Fostering a Shared Humanity

We recently bid a tearful farewell our beloved Labrador Retriever, Charlie. It’s been a very rough loss. He was just a young pup when I was first diagnosed with cancer back in 2003, and he was eleven years old when my cancer returned after almost eleven years of dormancy.

Throughout the worst of the initial chemo treatments I received, Charlie’s intuitive concern was a tremendous comfort to me in a way I can’t even begin to express in words. He hovered close on the darkest of days. His unspoken devotion was more meaningful to me than any form of written expression.

I knew from all the statistical data of my medical diagnosis that Charlie would very likely outlive me. But, as it turned out, the ‘Emperor of All Maladies’ (cancer) silently and aggressively claimed his life before any of us were prepared to say goodbye. In my effort to stay steady, especially in the presence of my hubby and our daughter who has been at home these past several months, I’ve managed to keep myself ‘together’ pretty well, as they grieved their own profound sense of loss. We all miss him so much. But the ache in my heart remains substantial. And the quietness of the house…well, it’s become an uninvited guest that I’m ready to boot out.

So, in my effort to look forward, I’ve turned my attention towards the search for our next pup. Of course, with the high standards that Charlie set, this makes the due diligence somewhat more intensive.

I’ve researched purebreds and breeders, and I’ve researched rescues too, of all kinds. Hubby and I stopped by the local animal shelter and filled out an application. We looked at the many dogs already there awaiting for their forever homes. 95% were either Chihuahua types, terrier crosses or Pit Bull hybrids. None seemed a good match for us.

I spoke at length with the founder of a German Shepherd rescue group, who happens to live just a few blocks away. As convincing as he was to consider bringing a Shepherd into our home, a rescue leaves me very wary…especially given that we have young grandchildren to consider.

So, while clicking around on the internet to consider all angles, I came across a kennel in neighboring Sonoma County that raises AKC quality English Labrador Retrievers, both for show and hunting, as well as for service dog temperament and trainability. But, what really caught my eye on this particular website was their fostering program.

After careful review, I contacted the kennel owner and arranged a visit.  We spent an hour there, learning about her breeding program, her training methods, her fostering families, her lengthy wait list for those simply purchasing a pup.  We met her on-site breeding dogs, we played with the most adorable puppies and left feeling very happy.

Here’s how it works:

The owner of the kennel selects a female pup for the continuation of high quality breeding standards, and rather than keep that pup in the kennel environment, the pup is placed with a loving family. (Studies have shown that happy well cared for dogs produce healthier litters.)

When the pup is one year old, confirmation through x-rays and blood work will determine that she is sound genetically to produce high quality litters. The breeding process and the whelping process are managed by the kennel, so the pup is away from the foster family for ten days or so initially (when she comes into season), then again for five to six weeks during the whelping period. Aside from that time away, she is home with the fostering family as a beloved pet.

Here’s the BEST part though: From the litters she will produce, one special pup will be donated to a recipient in need of a therapy dog…a soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD, a child with autism, someone who is hearing impaired. As the foster family, we get to help choose who that recipient will be.

Now, that just warms my heart…perhaps because the holiday season is upon us.  But the opportunity to help someone in need is so compelling in this way.

So as to leave no stone unturned, I’ve reached out to other foster families who have all given heartwarming reviews of this breeder and her dogs.  And, a local vet who worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind over the course of ten years also gave this kennel an outstanding endorsement.

Yes, raising a puppy will be work, but so is pretty much anything that’s really worth doing, is it not?

And once she’s had her third litter, she will be “retired”…she’ll be spayed and the best part: she’ll be ours permanently. The breeder also gives us the option of a parting gift: a free puppy from that 3rd litter. Gee, any bets on what we decide there?

I’ve not yet signed the contractual agreement for fostering but that will be done ceremoniously on Thanksgiving Day, which is just days from now.

For me, it can’t get here fast enough. I am more than ready to detach from the talking heads and divisive rhetoric on social media, and instead foster a season of holidays that asks us to reflect on the blessings that are inherent in our own lives.

Hopes and dreams, compassion, and heart; they all weave each one of us together in our shared humanity.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

(Charlie at 10 weeks old)

charlie-10-weeks

Jingle Bells, Cancer Dwells

jingle bells

JINGLE BELLS, CANCER DWELLS

CHEMO ALL THE WAY…

OH, WHAT FUN IT IS TO HIDE

IN A WIG THAT’S ‘TINA FEY’, HEY!

JINGLE BELLS, HOLIDAY SPELLS,

SIDE EFFECTS GONE AWRY.

FINGERS AND TOES, CAN’T FEEL THOSE,

AND MY NAILS ARE GONNA DIE.

TASTE BUDS ALL BUT DEAD,

NOT ONE HAIR ON MY HEAD,

A CONSTANT RUNNY NOSE,

AND THAT’S NOT ALL OF THOSE…

EYES THAT WATER NON-STOP,

RASHES THAT BURN AND POP,

WEIRD STUFF THAT KEEPS HAPPENING…

IT’S ENOUGH TO JUST YELL “STOP!

Ohhhhhh JINGLE BELLS, HER-2 CELLS

MUTATING RIGHT ALONG.

