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Getting Through Cancer Was Better With A Dog

My little yellow dog helped me through cancer and over a year after her death, I still love and miss her--Barbara Tako
PUBLISHED August 17, 2017
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Tako's dogs, Ginger and Mitzi. - PHOTO BY BARBARA TAKO
Tako's dogs, Ginger and Mitzi. - PHOTO BY BARBARA TAKO
My dog Ginger was a bold little puppy and later the head dog of the house. She was not the “best” dog we had ever had, but she was probably the most loved. She had her own song that I still sing to her sister dog now and then. Ginger hung around for over 13 years because she was so loved and spoiled, I think. Labradors generally only live for 10 to 12 years.

Ginger was there for the middle of our kids’ lives and both my cancers. Heck, we bought a house on several acres which greatly expanded Ginger’s yard, and yes, she knew instantly that it was her yard. She finally got a yard that had no fences. We threw the ball with a thrower until we were bored but Ginger wasn’t bored running across the yard to bring the ball back again and again.

She was a feisty puppy from the day she was born, according to her breeder. I remember her climbing onto the dinner table to put her head in the bowl of blue berries that were supposed to be part of our dinner. She was a good listener and followed the rules, but she added her own interpretations to the commands. It was as though she would look at you and say, “Yes, I will come, but I will first go and get a toy of my choosing to bring to you when I come.”

Dogs do better than people at love, I think. Ginger loved her family unconditionally. I remember in her last months, I massaged her legs and hips almost every day, yet now I realize I could have paid more attention to her and not taken her for granted. Yes, a year later, I still wish I had loved her better.

I spent her last day with her on the couch. I had things to do, but this was her time. Her wag went away. She wasn’t eating dog food any more, and eventually, I couldn’t even tempt her with chicken and rice. I remember feeling my heart break.

I found this Bible verse shortly after she died—“Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals” (Psalm 36:6 NIV). Maybe it sounds goofy, but I truly believe dogs go to heaven. Where did the time go? Mitzi, our younger dog has gotten better, but a year later, she still doesn’t want to step up and be “the dog.”

I remember Ginger on the end of my bed through the breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. She stayed with me when I wasn’t going anywhere. In the middle of the night, she would come to me if she heard me crying. I won’t forget her one year or 30 years from now.

Our grown children have mostly moved out. One dog remains and my thoughts still turn to Ginger. Jealous Ginger would push her way in when Mitzi got attention. Mitzi still doesn’t know what to do without her—a year later, and I can tell she still doesn’t like being the only dog.

Ginger’s final moments were in a house and a yard we don’t live in anymore. In the end, we all went outside and sat on Ginger’s hill in Ginger’s backyard. With the help of the veterinarian, she went gently to sleep in my daughter’s arms.

Ginger, I love you always and my heart still breaks with gratitude and happy pain when I think of you. I saw a sign recently that read “A home is a little closer to heaven when there is a dog.”
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