The Pearland Animal Cancer and Referral Center team is second to none. With a passion and expertise for helping pets, each team member strives to give you and your pet her best. Our greatest honor is your trust in us to care for your beloved four-legged family members. Read on to learn more about the women who work so hard to make this practice great.
Melissa Parsons-Doherty, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Dr. Parsons-Doherty was born and raised in Canada, where she received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) at the Atlantic Veterinary College, Prince Edward Island. After graduating from veterinary school, she moved south to the United States to train as a veterinary oncologist, completing a rotating internship in medicine and surgery at Garden State Veterinary Specialists, New Jersey, and an oncology internship at the University of Georgia. She then spent a few years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she completed her residency and became board-certified in medical oncology at Louisiana State University.
After completing her training, Dr. Parsons-Doherty returned to Canada to work and teach at Ontario Veterinary College’s Animal Cancer Center. Her experiences there were formative—she was amazed by the relationships her clients formed when facing their pets’ cancer diagnoses together, and she decided she wanted a practice of her own that would be dedicated to the client experience. Her ultimate goal was to create a practice where she could spend valuable time with people and their pets through the cancer process, providing help and support whenever needed.
A warmer climate beckoned, so Dr. Parsons-Doherty packed up her family and moved to Houston, where she accomplished her vision—the first specialty Houston-area veterinary hospital dedicated to the care of dogs and cats with cancer.
Dr. Parsons-Doherty and her husband, Kevin, have been married for 22 wonderful years, and share their home with seven pets: two German shepherd dogs, Bryson and Cruiser, and five cats, who include Skippy and Little One, and three adorable kittens named Poppy, Holly, and Cherry.
Texas life suits Dr. Parsons-Doherty much better than the frigid north, and she says she will take being too hot over being too cold any day of the week! When the scrubs come off, you’ll find her listening to country music, taking in the newest romantic comedy, or noshing on seafood, her favorite food. She is still trying to master the ever-elusive work-life balance, but she enjoys getting crafty by decorating and sewing when she has “off” time.
When she daydreams, Dr. Parsons-Doherty sees herself far from Houston traffic, relaxing on a tropical island with the warm ocean breeze in her hair.
Irene Garcia, LVT
Irene graduated from Vet Tech Institute of Houston and became a licensed veterinary technician in 2013. She wears two hats at the clinic—she’s in charge of our entire inventory, and she performs veterinary technician duties.
Irene lives in Pearland with her husband, son, and a variety of four-legged family members. As a child, Irene was never allowed to have pets, so she’s making up for lost time in the pet department. Her morning roll call includes:
- Ellie the cat, whose nickname is Belly
- Cassius the Doberman pinscher, who is a very good boy
- Marcie the German shepherd, whose heart belongs to Cassius
- June the cat, who is lovingly called Juneba for her uncanny impression of a Roomba—she cleans up every crumb of dropped food
When she’s not taking care of her menagerie, you’ll find Irene sitting squarely on the fence, which makes her exceptionally easy to please. Her taste in music runs the gamut, she enjoys all movie genres except horror flicks, and she’ll try any kind of food. In fact, when her scrubs come off, you can often find Irene exploring the many excellent Houston-area restaurants.
Briana Radford, CVA
Briana, a certified veterinary assistant from Missouri City, Texas, has been in the veterinary medical profession for six years, but caring for animals has been in her blood since childhood, when she developed a passion for caring for stray animals. She is currently studying agriculture and animal science.
Unlike her coworker Irene, Briana can easily pick music, movie, and food favorites. On her breaks, she can be found listening to ’90’s R&B music, eating Chinese food, and enjoying a clip or two of her favorite sci-fi movies. And, you can always find her wearing something in her favorite color—pink—every day.
Briana and her cherished son share their house with Ali, the European Doberman, and Achilles, the retriever mix. Her five-year plan includes two huge goals—finishing her degree, and becoming a first-time homeowner. When the scrubs come off, Briana might be found practicing one of her secret talents—playing the clarinet, or offering her skills as a freelance makeup artist.
Amy Edgar, LVT
Amy Edgar is a licensed veterinary technician, born and raised in Houston, who was afflicted by the veterinary medicine bug in high school, when she got her first job at a small animal clinic. Amy comes by her love of animals honestly—her parents, who live nearby, and her sister, who lives in Fort Worth, are all huge animal lovers, too.
