Loving Pets During Cancer

pets during cancer

Today we hear from Johnny again!  He is a 2x time brain cancer survivor, filmmaker, and new author.  To read Johnny’s other post, go here.

Mom wasn’t happy when Dad and I marched through the backyard fence with smirks on our faces and white shirts we markered with big black spots, followed by our new Dalmatian, Bell. Mom didn’t want another dog; she was too heartbroken when the last one died and didn’t want to have to go through that again. While we hated when Bell would wag her tail and knock things over or shove her wet snout in our faces, and were ripped apart when she ultimately passed, relationships with animals are special in a sort of magical way. We had two more dogs, two hamsters, and a ridiculously large and lovable cat named Mr. Mischief.

My life hit a hard wall when I was 12. Within a week of finding out I had a nasty ball of toxic cells mushrooming on my cerebellum, I had surgery and was diagnosed with a deadly brain cancer, medulloblastoma. Seventh grade had just begun, and I was to undergo a year of radiation and chemotherapy. Teenage life is a rollercoaster in itself. Your body is going through changes and your heart and mind are transforming. So it wasn’t easy when I came back to town, skinny and bald, sporting some greenish-yellow, Simpson-esque skin.

When the rollercoaster of life dips to such a deep and intense level, things change. I thank God that my rollercoaster eventually yoyoed me back up into life and chucked me out with a new perspective. Things had indeed changed. The air was clearer, and my overall sense of life was more potent. However, people’s unconscious body language spoke to me more loudly. The distance between my life and the lives of healthy people seemed to grow. When a person hobbles through the subway doors on crutches, people immediately understand what’s up and step aside. It’s not as obvious when you’re a cancer survivor. While I was in many ways just as disabled as a lot of folks with wheelchairs or crutches, no one could see that. Friends and family would be sweet and try to understand, but they couldn’t. The isolation was overwhelming.

During the summer after that bout with cancer, I clearly remember sitting on the little red love seat in a small TV room of our old house and being really, really sad. My hands lay lifeless on my knees and my sniffles quickly turned into a compulsive cry of loneliness. I heard a creak around the corner of the doorway. I looked up with rolling tears, and there was Mr. Mischief. He waddled up as fast as he could, hopped in my lap, and started purring while lifting his paw to my chest. While I’m sure Bell and Mr. Mischief didn’t assess my hemoglobin levels and determine the most effective direction in which to lob their tongues at my face, they had something that no other creature had. Those animals showed me something I needed: absolute, unconditional love and understanding. They were the ones that looked at me with the same smile and the same joy as they did before cancer. Though both of them have long since passed, I’ll never forget their impact on my journey through this crazy life. Cancer taught me to be tough, my family taught me to live, and my pets taught me how to see through veils of self-consciousness and love unconditionally.

Thank you for sharing more of your story with us today, Johnny!  Interested in writing with Lacuna Loft? Email info@lacunaloft.org and we’ll send you details!