Dogs running obstacle course.

Living Life After a Cancer Diagnosis

I have two dogs. One white. One black. One female. One male. As different from one another as night and day. But, I consider them both lifesavers.

Not compromising for cancer

When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, my oncologist asked me if I had any questions. I said, "Yes, can I continue to play agility with my dogs?" He was dumbfounded. I think he had never gotten such a question from someone who had just received what could have been (and he thought was) a death sentence.

He looked at me oddly for a moment and finally answered, "Well, yes. If you feel like it, by all means." That's all I needed to hear.

Living despite my diagnosis

Before I was diagnosed, I was on the agility field at least three nights a week and nearly always on both days of the weekend. I never played a sport I enjoyed more. I had made a truckload of great friends and there's little I enjoy as much as spending time with my dogs.

So, when I was given permission to continue living my life as before, I rejoiced. I don't think my doctor expected me to be able to do it. In fact, he expected me to be dead within four months.

I couldn't always make it to agility practice after work. Chemo took a toll on me, the same as it does on so many. But, we made it out to the field more than most would have expected. I might not have been able to run as long or as far as I could pre-chemo, but we managed to get at least a bit of a workout in.

I continued to sign up for weekend trials. We couldn't always make them, but it wasn't too long before I knew that I was likely to be too sick to go the weekend after chemo, but that the following two weekends would probably be okay.

Donna's dogs, Barney and Cotton.

Donna's dogs, Barney and Cotton

Barney and Cotton

One of my dogs, Barney, a Sheltie, is a wonderful agility dog. He loves the sport. More than that, he loves to please me. It warmed my heart to be with him out on the field and see him trying as hard as he knows how to try to do just what I wanted him to do. We continued to earn qualifying scores, despite the fact that I was weaker and sicker than before. If you'd like to see our first run just weeks after I started chemo, you can watch it here.

Cotton is an Eskie, a dog who is as independent as I am. She is as smart as any dog I have ever owned or been around. And she loves to have fun - her kind of fun. She loves agility, but not so that she can please me. Nope, she loves it for the pure joy of running around the course, as fast as the wind, without regard to what I want her to do! She may not earn qualifying scores, but she reaches the finish line with her tail held high and a big, big smile on her face. I can't help but smile back at her!

My dogs, my lifesavers

So, that's all fine and good, you say, but how does that make them your lifesavers, you ask. There are two reasons:

  1. I continued to live my life. Agility requires a lot of physical activity from both the handler and the dog. So, I got up off of the couch even when I didn't feel like it and I got much-needed exercise.
  2. It gave me hope. I felt like I was still alive when I was out on the agility field. I didn't think about cancer. I thought about getting my dogs around the obstacle course.

You may not play agility. Dogs may not be your passion. But, I encourage you to find yours. And, despite your cancer diagnosis, pursue it with gusto.

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