I have always believed in the power of pets and healing, at least comforting, which is just as important.
This is one of only two photos I am aware of, from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma days over 30 years ago. Just prior to beginning my chemotherapy, I adopted a calico kitten and named her “Pebbles.”
There was just something so soothing about the purr, close to your ears, the feline vibrations soft enough to massage the physical stress away. And though she spent lots of time doing “kitty things,” it was her behavior once I started chemotherapy that I will never forget.
On a regular basis, as I entered the door of my apartment, she always rushed to greet me. But after my chemotherapy appointment, I “rudely” rushed by her, ignoring her, to get to the bathroom to deal with the nausea that as expected, was about to hit me.
She followed me to the bathroom, like many pets do. Only, you could see, she was confused that I did not seem to be using the toilet like I normally would. I was unable to pet her or give her attention. And there she sat, just staring at me. When I was done heaving, exhausted, it took every ounce of strength I still had left to get to my bedroom, and crawl into bed, shaking from the physical tension and muscle tightness all over. Everywhere hurt.
As I lay in bed, Pebbles came up onto the bed, laying on my wife’s pillow (to be clear, 1st wife) until she came home from work, keeping watch over me. This became the ritual for the next eleven treatments, every time.
Pebbles was not the first pet to have an impact in my treatment and recovery. I had a golden retriever named Pollo. Unbelievably loyal, Pollo went everywhere I went. Except one time. And that was in 2008 when I had to have open heart surgery to save my life from damage caused by treatments years earlier for my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
We were known to roughhouse with each other, battling over who would be “alpha.” This made me nervous as I made the trip home from the hospital, after six days recovering, my breast bone, still precariously sore and obviously not healed. I had no idea how to prepare for Pollo, because when I came home from work, he often jumped on me to greet me at the door. This could not happen when I walked in the door. But how would I control his excitement. We had never been apart.
I could feel my heart race as I opened the door, and here he came, he was definitely happy to see me. And then his pace slowed, soon approaching my side, and standing there, allowing me to have the opportunity to pet him calmly. As I was assuring him that I was home, and I would be okay, it would be as if he was trying to let me know, he was there to take care of me. No matter where I was sitting, he would lay at my feet. If I was laying down, he was laying by my side. I could always count on him being there for me.
It did not have to be my own dog either. During one of my many trips to the hospital, I was often visited by fur friends who stopped in just to say “hi.” You can immediately feel the weight lift off you when you are approached by one of these four-legged caregivers.
Yes, medicine plays a big part in your care. So does faith, if that is what you believe. Support from family members, and of course, your actual caregivers from nurses to doctors are important. But just as important, in care and recovery, are our fur friends.