Have you ever read those stories about pets finding and alerting their human companions to cancer? As I look back on the changes my cat exhibited before my breast cancer diagnosis, I think he was trying to do just that! My husband and I share our home with four fuzzballs. In order from oldest to youngest, we have Oggy (pronounced like Auggie), he is a large thirteen year old cat. Responds to Mr. Poody, snaggletooth, and fat cat. He is what we call an aggressive snuggler. Let’s just say, he knows what he wants, and he always gets what he wants. Next we have Max, he is a large mixed breed dog, twelve years old. His nicknames are Momo, and Maximo. Lulu comes next, she is an eleven year old Maine Coon mix cat. She comes when she is called, is oh so smart, and her most frequent nickname is Lulie. Abby rounds out the pack. She is around ten years old, and is a medium sized lab mix. We call her the Dopey Dabber as she is quite the goof.
When I think back to before my cancer diagnosis, Oggy was snuggling more aggressively than usual, if you can believe it, and it was mostly aimed at me, which was also odd. He has always loved to snuggle up in my arms and will lay there for hours if you let him, but he was focusing on my chest area and specifically on my left side for months before I knew myself what was going on. I would try and direct him someplace else, especially while working on school work, but he just wouldn’t have it. He seemed more determined than ever to make sure he was lying near my left breast. If only I would have realized what he was trying to tell me. Or, if he could have just said, “Hey stupid, I’ve been trying to tell you about this cancer growing in your breast for months now, would you go get it checked out already?!” It wasn’t until I felt the lump for myself and got the dreaded diagnosis that I put it all together and realized what he had been trying to tell me all along. If only pets could talk, I feel like we would all be wiser for it. I can’t quite recall how long he acted like that, but I can’t help but wonder if I could have caught my cancer sooner had I “listened” to him.
I don’t blame you if you are skeptical, I was too, but I made a point to pay attention to his behavior after my diagnosis. I noted that he continued to act like this throughout chemotherapy, and it wasn’t until I had surgery, and the cancer was finally removed, that he stopped focusing so much on my chest. I know that if he ever starts focusing on a different part of my body, I will for sure be freaked out and run to the doctor immediately! I should probably warn my oncologist, just in case. I’m not above looking like a crazy cat lady if it means I am alerted to something sooner!
We rescued Oggy when I was 20 years old, and the rest of our furkids shortly thereafter, so these animals have seen us through college, marriage, several moves (one being a long distance move), the buying of two houses, graduate school for my husband, then graduate school for me, numerous jobs, and now through cancer. They are the one constant in our lives. They are the most wonderful companions, and people just can’t believe they all get along the way they do, but it’s true. We all coexist in a small house, and there are no fights.
Through cancer treatment, the dogs have been an amazing source of motivation to get me out of the house, even if it was only to follow them into the yard for a few minutes. They also provide peace of mind when I am sleeping or feeling extra-vulnerable, or home alone. They are both protective of the house and alert me if something is happening or if someone is walking up to the door. The cats make sure I feel loved, and help release happy chemicals in my body when they purr, show me affection, and snuggle. Cats have a way of making you feel special–dogs do too of course–but if you have ever had a cat, you know what I mean.
Max has always been bonded very closely to me, and he has always been my protector. While going through everything over the past 16+ months, he has been even more protective as I have been in a weakened physical and emotional state. I appreciate this extra care, and assure him that he has done a good job. As he is getting older, and the inevitability of losing him to old age inches closer, I had this tremendous fear when I was first diagnosed that I could die before him. I now know this was a crazy thought, but when you are first diagnosed, you go through all these worst-case scenarios. Anyway, it broke my heart to think of him wondering what had happened, or where I had gone, and it pushed me to make sure I will be here for him as long as he needs me.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is, it feels good to know that they are relying on me, and I on them. We have helped each other out through this whole cancer mess. They have motivated me, loved me unconditionally, been nothing but sincere, and have given me a reason to get up, get outside, and keep moving forward. I will be forever grateful to my amazing animals.
Take Great Care,
P.S. As I write this post, Abby is snoring beside the bed in a comically awkward position, Lulu is nestled on my arms purring loudly, making it difficult for me to type. Oggy is taking up the WHOLE bed as usual, and Max is between me and the door. My forever protector and dog soul mate.
I have blogged my entire journey, have tried to keep my wit and sense of humor despite frequent chemo brain, and find joy in potentially reaching and helping others. If you are interested in reading more from me, check out my blog at www.mypinkgenes.com, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or look for my guest blogs on the Firefly Sisterhood website and social media.”