When the scrubs come off, you can find Amy hanging out at her boyfriend’s cattle ranch in Hempstead, listening to country music. She claims four pets: Labrador retrievers, Ruger and Dude; a horse named Boon; and a pony, Rusty.
If she could travel anywhere in the world, Amy would go to the tropics—as long as there is a Starbucks—but when she’s home snuggled up with her four-legged family members, she’s likely watching sports or comedies and dining on her favorite cuisine, Mexican food.
Welcome to our clinic
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about our staff. We are honored to call you our clients and friends, and we look forward to seeing you in our clinic when your pet needs us.
Pet owners often tell us that they want the best quality of life for their pets, especially as the end nears. We understand that being able to treasure the remaining time with your beloved companion is incredibly important. As soon as your family veterinarian diagnoses your pet with cancer, you are naturally thinking about how to best enjoy the time left together. If your pup loves exploring new places and thinks a stranger is a friend she hasn’t yet met, check out these 10 places every Houston dog (and owner!) should experience to satisfy that zest for life.
Named after the owner’s sheepdog pal when he was a kid, Barnaby’s is a Houston favorite for dogs and people. With several locations, this laid-back cafe boasts an impressive menu that caters to meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. Your pup will delight in the smells wafting from the sizzling grill, whether you order a ribeye or salmon to share, let your pup enjoy a bite of your hemp seed burger, or just want to snack on a few waffle fries.
#2: Astros Dog Day
Bring your Astros Rally Pup to the annual Dog Day celebration held at Minute Maid Park to enjoy a game of baseball and other activities geared toward dogs, and meet new canine friends. Check out the disc dog performance, prance around in the pooch parade, and dress up for the costume contest to try to win first prize.
#3: Discovery Green
Considered Houston’s “village green,” Discovery Green is a 12-acre oasis of urban green space where locals gather for fun, entertainment, learning, and building connections. Take advantage of the off-leash dog park, or bring your leashed pup to one of the more than 600 free events held throughout the year. While not all events are dog-friendly, your canine companion is often able to join you at concerts, movies, and festivals.
#4: The Lake House
Nestled inside Discovery Green and situated along the south shore of Kinder Lake, the Lake House is ideal for fueling up before hitting the trails with your hound. Known to have some of Houston’s best burgers, the Lake House also offers signature salads and other casual dining fare, along with a wide array of beer, wine, and other drinks. After sharing a bite or two of your meal with your dog, wander the trails to burn off those lunch-time calories.
#5: Congressman Bill Archer Dog Park
Located in the midst of the 926-acre Congressman Bill Archer Park, this dog park is incredible. With 17 acres blocked off solely for canine play, you won’t find a larger dog park in the area. Off-leash play is fun for dogs of all sizes in the 14-acre run, while smaller dogs can frolic in the 3-acre space. Packed with water features, leafy trees, benches, hiking trails, and a shower for post-play clean-up, you’ll have a tough time getting your pup in the car to go back home.
#6: Rummy’s Beach Club
Perfect for water hounds, Rummy’s Beach Club boasts a 15,000-gallon, custom-designed swimming pool where pups of all sizes can splash. In addition to offering a fun way to cool off, the club hosts a variety of activities, including dock jumping, canine water aerobics, and canine CPR and first-aid classes. If your dog would rather get her paws dirty, Dog Mountain is a great complement to the water sports. This huge dirt pile allows dogs to indulge in digging without fear of being scolded for tearing up the rose bushes. Enjoy this private aquatic play area year-round, as the pool is heated and covered in the winter.
#7: Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Delight in nature’s wonders by hiking the five miles of trails winding through the Arboretum. Entrance is free, and you and your pup can experience prairie, forest, wetland, and savannah habitats on your own, or join one of the guided tours on Saturdays.
A relaxed hangout featuring a giant outdoor space, Cottonwood serves up excellent Texas pub fare and fine beer, with 42 beers on tap. Young children and four-legged kids are welcome to enjoy the occasional live music, deck games, and crawfish boils.
#9: Throughgood Coffee
If your morning won’t get started without a jolt of caffeine, snap a leash on your pup and head to Throughgood Coffee. Known for the best coffee and food sourced from local establishments, you can charge up for the day with the perfect cup of coffee while your dog burns off some morning energy in the mini dog park.
