Why Dogs Can Help People with Cancer

If you’re a dog lover, you know first-hand just how much joy our canine friends can bring into our lives. They’re always the ones who are happiest to see us when we return home–whether we’ve been gone for months, days, or even just 15 minutes. They sense our emotions, follow us around the house, and have never-ending curiosity and a love for play. Each has his or her own special personality, and they make us laugh more than most human beings can.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you also know anecdotally that spending time with your cuddly four-legged canine companion provides important health-related benefits. Further, research continues to confirm that these health benefits are real. The following shows the many different ways that our beloved dogs prove time and time again that they’re a cancer survivor’s best friend:

  • Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can cause a seemingly unlimited amount of stress. Fortunately, our canine friends always seem to have just what it takes to improve our moods and lessen or even relieve our stress. Simply petting your dog can release endorphins that can make you feel calmer and temporarily distract you from any feeling of illness or pain that you’re experiencing.

  • We know that many patients with cancer may feel isolated and become depressed. This writer knows firsthand that learning you have cancer can cause a striking sense of loneliness no matter how supportive your family members and others are around you. But spending time with your pup can significantly lower feelings of loneliness. Further, research has shown that cancer patients who are able to spend time with a therapy dog before their chemotherapy treatment reported improved social and emotional well-being despite being in physical decline during their treatments.
  • In fact, many cancer patients find that their dogs provide a special type of companionship that they may not receive from even their closest family member or friend. So many of us are afraid of burdening or worrying our loved ones or even driving them away if we’re completely open about our fears and darkest thoughts. Yet you don’t have to worry about that with your pup. You know that you can say anything to your dog, and he or she will always be happy to listen and comfort you. I wept on my dog’s shoulders more than once when going through treatment. And she gently licked my tears away more times than I can say.
  • Research has shown that being a dog owner can also improve your overall physical well-being, which in turn can enhance your recovery from cancer and its treatment. Both the cancer itself and its treatments can result in debilitating fatigue. But research shows that people with cancer who engage in exercise regularly experience 40% to 50% less fatigue when compared with other cancer patients. Regularly walking your dog multiple times every day should provide just the right amount of moderate exercise to help aid in your recovery.
  • If your cancer treatment is causing mobility difficulties, a specially trained service dog can help you maintain your independence and provide invaluable help during your recovery. Your service dog can be trained to open and close doors for you, assist you while walking, bring your phone to you, and bark if there is an emergency.

Have you been diagnosed with cancer and found that your canine companion provided you with special comfort during your journey? If so, please share your story here by leaving a comment.

15 Random Facts

I’m an avid reader of “Nancy’s Point,” and she just posted a wonderful idea, challenging all of us who are also bloggers to post 15 random facts about ourselves.  I truly enjoyed learning more about Nancy through the facts that she posted, and as she said so well, “We are all about so much more than cancer.”  So I’m happily taking Nancy up on the challenge, and I hope that you, my wonderful readers, will also share a few things about yourselves here by leaving a comment on my blog.  So here it goes (with apologies if you know some of the below from previous blogs):

  1. I have one younger sister, who is brilliant, hilarious, extremely talented artistically, beautiful, opinionated, loving, and unique in all the right ways. I’m blessed that she is my sister, and she is the best friend that anyone could ever have.  My mother and father were married very young and had my sister and I when they were in their early 20s (I can’t even imagine!).  They both still look so young for their ages (they’re now in their early 70s).  They’ll say that I can’t be objective, but my mother is gorgeous, and, as the kids today would say, my father is still a “hottie”!  I’m incredibly close to both of my parents, and I thank God that I’m their daughter every day.
  2. I’m impatient: I know that “patience is a virtue,” but damn, this is a tough one for me to achieve. I hate waiting in lines, despise going through airport security, drive much too fast (though I’ve improved a bit there), and resent having to go through endless “phone trees” when you have to keep shouting “YES” or “NO” to the automated voice’s endless questions, never get a real person, and are then disconnected!!! (Yes, this did happen to me just recently. 😉
  3. My husband and I just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary yesterday on July 10th!  And my parents just celebrated their 52nd (holy cow!)
  4. I absolutely adore all dogs and puppies, but am particularly in love with springer spaniels (sorry, I know that most of you are well aware of this). I believe completely that puppies are the cutest beings on the planet, and I’m much quicker to open my arms to a puppy than a baby. (I know some of you think that’s just terrible, but it’s true!)  I also definitely would not consider myself a cat person, although I do love cats that are particularly affectionate—in other words, more like dogs!

