This past month, King, Lily, and I have had the pleasure of spending time with our special friend Coco and her mom Michelle at our Bright Spot college campus therapy dog stress-relief events. It’s wonderful to see Coco doing so well. I asked if she would be willing to write a guest post for SayHelloSpot readers with an update on her incredible journey. Happily, she agreed.
When I wrote in March, I had recently received some good news: 1. The oncologist had discovered that the tumor in my lung had shrunk a bit. 2. My new sister, Betty, a black labradoodle puppy, had joined our family.
As you may remember, I have been on a journey with cancer since I was diagnosed in the early fall with osteosarcoma. Mom describes this “journey” as a roller coaster ride. There have been LOTS of emotional ups and downs for her. I am different – I just take it as it comes. I had my right front leg amputated in October, and was faced with new challenges. The first few months after amputation surgery were discouraging for Mom, as I tried different chemotherapies that were ineffective. A tumor emerged in one of my lungs. The chemotherapy was intended to slow the spread of the disease, but the tumor continued to grow.
Mom and I understand that metastasis is common – in 90% of osteosarcoma cases, even though there may be no signs of cancer anywhere else besides the bone where the primary tumor is discovered, there are micro-metastatic cells in the lungs. After the first few months of chemotherapy and the continuous growth of the tumor, I started an oral medication. The tumor in my lung stabilized and then began to shrink in size. At my last visit to the oncologist – I go each month – we learned that my tumor is approximately one-eighth the size it once was!
Several weeks ago, Mom had me fitted for some custom-made wheels (sort-of like a human wheel chair) to help me become more mobile. I enjoy putting them on and moving around in the back yard or going for short walks with Mom. Mom will tell you – and I don’t disagree – that I have never been overly energetic, but I do enjoy the new mobility I experience with the wheels. Being up on my wheels also helps strengthen my back legs, which is good. Mom would love for me to just run around the back yard in my wheels, but that will likely not happen – it wouldn’t have happened even if I still had four legs! Mom has learned to accept that I do things in my own way and in my own time. When I walk with her on the road, I stop often to sniff around and to watch children play. I love this time, and am in no hurry to go anywhere – I simply enjoy that I am up and moving. And that I am with Mom. Mom has learned to be in the moment and enjoy our time together, whatever that time is.
My new sister, Betty, immediately fit into the pack, playing and wrestling with Sophie, and snuggling with Sophie and me. Our older brother, Toby, who turns 14 in July, is growing accustomed to Betty and will chase her from time to time in an attempt to play. He is more tolerant of her exuberance and energy than he was initially, and her youthful spirit has rejuvenated him. We have all taught Betty several lessons that are important for her to understand: to respect her elders and understand her place in the pack, to recognize when we have had enough of her puppy play, how to stay within the boundaries of the Invisible Fence, and how to earn extra treats from Mom. Mom is hopeful that she will eventually take my place at the Robert E. Melican Middle School where I logged over 2000 hours working with students.
Mom has been bringing Betty to school with her once a week to work with the behavior specialist and guidance counselors. As you can imagine, the students and staff love Betty. They love her playful manner, but also enjoy that she settles down and provides comfort and support to them. Mom is fortunate – even though Betty is not a certified therapy dog yet, her school district has an Animals in the Schools Policy that permits Betty to attend. Even the superintendent of the ten-school district LOVES her!
Although I retired from my work at Mom’s school, I have continued my therapy work, attending some college de-stressor events. Mom and I have never been able to participate in these before this year because Mom would not take time off from work. She says I have helped her remember that life is short and unpredictable, and that it is well worth it to take time off here and there to achieve more balance in her life. I also participated in the Eric Carle Reading Program in April, and I hope to work some over the summer.
I feel extremely fortunate that the tumor in my lung continues to shrink. I understand that the disease is unpredictable and enjoy any “good” news we get. Mom continues to be a work in progress – I am trying to help her learn to live in the moment and to enjoy every second we have. I love my new sister, and am proud of the impact she has already had on the culture of Mom’s school.
Life will always have its ups and downs – what is important is how we celebrate the ups and manage the downs. I am helping Mom with perspective and balance, and am hopeful that she continues learning from me – believe me, she still has a ways to go! ~Coco