#10: Frascone Winery
About an hour outside of Houston, Frascone Winery is perfect for the pooch with a sophisticated palate. You can kick back and relax while sipping on an award-winning mead, created from honey that the winery produces, and enjoy the delights of a Vietnamese/Italian menu with your pup. If you and your canine companion plan on sampling more than the wine offerings, reservations are required for dining.
Including your pet in all the wonders life has to offer is one of the most enjoyable aspects of pet ownership, although it’s bittersweet when you’re checking off items on your pal’s bucket list. First, ensure your pup is up to exploring by checking in with your family veterinarian or contacting us about her appetite, pain, attitude, and mobility. Together, we can help you create wonderful memories with your best furry friend.
It’s difficult to be the parent of a fur baby with cancer and our first thoughts are often how can we help our pets feel better? Thankfully, there are a variety of treatment options for many different types of cancer including Lymphoma, Mast Cell Tumor, Soft Tissue Sarcomas, and other types of cancers.
As pet parents we are often concerned with how will our pet feel with these treatment options? Chemotherapy treatment can differ greatly for each pet and there can be side effects, but the goal of our treatment is to make life better, longer. Chemotherapy is generally well tolerated but side effects can include decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These are the most commonly seen side effects for patients receiving chemotherapy and they are often mild and self-limiting. We are here to support our patients through their chemotherapy journey and to do this best we offer a combination of veterinary medicine and alternative therapies such as acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a widely recognized tool in both human and veterinary medicine and the list of uses for this therapy is constantly growing! This therapy has been shown to help relieve pain, improve mood, and alleviate stress and tension. Over the last several years acupuncture has begun to play an even bigger role in veterinary oncology. Acupuncture can be used to improve appetite, and minimize vomiting and diarrhea. Acupuncture used in combination with chemotherapy can help to achieve our goal of making life better longer. Our patients enjoy a good quality of life 80% of the time while receiving chemotherapy and this allows them to be at home with their families enjoying their favorite things!
Acupuncture is well tolerated and there a many different acupuncture points that can be used in all different parts of the body. In addition to alleviating the possible side effects of chemotherapy acupuncture can also improve their quality of life by helping to decrease pain, help them rest, and even help with anxiety. Additionally, through the stimulation of acupuncture points the body is stimulated to release serotonin and endorphins which help to make them feel better and happier. This therapy allows us to help improve the quality of life in so many ways and give them the best care possible.
Approximately 40% of pets over 9 years old will be diagnosed with cancer. Gone are the days where our family pets die of “old age”. More commonly today pet parents are noticing illness earlier in their pets and are pursuing referral to specialists in the area of need. As in human medicine, there are Oncologists to help treat cancer in our pets. More specifically, there are medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists that all work together for the optimal care of dogs and cats with cancer.
Similarities between cancer diagnosis and treatment in humans and our veterinary patients, however, are varied. The tests available and the approach to obtaining a cancer diagnosis are very similar. Treatments may include some of the same drugs, but the goals for treatment and the doses used to accomplish these goals are very different. Staging tests are common in people and patients when cancer is suspected. These tests often include bloodwork, urinalysis, chest x rays, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and biopsy. The information provided using these tests help Oncologists determine the most appropriate treatment options for each individual patient and their disease. Often recommendations are made regarding a list of tests that would ideally be performed. Then based on the information each test provides and its cost, the owners and veterinarian can choose which tests to include in the plan. More information is always best, but this may not be possible based on cost of the test, or risk to the patient.
Treatment for cancer in dogs and cats often can be divided into three types: medical (includes chemotherapy or palliative care), surgery for mass removal, and radiation therapy. Unlike human cancer treatment, where an aggressive approach with all three modalities is often pursued at any cost, in hope of a cure or complete remission, in veterinary oncology our goal is to provide the best quality of life for as long as possible. Cure is rarely obtained and often would not be possible without significant side effects to the patient. Chemotherapy is often administered at lower doses and often one at a time. In this way, side effects are often self-limiting. Less than 5% of veterinary patients are hospitalized for chemotherapy related illness and more than 80% have a good quality of life for most of the time. Chemotherapy comes in many forms as well. Oral medication administered at home or in hospital, a quick intravenous bolus versus a long infusion, or subcutaneous treatment.
