expenses of their own treatment. 

As a vet, you empathize deeply with your client but—at the end of the day—you and your team need to get paid. So what do you do? Turn them away? Tell them they need to give up their pet? Definitely not. 

We spoke with the CEO of CancerCare, Patricia J. Goldsmith (or Trish, as she likes to be called) to find out how vet teams can help their clients who are battling cancer. 

Trish’s Story

A Conversation with CancerCare CEO Patricia J. GoldsmithCancerCare is a national organization that provides free, professional support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical, and financial challenges of cancer. Before working at CancerCare, Trish was in the oncology field for 30+ years. Ten days before starting her role as CEO, Trish was diagnosed with cancer out of the blue. “I know it sounds absolutely crazy, who would possibly in their right mind say that being diagnosed with cancer is a good thing, but it was.” She remembers her first few days, saying, “Certainly the timing was less than ideal, but I think it made me a stronger CEO and have a deeper appreciation for why cancer patients need us, and the appreciation for the work that we do at CancerCare.”

The Human-Animal Bond

Trish has always been dedicated to animals, especially rescues. We asked her what benefits she believes pets bring to cancer patients. “What we hear from our clients,” she says, “is that their pet brings an unconditional source of support and comfort. Their pet is also a motivator to make people get out of bed in the morning; they’re always there as a constant companion.” Trish also pointed to the research and data showing that owning a pet can lead to a healthier lifestyle, as well as having a calming effect on people. From personal experience, she’s definitely found that to be the case as she recovers from her own surgery and treatment. 

What is the PAW Program?

The Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program is Trish’s passion. It was born out of her understanding of the level of comfort her own animals gave her and realizing how many clients struggle to afford basic food and other living expenses during cancer treatment—caring for their pet is no exception. Not being able to afford pet food, veterinary care, or boarding while they’re away for treatment was a challenge she felt they had to address. She couldn’t find any other organization in the US that provided a service that helps, so they created the PAW Program, which is a combination of pet ownership education and psychosocial support and services. Since the launch in February, CancerCare has given financial grants to 900 cancer patients in order to help maintain their pet expenses. 34% of those 900 individuals stated that their pet was their only form of support and companionship, so Trish is a believer that they’ve helped them be able to keep their pets. 

Referring a Client in Need

If your client is in active treatment and meets the income requirements, they’re eligible for the PAW Program’s benefits. When a client informs you that they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and are struggling to afford veterinary care, referring them to CancerCare not only gives them access to the PAW Program, but to other forms of support and financial assistance. For vets, knowing about CancerCare is important because a lot of the time, it’s hard to know what to do or say for a client who is struggling to care for their pet while battling cancer. Trish wants vets to know that her organization can be a resource to connect those clients with the financial, psychosocial, and educational support they need.

Vets know that they can’t help everyone, and Trish has come to the same understanding. But, if they can contribute in some way to people like her—who know the hurdles of cancer, as well as the rewards of owning a pet—she sees that as a win for the vet, for the client, and for the animal itself. 

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