When the emotions of cancer start to get you down, try taking a chance on talking to a four-legged furry friend.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
I am not an animal expert by any means. However, I have learned from experience that they can bring immense joy and comfort to those struggling with person issues, trauma and health concerns. If you are an animal lover and/or owner, you know this well. Those furry four-legged friends are always around to support us in our daily lives. They tend not to judge us when we don’t look our best or don’t say the right thing. In their eyes, we are always perfect and can do no wrong. They follow us everywhere and love us unconditionally.
That can be a game-changer when you face a cancer diagnosis. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I followed the typical path of crying, hysterics, angry rants followed by an odd sense of calm. I got tired of hearing from everyone how strong I was, how they knew I could handle anything, I’d totally be fine, I’d make it through, etc. I know I sound ungrateful and I don’t intend this to be as such. I loved the support from family and friends. I NEEDED that support to lean on every day. However, sometimes I wanted no part of hearing how strong I was because when I looked in the mirror and saw a bald head and a pale face, I didn’t feel strong at all. I felt weak, scared and sick.
These were the moments where I turned to the furry friends. I needed the four little legs of my cat to lean on and vent to while she just stayed quiet and listen. During my treatment, my cat Sammy would always lay next to me, almost like she was guarding me. She watched as others came and went and let them take care of me, but she made sure to stand guard. She sat there and watched me cry, she watched me laugh and she watched as I shifted uncomfortably when the pain got to be too much. I could tell her I was scared and so mad that cancer happened to me. She never told me that I looked to be recovering so well and the prognosis was so good so why was I so worried? She never told me I would be fine and everything would be OK. She just listened every time I needed to vent.
I know there are people who don’t want to have pets or can’t and that’s totally fine. My cat was what helped me, but there are plenty of other options to get close to animals or nature. Personally, I strongly suggest giving it a try, especially if you are struggling with the mental anguish caused by cancer. It might seem a little silly or you might feel weird about it, but you may just be surprised as to how it can help. If you have a four-legged friend, take a chance and have a little one-sided chat with them about how you are feeling. It might feel good to get those emotions out without hearing any sort of criticism or judgment. I can also promise you they won’t laugh at what you have to say.
For those that don’t want a pet around the house or can’t have them, I have a few suggestions:
1. Take a walk outside and listen for the sounds of the birds. It’s very soothing just to hear them in their moment.
2. Go to a zoo and take a stroll. Seeing the animals can bring on a sense of calm and comfort.
3. Volunteer at a local humane society or animal rescue. Spend some time with the animals and see how that makes you feel.
4. Visit a friend or family member that has a furry friend. Take a chance on spending some time with some furry friends and see what happens. They might just be the exact support you have been waiting for as you navigate your cancer journey.