The American Cancer Society Bark For Life honors the caregiving qualities of canine companions. Below are stories from Bark For Life participants that share how their canines have helped them through their friend's, family, or their own cancer experience.
To share your story, please go to relayforlife.org/relay/barkforlife and click on Share Your Bark For Life Story.
Dharma was so vital in helping my step dad during his 1.5-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He began his fight by enduring a grueling surgery to remove the cancer and when he awoke wanting to see her, we had to substitute a stuffed dog and photograph till we got him home. Over the next year and a half she kept him warm after his treatments and her soft fuzzy fur calmed his soul as he twirled it in his fingers day after day she would sit with him as long as he needed her to. Her gentleness and silly expressions gave him the courage to deal with all the change his body was going through. She helped all of us to laugh even when we didn't think we could. She continued to be his "Dandy Dharma" while he spent his final weeks in the hospital she was the only thing that could bring a smile to his face.
My name is Cathy and my story starts in the fall of 2003. My husband and I were outside with our dog when we came upon a stray. He was wet and his neck was rubbed raw, as though he had been tied too tightly and neglected. After a few weeks of no one claiming him, as animal lovers, we found ourselves with a second dog. A friend of ours named him Lucky, because he was so lucky to have found a caring home like ours. But really we were the lucky ones.
That Christmas, Lucky and I were playing downstairs when he reached over and continually pawed my left breast. A few days later I noticed a bruise in the spot where Lucky had touched my breast, so I went to my doctor. From there it was discovered that I had Stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I shared with my doctors the story of Lucky and was told that my dog saved my life!
I went through a series of chemo and radiation treatments followed by a mastectomy. During this process I lost all of my hair. One day my husband came home from work having shaved his head, declaring "I'm going through this with you," as he walked through the door. As a five year breast cancer survivor, I feel extremely lucky to have had the support of not only my family and friends, but also my Lucky.
"How can a dog like me help fight cancer? We participate every year in Bark For Life! I go for this fun filled walk because I want to see an end to cancer during my lifetime. My Daddy battled cancer when he was young and I know that without research and new treatments, he might not have been here to take me on walks, give me baths and play fetch!
Hello, my name is Marc and 16 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. Before I even started any treatment, the cancer had spread into my Lymph Nodes. Being a teenager, this was a lot to swallow, but with support from family, friends, complete strangers, and even my dogs, I pulled through.
My wife, Megan, wrote the above story. She used a clever way of getting peoples’ attention by writing it from our dog, Hailey's point of view. Megan enrolled us and Hailey in the American Cancer Society Bark For Life. I never heard of such a thing! Megan, Hailey and I had a blast! I thought to myself "what a great idea"!
Recently I saw the poster for this year's event and was instantly excited to participate! I never could see myself having such an important role in this unique event, but as it grows closer, I get more encouraged to help!
After two surgeries and two courses of chemo, I am proud to say I AM A SURVIVOR! With your generous donations to The American Cancer Society, someday, maybe everyone who has cancer can be like me: a SURVIVOR of a disease that many times takes lives. So please, help by supporting The American Cancer Society so more stories like this one can be told!
Being involved on a daily basis with health care and education, Shirley routinely did her own breast self-examinations and believe it or not her day did come in July of 1979 when she felt a very small lump in her right breast. Having great faith in the surgeon that she worked for she had him examine the lump and a decision was made to have a biopsy done.
Shirley had the biopsy done Friday of that week. She was wishing that she would have said yes to her husband's request to come with her but had felt that she would be able to manage this little biopsy by herself and she would have; except for the fact that her surgeon appeared peeking in the door saying "Not so good Shirley, I'm afraid we have a problem". Something that Shirley did not want to hear. After discussing her two options with her surgeon she made the decision to take one good swipe at the cancer by having a Modified Radical Mastectomy. Her surgery was scheduled for the following Monday. One minute in that day changed her outlook on the future and her original feelings of well being.
Shirley says her dogs are very special to her. Since her diagnoses of cancer they have given her more than anyone could ask for. Shirley attributes her survival to the fact that she has become deeply involved with her Yorkshire Terriers. They have established themselves as a foremost part in her life. Breeding, showing and caring for her Yorkies in those early years is what kept her spirits high and gave her much to keep her mind busy. When with her Yorkies her mind was free of all her medical anxieties.
When the American Cancer Society Bark For Life was announced she was totally excited as it would give her more time with her Yorkies for a very special cause. Shirley says that, "canines know how their owners feel, just by the sounding tones of their conversation. They are always there when you need them and feel your pain along with you too! Just to sit and feel the love and warmth of this furry friend that thinks you are the "Queen" or "King" gives you a purpose and makes you feel so special on those days that just don't seem to be going right.".
