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My animals have taught me how to accept aging and managing the side-effects of chemo with dignity, as well as how to enjoy naps without feeling guilty.
I am so fortunate to have had my Hearing Ear dog, Sita, by my side for 11 years. Not only has this marvelous creature changed my life and made me feel safe by alerting me to noises, her warm and sweet personality has guided me on my cancer journey. One of the lessons she has taught me is how to take naps gracefully and without feeling guilt.
I have been battling cancer for over eight years now. Sita is around 14 years old, which is unusual for a larger dog like a yellow lab. I also have an adorable little black rescue kitty named Cesar, who is 10. I tell them that we are all getting older together!
As every cancer survivor who has been on any kind of treatment knows, fatigue is an unavoidable side effect. When one has been on chemo for as many years as I have, the fatigue keeps getting worse rather than improving. The cancer also causes one to be tired. For someone with an incurable cancer, the tiredness never leaves.
When I was first given my service dog, I was working two jobs and we would both be out for hours at a time. My mother was still alive, and we would go out to eat with her afterwards, often getting home at 11:00 at night. After my mother passed — a year after I got Sita – we would go to a local playground where Sita would run and run. I would watch her, laughing delightedly as she would sniff, smell and walk all over. I even purchased a blinking collar so I could see her in the dark.
I also enjoyed hiking over the playground and just being outside in the rain, snow or sun. Sita met a gorgeous black lab named Max at the playground and they would frolic together almost every day.
The years went on and life changed dramatically for us. I was diagnosed with cancer and on constant chemo, since it is a blood cancer. I quit one job and then the other as I became weaker. Sita walked less and less as she aged, until she developed arthritis and had elbow surgery.
Sita is now content to go out every day, have lunch at a local restaurant (especially on a patio when weather permits) and then go home to her special arthritic bed. Meanwhile, I have developed neuropathy from the chemo and we must both be careful on stairs. We are a sight to see, going up and down the stairs together as a couple of “old girls.”
Cesar used to tear around my apartment and even broke a couple of lamps! Now he goes out on the patio and sits in the sun. He stays inside when it is cold and lays on his condo (or my bed) for hours.
When the fatigue seemingly hits me out of nowhere and I cannot move any longer, I go to my bedroom. Cesar curls up between my legs, Sita lies on her huge bed at the bottom of mine and we all nap together.
They obviously feel no guilt or pangs of conscience that they should be doing more like I often do.
Sita has assisted me as a service dog for 11 years. The average length of time for a dog to serve is 6-8 years. She knows her job is almost finished and it is time to rest. Cesar also knows he is not getting any younger. They both accept aging with grace and dignity. I am older and have cancer! If only I could do the same and not feel quite so guilty. Thanks to my animals, deep down I know I should. Animals can be smarter than people and we can learn from them.
If you’ll excuse me — we are all going to take naps now!