Surgery ideally is planned first. This involves performing a biopsy and often a CT scan. These tests provide information about the location of the mass as well as a diagnosis. Since not cancers require the same surgical approach. Depending on the CT and biopsy results, a small surgery or a larger, more extensive surgery, may be recommended depending on the goals – palliation versus cure. We have many advancements in pain control in veterinary patients and so post-operative pain management is very successful in maintaining the comfort of the patient.
In some cases where complete removal of the cancer is not possible with surgery, then removal of the mass may be followed by radiation therapy. Radiation can be viewed as a high dose x ray beam that is aimed at a target, the tumor, and administers a dose of radiation to a local area. The is performed under general anesthesia so the patient does not move. In cases where surgery is not possible, then radiation can help to stabilize the size of the mass or shrink it to improve the comfort of the patient. Side effects for radiation therapy in dogs and cats are less severe with fewer doses. They can occur as the number of treatments increases and typically heal a few weeks after the treatment is completed.
When faced with the possibility of cancer in our family pets, it is important to seek information so that the overall health of the pet can be assessed and treatment options can be provided. The earlier a problem or disease process is detected, then generally the better the outcome. Contact your veterinarian or local oncologist for any questions or concerns your may have.
What are some of the the signs of Cancer in our pets?
Early detection of cancer in our pets is an important factor in successful treatment. Some common signs may be vague such as loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, antisocial behavior, lethargy, increased thirst and urination, or urinary incontinence. More specific signs may include the appearance or changes in swellings or masses, non-healing skin lesions, limping or lameness, nose bleeds, or other bleeding, or difficulty eating.
How might we be able lower the risk of cancer or possibly prevent it in our pets?
There is no certain way to prevent cancer, however, some actions may lower the risk. These may include:
- Avoid repeated exposure environmental tobacco smoke, pesticides and herbicides
- Avoid direct sunlight
- Spay female dogs and cats before first heat
- Minimize inflammation from trauma, vaccination
- Increase physical activity, feed vegetables
- Regularly check for lumps and bumps.
Approximately 40% of pets over 9 years old will be diagnosed with cancer but we can improve outcomes in our pets with early detection. This is best accomplished by routine veterinary evaluations and regular assessments by owners at home. This is important for both dogs and cats. Dogs commonly form ‘lumps and bumps” that are benign, non-cancerous masses but these must be tested to differentiate between non-cancerous, and cancerous (benign or malignant) lesions. The most common lumps found on dogs are “fatty tumors” known as lipomas. These do not have malignant potential but can grow to interfere with the dogs ability to move or rest comfortably. Others include benign skin cysts and dermal melanoma. Common malignant skin nodules or masses include mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. These have the potential to grow quickly and become locally invasive, making removal difficult. They can also metastasize. A definitive diagnosis of these is best obtained using a biopsy which is removal of a piece of the tissue or the entire lesion. The extent of the removal (a piece of vs. the entire tumor) is based on the ease of removal, size and location of the lesion. Additional testing to determine if there is any evidence of metastasis is called staging and may include thoracic radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, fine needle aspiration of local lymph nodes and other lumps (patients can have more than one!) and blood and urine testing. Importantly, lymphoma often also can appear as “lumps”, but may be enlarged lymph nodes under the jaw and not a mass in the skin as with the others.
Cats on the other hand, do not commonly form benign, non-cancerous lumps and bumps, and for this reason, all new lesions should be sampled as soon as they are noticed. One lump that may be non-cancerous is a post vaccine reaction. This may be a swelling that forms days to weeks post vaccination. Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate this from an injection site sarcoma which is a malignant and very difficult cancer to treat if not detected early when it is small. Cats also can form mast cell tumors which tend to be less aggressive than those in dogs but are still considered malignant. Lymph node swelling due to lymphoma can also occur as in dogs. Female cats that are spayed later in life also have an increased risk of mammary cancer so lumps on the abdomen should be assessed for mammary cancer.
Watch it means “watch it grow”. It is always important to monitor and test all lumps and record on a body map. Ask your veterinarian to test all growths and for a body map diagram to keep track of all your pets lumps and bumps.