A few months ago, we kicked off a fun social media campaign featuring the lovely pets of our Support Volunteers. We asked our mentors to send a photo of them with their pet and a story of how their pet assisted in their cancer journey. The result was an overwhelming flood of stories filled with love and hope. We’ve been sharing bits of these stories via our social media channels, but today, I’m delighted to share them in a little more depth.
My friend, my strength, my will to live through any battle, is my dog, Ms. Jersey.Support Volunteer Robert
There are very few things as precious in this world as the unconditional love of a pet. Our trusted friends with four (most times) legs bring a wide range of emotions, responsibilities, and companionship. The relationships we forge with our pets often become like family. Growing up I had two chihuahua’s, one of which would find her way into my room and snuggle with me every morning after my parents left for work, a bright spot in my childhood that I cherish to this day. Pets are responsible for so much love and joy in people’s lives and sometimes, our good bois and gurls are also a huge factor in providing hope when we need it most – the dark days of cancer. There are pets like Merlo, “the comfort puppy who came into her life the week she was diagnosed.”
My 120-pound Doberman Luca was my soul dog, my heart dog, my personal therapy dog. Always together, always with me, watching over my every move, even while I was sleeping, waking up to find him just sitting there looking at me. While watching tv on the couch at night he would gently place his favorite stuffed animal toys on my lap to comfort me. He was my court jester, always doing things to make me laugh and when I laughed… he did it more. He would wake me during my many bad dreams during the night where I would scream. He got in my face and whimpered until he woke me and would not stop until he knew I was totally awake. Only then would he go back to sleep. Once, because of treatment I had fainted while home alone, I woke up to Luca nudging me gently with his nose. He was my world and my savior throughout my entire cancer journey. I miss him very much and I will honor him always and forever.Support Volunteer Barbara
According to CancerCare “Whether you are coming home from a long hard day at work and your pets greet you with a jump for joy and kisses to match, or you are lying in bed, and they hop up beside you, snuggle in and make you feel like everything is going to be okay, there is no doubt that the bond that exists between humans and their pets is simply wonderful. And there are so many benefits to having a pet, especially if you are a cancer patient.” 1 These benefits include stress relief, emotional comfort, and even overall health. Pets can help with emotions that accompany a cancer journey such as loneliness. Our fluffy friends can help alleviate stress and in fact, “Living with a pet can help reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the main stress hormone, and when it is elevated, it can negatively affect your immune system.”1
After I lost my hair Beatrice was initially startled, but would, from time to time, groom my head, usually when I was napping. I can’t say I liked it, but I took it as a sign of her affectionate care.Support Volunteer Rachelle
While our pets are there for us in our darkest hours, we need to make sure we do everything we can for them. Taking care of an animal is not an easy task and can be even more of a struggle with a cancer diagnosis. It is important to discuss your pets and your routine with your care team so “they can help you figure out whether your pet might pose safety concerns for you during cancer treatment. It’s also a good idea to visit your pet’s veterinarian to find out what kinds of illness your pet might pass to you during times when your immune system is weak.”2
My husband has a terrible way of setting priorities. After an overnight trip via med ambulance from Cleveland, Ohio and feeling horrible, I could not believe my ears. “I think we should get a puppy.” My response was almost immediate. “No puppies. “I knew that would not be the last I heard about it, but each time I heard the request my response was the same. “No.” Then the question was rephrased. “You need each other.” I thought about that several times that day and that evening asked why I needed a puppy. His response was succinct. “She was dropped from heaven, can’t speak English and everyone around her is a giant, she needs a champion”. I did not buy it. But he had touched a nerve and in a moment of weakness I said he could look. The pup arrived in September weighing in at a little over a pound. She was the smallest pup I had ever seen. She clung to me like Velcro and hopped behind me as I moved around our home. She had tons of love to give. She had inherited and received many toys which inevitably wound up under chairs and tables. Picking them up was my job and that in turn was making me more active. She was my furry PT program. My attitude brightened and my doctor’s visits indicated I was doing well. I relied on her for brighter mornings and quiet evenings on my lap. We needed each other. She was with me for every ZOOM call, grimaced with me when I took my meds and laid near me when I read. Did she help with my recovery? Yes, yes, yes after all, I had 2 jobs, training Mollie and my recovery and we needed each other to succeed at each.Support Volunteer Francine
Pets give so much to the lives of their “humans.” They provide us and especially those facing cancer with support, structure, joy, and love. They are our friends, they are our family, and they are bringers of hope.
“Bailey brought endless joy, laughter, and comfort to us during a time when we needed it most.”Support Volunteer Lisa
Get more information about “Caring for yourself and your pet when you have cancer” from our friends at CancerCare and their Pet Assistance & Wellness (PAW) Program. If you need hope and support from one of our almost 500 Support Volunteers (Who may be less furry but are much better communicators) visit cancerhopenetwork.org/support
- CancerCare. (2022). THE BENEFITS OF SHARING YOUR LIFE WITH A PET. https://media.cancercare.org/documents/255/original/2022-The-Benefits-of-Sharing-Your-LIfe-With-A-Pet_V1.pdf
- Pets, Support, and Service Animals | How Animals Can Help People with Cancer. (n.d.). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/coping/support-service-animals.html