A woman cuddles her dog in her lap on the couch

Pets, Cancer, & Attitude Adjustments

This may sound like the most trivial, dumb thing I’ve ever said...but, my dogs are fighting and it just feels like the final straw.


Our pets, fur-babies, animals, family members are vital, vital, to our daily lives. At least mine are to me. A constant source of comfort and companionship, my dogs are my babies, as much a part of my life as any of my friends.

Who lays with me after chemo when I feel I can’t move? Who cuddles up next to me when I’m alone...or even when I’m not? My dogs do. My dogs are my most faithful companions, always there, always with love.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I love my dogs more than I like most people.

Life with metastatic breast cancer

Living with metastatic breast cancer, we tend to feel more bad than good. This is really a hard aspect of this life to try explaining to people. Sure, we may look great... in fact, chemo has my skin looking better than ever. Weird, but true.  

Physically? It is all I can do to make it through a workday. Making plans for after work has become an automatic no for me and weekends aren't much better. It is completely difficult, if not impossible, to make plans more than a week in advance. Having to cancel plans is even more disheartening than not making them to begin with. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that a majority of MBC patients spend a lot of time at home. And who do we curl up with for comfort at home? Our pets.

Now, I am an admitted animal rescuer. I feed every stray I see and am known to take in those that cannot be rehomed. Dogs, cats, rabbits, sometimes even guinea pigs or other critters. I am a bleeding heart animal lover. It pains me to see those ASPCA commercials on TV, the sad eyes of the pets left behind and unloved.

If I could, I'd buy some acreage and open an animal rescue to take them all. Of course, this is not feasible and living in a home filled with animals would not be safe or healthy for someone with a compromised immune system such as myself. You won't see me on an episode of Animal Hoarders just yet!

Pets and terminal cancer

So what does having pets have to do with having terminal cancer? Comfort. Stress relief. Companionship during the most isolating time in anyone's life.

I have three, small dogs. One of them, my oldest, has been with me since the week before my initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009, then at stage I. During my first round of chemo, my bilateral mastectomy, ten years ago, this dog never left my side. Not much has changed in that regard since.

Cancer is a very lonely disease. You realize quickly that life goes on around you while you are stuck in place, dealing with this really traumatic situation. Even those of us with the best support systems, often find ourselves alone - and that's okay. I would never want any of my friends or family to put their lives on hold.

I do, however, expect a certain level of understanding from them that in a lot of ways, my life is in stasis. Pets provide a certain level of companionship that we so desperately need and may not be able to get elsewhere.

Depression and MBC

When I say my dogs fighting feels like the final straw, what does that really mean? It doesn't have anything to do with my dogs exactly. After living with MBC for over five years now, I have found myself down a deep, dark, spiral of depression. This is not uncommon and I don't feel unique in this feeling.

In recent months, I have had health setbacks, I've lost some really close, truly phenomenal friends to this terrible illness, and it has been unbearably hard to cope with everything. I feel like I'm doggy paddling in a riptide, struggling to keep my head afloat. When I do leave the house, it's the mask I wear that people see. The smile doesn't reach my soul.

A temporary feeling

I know, for me, this is a temporary feeling. I have been here before and will likely be here again. You can't ride the cancer roller coaster and not dip into this dark space at times. For the time being, all I want to do is go home, sit on my couch with a book and a cup of tea, and curl up with my dogs.

But guess what? They are being jerks right now and I can't even enjoy that solace. For whatever reason (mercury is in retrograde, right?) they have decided now is the time to act like they are on a mission to destroy each other and it's exhausting. What is normally a comfort is just added anxiety, a flick of ash on dry brush.

Obviously, I will be waiting out the current derision until it blows over, but dang if it doesn’t feel like just one more thing to deal with right now.

Thankfully, I also have cats and they seem to love me right now. I'll be looking for some purr therapy as we all adjust our attitudes. Until they go back to being cat-ish and ignore me...silly human.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Saturday, September 12th, 2020, April Doyle passed away. We know that April’s advocacy efforts continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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