I was recently asked if I am interested in giving a speech for Bark For Life -an event to raise money for cancer research. I was asked why I was interested in this event. Well, here’s my story for what it’s worth. I’m not sure if I will be the speaker this year but I decided to type up my story either way.
This past year has been a challenge. In January, my ex-husband and I decided that we would most likely be getting divorced. He is currently active duty in the Air Force and stationed in Germany. I was living with my sister-in-law Carolyn here in Midland while I was home for the holidays. Around Christmas she noticed a lump and I told her to get it examined ASAP. Her diagnosis came in – stage 3 breast cancer.
I had a difficult decision to make. Fly to Germany and try to salvage my broken marriage or stay with Carolyn and be a caregiver while she battles cancer. If my dogs had already been with me here in Michigan, my decision would have been simple. I decided to stay in Michigan.
Carolyn had adopted a German Shepherd puppy in October, just a few short months before she had been diagnosed with cancer. I am sure a lot of you know just how much work a puppy is. Walking, training, and socializing Reya was quite demanding, especially for someone going through chemo treatments. She couldn’t take care of the puppy and her two young kids alone and needed all the help she could get. I was so grateful that my company allowed me to work from home when she had appointments to keep an eye on her kids and keep them out of trouble. I loved lending a helping hand even though my own dogs were in a completely different continent.
I prioritized Carolyn’s needs rather than my own. I went all in trying to be as supportive as I could. I even shaved my head with her out of solidarity! By March, I was burnt out. I was losing weight and I had crippling anxiety. As much as I wanted to help her, I knew that I had to take care of myself first. After having a long heart to heart with Carolyn, she told me that it was time for me to fly to Germany to get my dogs so that I could move along with my divorce.
My dogs have always been my unofficial emotional support animals. They can tell when I am starting to have a panic attack and will nudge me for pets to help keep me grounded. They help me stay calm by giving me something else to focus on. I hated that flying to Germany meant I wouldn’t be able to help Carolyn for a couple weeks because thanks to COVID, I would need to quarantine upon my return to minimize the risk of passing it on to her. However – I knew that in the long run, I could be more supportive with my dogs at my side.
One of my friends volunteered to watch Roxy for me since she had a history of snapping at kids when I adopted her from a shelter. She would get overwhelmed with 2 kids and a new dog. Roland and I moved back in with Carolyn once my quarantine was over and he quickly became best friends with Carolyn’s dog. They play great together and tire each other out.
Roland made me feel less alone. I felt happier and more energetic with him by my side. Carolyn had the energy to walk Roland so she was able to get out of the house during treatment. He gave me the opportunity to get out and socialize. Carolyn and I attended Bark at the Park Wednesday nights and watched the Loons games with him. He helped us get out and experience things we would have typically ignored. Roland gives me the energy to support Carolyn. He helps reduce my stress and I can’t help but smile when I see him rolling around in the grass with a goofy smile on his face. He can be such a goober!
A dog is the perfect example of unconditional love. No matter what’s going on, he is always joyful. He doesn’t judge me. He encourages me to exercise. He is always happy to see me. As Carolyn continues to fight her breast cancer, I will be able to continue to support her with my dogs by my side to support me. They give me a sense of security and stability while the world around me feels like it’s falling apart. My faith and my dogs are what got me through this year.
I truly believe that dogs and pets of any kind can help keep morale up when we get devastating news that a loved one has cancer. For some of us, pets are our only caregivers. I want to thank all of you for coming out to today’s event. Let’s celebrate everyone who has survived cancer. Let’s honor the friends, family and pets we have lost to cancer. Let’s fundraise in support of cancer research, education, awareness, patient services, and advocacy. Finally, let’s make it our goal to help eliminate the suffering that cancer causes worldwide.