UF veterinary oncologist captures real-life journey as cancer survivor in new book
Sarah Boston, D.V.M., D.V.Sc., waited four weeks for pathology test results to confirm that she had thyroid cancer. As a veterinary surgical oncologist at the University of Florida, her animal patients typically have these results in four days.
Her insights and frustrations as a cancer patient and survivor led the Calgary, Canada native to chronicle her personal observations in writing, which in turn has led to yet another role — that of a soon-to-be-published author.
Boston's book, titled “Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life” is expected to be released by Canadian publishing company House of Anansi Press in June 2014.
“It’s basically about being a patient but also being a doctor, a veterinary doctor,” said Boston, an associate professor of surgical oncology in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of small animal clinical sciences. “It’s about that whole experience, but also about taking care of animal patients with cancer.”
Boston's odyssey began in 2011 when she was still a faculty surgical oncologist at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She discovered a lump in her neck and went to her primary care doctor, who told her it was “probably fine.” At a gut level, Boston knew otherwise, based on the way the growth pushed against her neck and grew in a matter of days.
When she learned it would take two weeks even to be seen for an ultrasound, Boston had her husband, a fellow veterinarian, bring home a portable ultrasound machine so she could scan and view the growth herself. Even without biopsy test results in hand, Boston believed it was likely a carcinoma and she pushed to have it surgically removed.
“I knew this was going to be a thyroid carcinoma.” Boston said. “When I went to see my endocrinologist to go over these results, he just kept saying he was shocked.”
Between appointments with her endocrinologist, primary care doctor and head and neck surgeon, the process of getting to her first surgery took 2 1/2 months.
“I remember at the time I was going through this, I had a patient whose owner was very upset that she had to wait a whole day to get a CT scan on her dog,” Boston said. “I remember just thinking: ‘You have no idea.’”
In addition to juxtaposing her experiences with human and veterinary medicine, a central theme in Boston's book is the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s own health.
“Our owners are advocates for their pets," Boston said. “If you're ill, either you have to be your own advocate or have someone advocate for you.”
Soon after her surgery and subsequent treatment, Boston spoke at a fundraising gala to benefit cancer research at her college. She decided to read excerpts about her experience to explain the connections between human and animal cancers.
After the reading, she went back to her table, where she happened to be seated next to Canadian author and journalist Noah Richler.
“Noah said, ‘Give me your info. I’m going to put you in touch with the best publisher in the country,’ Boston said.
Thus began an email correspondence between Boston and Richler’s wife, Sarah MacLachlan, the president and publisher of House of Anansi Press. Boston eventually had arrangements to meet publisher MacLachlan at her office in Toronto.
“It was my total ‘Sex and the City’ moment,” Boston laughed. “I kind of thought they'd pat me on the head and say, ‘You’re a cute little vet; keep writing,’ and maybe give me some tips. Instead, the publisher comes right out and says: ‘So we love your book.’”
After a year of writing and working with her editor, Boston’s book is in the final phases of production. She's beginning to tweet as @DrSarahBoston in anticipation of a more active social media presence after the book's release this summer, and her book is already available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
But Boston, whose cancer is now in complete remission and likely cured, takes nothing for granted.
“I know how lucky I am,” she said.