My connection to cancer goes back to the day I was born. While my mother was giving birth, my father was visiting with his father in the same hospital who had just received a cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately my grandfather died six months later, so I never had a chance to get to know him. By the time I reached my teens, my family had lost many family members to cancer, and when reached my 30's, I lost several more uncles to cancer. In my mind they were older, and I was lulled into the fantasy that cancer was an "old person's" disease. That myth was soon shattered with a vengeance.
On my 30th birthday, some friends and I rented a limousine to celebrate. While driving around, my best friend Janice complained that her back was hurting. She promised to go to a doctor. A few days later I received a call from Janice while she was on the way to the hospital. She sounded worried, so I told her I would meet her down at the hospital. By the next day, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and a day later they found a tumor in her sinus cavity. She was to start chemo and radiation immediately. I took off work so I could be with her for her first treatments. I would read Cosmo to her, pretending we were on the beach instead of in a hospital. She was discharged within the week and arrangements were made for outpatient treatments.
Upon discharge, we were told what the American Cancer Society could do for Janice. We went to an American Cancer Society program that showed us how to use makeup and how to tie a scarf on her soon to be balding head. The program helped Janice as she could discuss what she was going through with others who were facing the same thing. I could see how much that meant to her.
Against odds, she had a short remission and we celebrated. We had a few months to feel almost normal again, however, a few months later the cancer was back. Janice passed away 15 months after her first diagnosis. I remember going home to my townhouse after the funeral. The first thing I would do when arriving at home was to check the answering machine. When I looked I noticed no light was on and realized I would never come home to a message from my best friend. You see, Janice would call me every day without fail and leave some sort of message. Sometimes just to say hi and hope you had a nice day. I dropped to my knees and let the tears finally fall. That is when Reno, my German Shepherd crawled up to me and put her head on my lap and licked the tears. I hugged her for what seemed like hours. She was able to give me the comfort that I would not let others give.
During Janice's battle with cancer I developed panic attacks. Feelings of panic would take over while driving, working or in crowded places. I was put on medication which did not really help. What helped was having Reno with me, because I never had a panic attack when she was by my side. As time went by my panic attacks subsided, but Reno's job was not yet over.
Three years ago my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The diagnosis took months to determine exactly what type of cancer he had. By the time of the diagnosis, there was nothing that could be done. We took him home and spent as much time together as we could. I would drive down after work and bring one of my German Shepherds with me. Libby seemed to understand that my father was not well and needed her. She would sit directly in front of him while he was resting on the couch and he would intertwine his fingers through her fur and collar and pet her for hours. She gave my father peace when he needed it most. I can still picture it in my mind, Libby sitting majestic and proud and my father resting comfortably stroking her fur, a reprieve from fear and pain, at least for a little while. My father passed away 3 weeks after diagnosis of a brain tumor. His loss has really affected my family and me especially. Again Reno was there by my side to help me get thru my grief. The comfort that Reno provided to me kept me from giving up. I truly gained courage and strength from her. Although the pain does not go away, Reno somehow made it manageable.
Two and half years after losing my father to brain cancer, my mother was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor. We were told there is nothing that can be done and have brought her home with hospice care. Again, my family and I struggle to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis and lives are changed so we can help all get through. Again I see my dogs sitting with her, laying their heads on her and I see it bring peace. Libby seems to have that something special when it comes to cancer patients. She will jump up on the couch when my mom is watching TV and then slowly get closer and lay her head in her lap. My mom will sit there stroking Libby's fur while talking to her. My mother shares her food with them and gets a kick out of it when they form a circle around her waiting for her to give them a morsel. They have adjusted to nurses, hospice aids and visitors constantly in and out of the house. They quietly greet all who enter and keep a close eye on what they are doing to their Nana. They have realized that their role as watch dog has now been changed to care giver and they have excelled in their new roles. My mother has exceeded expectations in her quality of life, and I truly believe the dogs play a key role in her success, not to mention what they give back to me.
Reno isn't with me this time to help. She died in her sleep 3 years ago from a sinus tumor. Again outliving expectations provided by her vet by years. I believe Reno stayed around long enough to determine that I was ok after my father's death. I believe that she is waiting for me at Rainbow Bridge keeping Janice and my father company and will be there to greet me when it is my time.
Two years ago, I walked with Molly in the first ever American Cancer Society Bark For Life and now spend most of my spare time thinking up fun things we can do with our dogs while raising money for such a wonderful cause.
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