Deb and Little Miss Molly

Deb and Little Miss Molly

5. Each of the men (boys?) I seriously dated in late high school and college were of Irish descent,as is Marty, my husband (obviously, based on my last name, right?). I’m of Russian, Romanian, and Austrian descent.  Maybe I was Irish in a past life?

6. I’m a voracious reader and always have at least one book going. I primarily read fiction, but lately, I’ve also been enjoying non-fiction on some fascinating topics.  I love the latter, because I always feel like I’m learning something—but tend to have a novel going at the same time to make sure that I’m relaxing and not using “too much” of my brain. 😉  I also love almost nothing more than writing and the feeling I often get of slipping into the “zone,” where I’m so deeply absorbed in what I’m writing that I lose track of time, space, and everything around me.

7. If I could have pasta or lasagna for dinner every night, I would be a happy girl.  Maybe I was Italian in a past life?

8. My favorite bands have been and will always be Pink Floyd, Steeley Dan, the Grateful Dead, and Fleetwood Mac (boy, am I dating myself or what?). But I also enjoy Norah Jones, Adele, Cracker, Old Crow Medicine Show, ‘Keb ‘Mo, classical music–I guess I could go on and on.

9. I’m Jewish, and my husband is Catholic. Although he is much more devout than I am, being Jewish is an enormously important part of who I am.

10. When my husband and I were married, we agreed that we did not want to have children. We felt that way for years … but right around the time I turned 40, we started talking about perhaps changing our minds. I was almost there, thinking ‘Yes, I think that I really do want to have a child,’ and I began literally seeing our little girl in my dreams at night.  And it was then that I learned I could not have children.  It turned out that the chemotherapy I’d had in my early 20s took this choice away from us.  I was on the pill during my treatment and did not go off of it until my late 30s due to my heart issues.  Apparently, being on the pill for all those years had masked signs of perimenopause, which became clear months after my coming off the pill.  I know that it may seem strange, since for so long, we had decided not to have children, but I’m angry about this: after all, this was our choice to make, and when we finally got to the point where we were ready to change our decision, this option was taken away from us.  I have not seen our daughter in my dreams recently, and I miss her.  No doubt, that also may seem strange.  But I’m hoping that because I finally wrote about this, I’ll see her again in a dream very soon.

11. I absolutely love being a cancer research advocate. I hate the reasons responsible for my becoming one. But I have learned so much, engaged in such important work as a result, and have met and worked with so many remarkably special, talented, loving people, where our paths would never have joined had I not been personally affected by cancer.

12. I have zero tolerance for folks who seem to relish bringing problems to your attention, but never want to hear about working together to find solutions.

13. I was painfully shy throughout my childhood and didn’t really break out of this until I was in my early 40s when I became an advocate.

14. I get very upset with people who seem to be oblivious to those around them and have no sense of common courtesy. Have you ever gotten behind that person at the grocery store who is taking up the entire aisle and then seems peeved when you say, “Excuse me” as you’re trying to get by? How about the so many folks who absolutely refuse to switch to the left lane when you’re coming down the entry ramp and trying to merge into the right lane of the highway?  Or what about when there is a traffic jam, everyone needs to merge from two lanes into one, and that one A-H drives down the breakdown line until the very last second and then jumps into the lane, holding up everyone—and inevitably encourages other losers to immediately follow his example?  Hmm: I see that many of these are traffic related; I wonder what that says about me? 😉

15. Though I’ve had to deal with serious health issues beginning in my early 20s, and though every adult decision I’ve ever made has had to take health insurance and my medical history into account, I love my life and feel blessed for every moment that I’m here.

Wow: writing this was quite a cathartic experience!  Nancy, thank you so much for your inspirational challenge!  And my wonderful readers, please join in!  I’d love if you would share some random facts about yourselves here, so that I can also get to know you better–and learn more about your likes, dislikes, what you find hilarious, your pet peeves, what matters most to you, and what brings you the most joy.