CURE asked readers: How has the love and support of a pet or animal helped you during cancer treatment and beyond?
My small farm pulled me through my cancer treatments and my survivorship now. My horses seemed to understand if I was having a weak day and were just as happy to let me lean on them when I grew tired from taking care of them. They were always ready with big, sloppy kisses and always ready for a hug from me. My dog, Fiona, would sleep with me, and when my sons or my husband would open the door to check on me, she would growl, as if to say, “Leave her alone, I got this.” My chickens would provide me with laughter with their daily cackle and antics that chickens do and, of course, their wonderful eggs. My cats would sleep with me on the sofa when I was too tired to make it to the bedroom, and the sound of their purring would lull me into a good rest. When people see me they say how fantastic I look and ask what is my secret. I tell them it’s the exercise that I get on my small farm which provides me with a purpose to have to care for those that can't care for themselves.
I had a bilateral mastectomy nine years ago after a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma. I had reconstructive surgery at the same time and came home after a few days in the hospital. My husband and daughter were an amazing source of comfort and healing and so was our little dog, Penny. A white toy poodle who's been with our family for going on 15 years now, Penny stayed by my side the entire time I was at home convalescing. She only left my bed when she had to go outside or to quickly get some food and water. She would return straight to my bedroom, on duty as my nurse. She asked nothing of me, really. She just wanted to be there for me. There was such a comfort in her quiet presence. I remember just lying there, looking out my bedroom window, trying to process all that had happened to me so quickly. I felt like my life had totally changed and that I had no control over my future. Penny's loving care told me, "No, you are still you, and I'm going to be here with you just like before." Having her there was calming and soothing to me. Now that she's getting older and her eyesight and hearing are fading, I remember what she did for me when I was sad and scared. I will be there for her, just like she was for me.
Before I was diagnosed with lung cancer, one of my dogs, Koda, stopped playing tug of war with me, and my other dog would lie so close to me that many times I tripped over him. When I was diagnosed, I took him to the vet because I was worried, and she told me he knew I had cancer. After my lung cancer surgery and all through my chemo, he wouldn't leave my side. He was abused and scared of people, yet wouldn't let anyone close to me. He knew when I felt better because he began bringing me toys for me to play with him. Now this dog who is so scared of people will go outside if someone rings my doorbell and sniff them to see if it's okay for them to come inside. At one point I was hospitalized for a few days and he didn't eat until I came home. There were times I knew I had to keep fighting because who would take care of them if I left? They kept me alive; they gave me hope.
My best friend Jazzie would want to always lay on the spot of my body that hurt the most. She seemed to sense where my pain was and wanted to give me comfort. She shadowed me wherever I went in my house, never leaving my side. She slept with me, stayed by me all day long and howled nonstop when I left the house. She was my truest friend.
My dog, Dakota, has helped me so much through my journey with multiple myeloma. She has been a faithful companion every step along the way. Once diagnosed, I knew I had to start walking every day to strengthen my bones (something I had been very laxed in doing) and Dakota made this a pleasure - not a chore. She is always willing and eager to go for a walk. When I was recovering from my stem cell transplant, she layed by my side for weeks. Her warm body next to mine was comforting, and I always felt better after stroking her soft fur. Whenever I talked to her, she listened without interrupting and seemed to understand everything I was saying. When I discovered my SCT didn't put me into a remission and I had to retire from teaching because I was immune-compromised, I was feeling useless. But once again Dakota came to the rescue. I decided to train her to be a therapy dog since she provided me with such therapy. Together we went to Petsmart every Wednesday night for 16 weeks to learn basic obedience lessons. This gave me a renewed purpose and direction. We are still working on some of the Therapy Dog International testing criteria, but it is my goal that someday she will be a HUP Pup!