My Dog Helped Me Get My Act Together Before a Stressful Medical Appointment

As a cancer survivor, major medical appointments cause a great deal of stress. It took my dog throwing up to make me snap out of it.

Sometimes we receive a wakeup call from the least expected sources.

First, let me start by saying that last week was brutal. I was unexpectedly scheduled for an intimidating medical appointment that of course had large implications and where I had little control— in other words, a situation that for many cancer fighters, starts to feel like just another Tuesday.

Since being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in 2016, it’s been a steady flow of life in crisis mode. There was a year of aggressive chemo, multiple waves of recurrences, seven operations… and I was told that the prognosis for metastatic osteosarcoma is a less than 10% survival rate.

While I’ve since been blessed to have improved the state of my health, the trauma has taken a toll; even on good days, I tend to operate with a heightened state of anxiety. When triggering events like the appointment I had scheduled appear on the horizon, my PTSD breaks out in full force.

All week, I found myself leveled out on the couch with a heating pad to calm the nerves. I had no appetite and trouble sleeping. During phone calls with family and friends, I heard my voice — loud, panicked… but I was so caught in the loops of terror that I felt disassociated from reality.

My wife was equally as nervous, although she tends to put on a braver front for my benefit. We’ve been tested by these kinds of scary moments all too often, so it’s no longer quite as shocking as during the first few years, but still excruciating and depressing.

(On a brighter note, the one nice part is that this extreme state of fear tends to bring us closer together. We understand each other’s agony in a way that few others can relate to. Also, it’s the times when your sense of security in life feels questioned where you gain a clear perspective on what matters most. Right at the top of my list are the people in my life.)

Towards the end of the week, my wife left for the office and that’s when it was brought to my attention just how bent out of shape I had gotten… Our dog threw up a few times in the morning. Then again later in the day. And again at night. She was still eating and moving around fine so it became clear that she had picked up on my smothering levels of anxiety. My frantic, chaotic energy was literally infecting the house!

It was a shocking realization. I immediately took a breath and slowed down, thinking to myself: “Dude, you NEED to chill out.”

Then I made some peppermint tea and meditated. For the rest of the day, I became laser focused on my aura, movements and speaking volume. This was no longer about my own sense of panic; I had to be better for my family.

The funny thing is the reframed awareness actually made a huge difference in my mood. Fueled by a larger purpose, I was able to get out of my own head, escape all the nagging fears and worries, and re-focus on taking care of those around me.

As a cancer fighter up against constant life-or-death scenarios, self-compassion and “feeling my feelings” is critical for my personal wellness. However, my dog’s anxious reaction (which improved the next day, FYI, she’s doing just fine), was a powerful reminder that it’s also important to remember there can be others, who are equally invested in our wellbeing, that pick up on our vibes.

And in last week’s case, using this as a source of strength to be a better, more selfless version of myself was entirely empowering.

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