My Service Dog's Journey With My Cancer

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A unique story about my service dog and the journey she has taken with me since my cancer diagnosis

I lead my hearing ear dog, Sita, back to the room where I get the chemo. A staff person greets me as I slip off the orange vest with the forbidding words, “Do not pet.” Sita follows the person down the hall with tail wagging and heads to the drawer that has the treats.

I shut the door where I receive two shots in either the arms or stomach from the chemo nurse. There is a knock on the door and after opening it, I see my beautiful yellow lab with her gorgeous amber eyes, perky soft ears and cold pink nose eagerly greeting me. I put the vest back on and we walk out together. We will follow this routine for four more days this week.

I received Sita a year before my mother died. She was trained in the Ohio prison program to be a hearing ear dog. She alerts me by “bumping” or nudging me with her nose whenever the telephone rings, someone approaches me or any other unexpected noise. She is my ears, my companion, soul mate and friend.

We have had some struggles along the way. Sita and I visited my mother in assisted living daily right after I brought her home. A year later, Mom died a horrible and painful death with me sobbing at her side and Sita standing next to me. Eighteen months after that, I was diagnosed with cancer. My faithful buddy was with me when I received the devastating news and accompanied me to my follow up visits to the oncologist. I was on oral chemo for six years and visited the doctor monthly. This is where the whole routine started.

The staff at the cancer center is all fantastic and love animals. They brought treats for Sita and told me they looked for my name a couple of days before my visits. They explained that she always made them feel better. I know they have a rough job, so was happy to oblige them. They eagerly anticipated her being taken out of vest, sitting up and chomping happily on her bones.

We had discovered Sita had another talent besides being a service dog. The place that trained her agreed with me she would have been a wonderful therapy dog. She was chosen to be one of the elite, since only one of 100 dogs makes it to the finish line as a service dog. Her sweet and laid back disposition, plus her soft-looking face charms people who are ill. The staff soon began taking her in to see the patients receiving chemo, and the smile on their faces filled the room. She knows how to be a therapy dog for several minutes. But, as soon as the vest went back on she changes. Sita walks out and struts with me down the hallway ready to be working again.

To my alarm, soon after I was diagnosed with the cancer, Sita began snapping at other dogs when they approached me. It happened several times and I was hysterical because this one vice could end her career as a service dog. I was driving my car with a friend who was a certified dog trainer in the passenger seat. I began to cry as I told her what was going on with Sita. As I told my story, Sita, who had been lying down in the back seat, reached her face over the front and nudged me to comfort me.

“There it is,” explained my friend. “You are anxious and upset after your mother’s death and the cancer diagnosis. She is picking up on all your emotions and trying to protect you the only way she knows how. If you calm down, she will.”

The light bulb illuminated in my head. I was so stressed out with the changes in my life I had almost ruined my dog. Besides, I was learning that being so worried made my health worse. I began to settle down and so did she.

When my chemo was switched to shots in the stomach, I feared she would become upset with this new type of treatment. I implored the staff to help me, and they did. They take her for treats and pet her while I am getting the needles! And the patients love her!

As I think back over the 10 years I have had this beautiful creature, I reflect on how fortunate I really am, to have a dog who loves me unconditionally, to have a fantastic oncologist and staff to understand and help me and to be receiving a chemo that allows me to live a long life with my companion. I am truly blessed!