What happens when a perfectly healthy pet shows up for his annual exam and you find something bad…really bad. I’m not talking about the severe periodontal disease eating away at a cat’s skull—I can fix that. And I’m not referring to the dreaded osteoarthritic knee—I can find somebody to fix that, too.

The really bad things I found this week on basic exams include one giant cat kidney, a grapefruit-sized mass adjacent to a dog’s liver, and a [probable] malignant melanoma on another dog’s gumline.

The scary part? Not one of these pets was over seven years old. Not one was showing any clinical signs of disease. And yet two of three will likely be dead by year’s end, regardless of treatment (statistics is a depressing field of study, indeed).

Sure, it makes me feel better that we found these horrible, budding monsters before any pain or suffering had a chance to have its way with their victims. But will our ministrations do any good in the face of these probable cancers? Maybe…maybe not.

I started this post with the intention of harping on the importance of yearly exams—regardless of age or apparent comfort level. But now I’ve strayed into the realm of the near metaphysical…the question of the irrevocable, inevitable, inexorable disease process.

We can attack it with the deadly aim of sharpened steel, an erudite combination of drugs or the gentle laying of hands but neither modern medicine nor man-powered spiritual intervention is any match for the ravages of cancer and other potent diseases.

When the vet says—“I know you weren’t expecting this” and looks at you sympathetically, you should know that we’re as befuddled as you are. Yours may be a far more personal sense of loss, but ours is achingly bewildered as we think: Why this one and not another?

Worse yet, when all our work yields months, not years, we wonder: Do we really make a difference? And is it worth it?

I can expound on the virtues of annual exams and frequent well-pet visits all I want but sometimes…there’s nothing even our best efforts and most sophisticated methods will ever do to hinder nature’s wily ways.