Angry words spoken by a plastic surgeon at my choice to not undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. Just one statement of hundreds made by doctors who didn’t share the goals I intended to achieve through and beyond my health opportunity. In spite of our lack of shared goals, I did appreciate her as she was the only Dr. Plastic who was totally honest with me about the degree of invasion and total recovery time involved with said surgery. Three other Dr. Plastics were not so honest, but that is a conversation best saved for another post.
To move forward, I will first take you back… My love affair with dogs and rescue began at age six with Sheba: a wiry Terrier/and Lord knows what else mixed-breed my sister and I rescued along with several puppy siblings our neighbor was trying inhumanely euthanize. Life Lessons 101 began with this dog. A glimpse into the best and worst of human nature, the responsibility to care for creatures who need you (and eventually you mature enough to realize you need them more), the recognition that your actions, good or bad, always impact someone or something else, and a capacity to love and forgive beyond imagination.
When I was seven, my sister and I received Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for Christmas and within two days my sweet Sheba chewed the buttons off of Andy’s pants. I was afraid (unfounded) my parents would make me give her away for being bad so dug a hole in the frozen ground and buried Andy, willing to take the chance of being punished for ‘misplacing’ him vs. potentially losing a dog I already loved more than myself.
So what is it now? Why the crazy, over the top dedication to all things dog? First, it is the dogs themselves. My friend Paula says God never gives us a dog that isn’t meant us, and I believe her. I’ll start with Sasha, the beautiful senior who brought people into my life I love like family. People who enrich me and without whom I wouldn’t have had the mental and physical fortitude to survive last year. Sasha was my road buddy, a guard dog, and a sweet and gentle companion who introduced me to Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a breed I will always love and favor.
Royal, who I can’t think of without having tears fall from my eyes, was my Heart Dog. In less than two years this boy taught me more about myself than most other life experiences. One month after adopting him, I discovered he had an auto-immune disorder initially considered treatable. He was a young dog and because Layla and I loved him fiercely, I spent an insane amount of money over the course of two years to treat him medically and surgically. Crazy? Maybe, but he was my responsibility and I now believe God always had a plan for me through this dog. When I was diagnosed, I made a decision to not follow my instinct to go to OHI due to the financial commitment involved. I shared my decision with a friend, who looked at me in shock and asked how I could be “ok” with spending more money on my dog than I was willing to spend on myself. Perspective… I went to OHI, a life changing and I believe a life saving experience for me. I like to think Royal would have approved.
When Royal died, Layla and I were both lost. She grieved so strongly she ended up in the ER for four days. The vet said she had a broken heart (and an obstruction from obsessively eating grass/throwing up over and over and over due to stress) and recommended I bring another dog into the house. While I wasn’t ready for another dog I also wasn’t happy with the moping attitudes Layla and I were sharing. This is how Axel, the failed foster formerly known as Ray, came into our lives. Axel is my ‘ray’ of sunshine. He is sweet beyond measure and possesses so many characteristics of Royal I tell Layla God knew we still needed him and gave us a younger, healthier version of Royal in Axel. Axel is the dog who just wants to be with me. When I am down, he is the dog who lays his velvet head in my lap or lays along side of me and calms my spirit. Now, as I am healing he is the dog that refuses to walk on my right side forcing me to use the left arm damaged by surgery which I otherwise would favor. He makes me stronger.
And finally my Layla, my Sassy Pants, Bi-polar Satanic Baby, Princess (both good and evil), Little Monkey who I now know I need more than any other dog. Layla is the dog who will never let me stay down. She insists on a minimum of one outing and one training session every day. She is loud (part coon-hound), scary smart, and likely the funniest dog I will ever have. Layla is in the business of living life to the fullest, and she expects me to make it happen, every day.
The day I was officially diagnosed I came home, laid on the couch and sat there numb, tears streaming down my face not quite knowing what to do next. Axel came and licked my tears, crawling up on the couch and curling behind my legs. Not my Layla. She stood three feet away from me staring with a look of stern disgust. She didn’t care that I had cancer. We always go for a walk when I get home and this laying on the couch having a pity party for myself was not to be had! She barked at me, charged me, and when I yelled at her to go lay down she jumped on the couch and pawed at me until I was laughing so hard I got my butt off the couch and took the dogs for a two-hour walk. I felt refreshed, calm and didn’t cry about cancer again. Layla is in the business of living…
But it isn’t just these dogs. It is also the people they bring into my life. People who lift me up, support me, challenge me, and make this healing journey seem so much easier than it might actually be. My friend Jamie said of Celia (RR Rescue coordinator), a woman I admire, respect and love for her spirit, kindness and incredible selflessness: “I consider her closer to God than anyone I’ve ever met–her entire existence is spent serving those who can never thank her. The way I see it, Celia probably has major points with God and can put in a word for quick healing.” These are the kind of friends I want in my corner. I am blessed beyond measure to have dog people in my life. The generosity, sacrifice and day-to-day thoughtfulness my friends provide in support of my choices related to healing are humbling and amazing.
I could spend hours telling stories or writing books filled with what I’ve learned from my dogs; recounting heartbreaking loss, crazy adventure, protection and companionship provided, the sense of peace, joy, and episodes of side-splitting laughter my dogs bring to my life. When I am with my dogs I truly “live in the moment”. When we are running, hiking, or training, I don’t think about work, finances, the gazillion things that need to be checked off on my to-do list, or cancer. I feel closest to God when I am outside with the wind in my hair and sun on my face watching my dogs do what they do best: live, run and play with unadulterated joy and enthusiasm, excited about every sight, sound and smell, anticipating what is around the next corner, around a tree, or over a hill. This is how I always want to live my life.
Doctor: …Yes, that is what I mean. It will be at least a year and a half before you can run your dogs without causing damage to the surgical site.
Me: That’s not going to happen then. Being happy is part of healing and if I can’t run my dogs or have to ask for help to exercise them for a year and a half I would be miserable!
Doctor: I can’t believe you would rather run your dogs than save your own life!
Me: You don’t get it. Running my dogs does save my life.
With love to members of my “Medical Team”: Axel, Layla, Paula and Andy, Bart and Courtney, Henry and Gabriel, Kimberlee, Don and Betty, Jamie, Jana R, Kimberlee, Marcella, Rebecca, Alice, Jeanie, Beth, Bobby, Joni, Margie, Adrienne, Terri, Terry, Jamie, Neesa, Patrick, Celia, John and Kathy, Sandra, Amanda, Jana M, Kate, Lydia, Donald, Jon, Thomas, Jack, Julia, Shay, Jay, Kelly, every other trainer and person on staff at DogBoy’s Dog Ranch, Dr. Winsett (the one actual Doctor who supports my treatment 100%) and many other friends and my entire family who have always understood my love for all things DOG.