YOU CAN’T FOOL ME,

‘CAUSE I’M ON IT, SEE?

BANISH YE! BE GONE!

CANCER SUCKS,

BUT LIKE THE OREGON DUCKS,

I’M FIGHTING FOR THE WIN.

AND WHATEVER IT TAKES,

I’LL NAVIGATE…

BECAUSE YOU CAN COUNT ME IN.

HO HO HO!   Well, it’s been a long stretch of silence on this blog, five straight weeks. During much of that time, I’ve had to lay low. Not because cancer has tripped me up, but because something as simple as the common cold seized me in a way that made me think I was in the grips of the Christmas Grinch.

It wreaked so much havoc that it depleted my energy to the point where I was mostly useless. Sure, I understand that cancer drugs reduce my ability to fight off infections and even the common cold can be monstrous…but the timing on this was just downright rotten. It stole precious time from me that I wanted to be able to spend with my daughter, who isn’t home much throughout the year. She arrived to spend time in between jobs, and for three of the four weeks she was here, I was sick. Too sick to do ANYTHING but hang at home and rest. Boy, it was so frustrating for me.

She arrived the day before my fourth round of chemo, and kept me company as I sat in the infusion chair for almost four straight hours. She took it all in, observing the somber mood of those around us, noting that one in particular must have been close to her in age, and far too young to be dealing with cancer and chemotherapy.  She stayed close, and watched as the drugs dripped their magic into my Portia.  Three weeks later, she came along with me to my fifth chemo (which I coughed incessantly throughout).  That happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, which meant that I couldn’t eat much on Thanksgiving Day, which really wasn’t a problem since I can’t taste anything anyhow. But our family was together for our first holiday in our new home, so that in and of itself was very special. There were eight of us: both our boys, their wives, our grandson (who, at two and a half years old, is already a great spirit booster), and of course our daughter.  The weather was wonderful and we spent time playing a family round of golf using rubber golf balls and hitting to pins that hubby and sons set up all over the property. Then there was a brief game of lacrosse that followed.   It was a Thanksgiving wrapped in blessings. We’ve always been a close knit bunch, and I’ve never taken that for granted. Our great fortune has been that we’ve somehow managed to raise three children that have found their wings and soared. It’s every parent’s dream, and knowing that our dream has been realized brings a joy that knows no bounds.  I ask you, what more could a parent want?

It was a weepy farewell as children returned to their far away homes at the end of the holiday weekend.  Chemo round six is coming up on December 19th …just in time for the Christmas holiday.  And that leaves me thinking that this song needs just a brief second verse:

DASHING TO THE LAB,

FINGER POKED WITH A STAB.

LAUGHING ALL THE WAY

AS BLOOD COUNTS SWING AND SWAY.

BELLS ON CHEMO BRAIN RING,

MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT.

IT’S A TRICK TO NAVIGATE

THIS JOURNEY I’M ON, EVERY NIGHT.

 ♦

Ohhhh, JINGLE BELLS, CANCER CELLS

LURKING ALL ALONG.

CAN’T FOOL ME!

I’M ON IT, SEE?

BANISH YE! BE GONE!

 ♦

CANCER SUCKS,

BUT LIKE THE OREGON DUCKS

I’M FIGHTING FOR THE WIN.

WHATEVER IT TAKES,

I’LL NAVIGATE…

‘CAUSE YOU CAN COUNT ME IN!

 ♦

VIEW FROM TOP OF OUR PROPERTY

 FROM OUR HOME TO YOURS, BLESSINGS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!

On This Thanksgiving Eve: a reflection on cancer

Spread your wings and learn to fly!

Spread your wings and learn to fly!

On the eve of this Thanksgiving, it will be exactly ten years since I was diagnosed with cancer.  I am so blessed to have had the love of my family, the support of my friends, and the perspective that has allowed me to simply move forward, without questioning why.  It just seems to me that the ‘WHY’ isn’t all that important.  It’s the ‘NOW WHAT’  that determines where the future leads, and sometimes that too has tremendous unpredictability.

Like the skies above, life has the kind of turbulence that you can’t see coming, not with the naked eye.  As mere mortals, it’s our job to spread our wings and fly, even when a sound landing isn’t guaranteed.  I recently blogged about my own journey, and how when faced with decisions hard to fathom, I found the inner focus to simply do what was necessary to steal my own health back.

On this very special Thanksgiving Eve, I wish you all the blessings of good health, valued friendships, and a loving hand to hold onto if your life journey takes an unexpected turn.  And, most importantly,  I thank you for being my friend…I treasure each and every one of you.

Don’t Look Back

 

pathIt was startling to find, and difficult to confirm. Even though my doctor told me the imagery was clear, I knew that there was something amiss. To appease me, she sent me on for an ultrasound. I had to wait four more weeks to get the appointment, scheduled for late November. And it was there that the radiologist decided to err on the side of caution, taking six core samples to be sent off for biopsy.

Prepping my dinner table the eve before Thanksgiving, I took a call from the hospital. Pathology results were in.

It was a Thanksgiving of blessings.  Gazing at the faces of my many loved ones, I formulated a plan: take whatever steps necessary to steal my good health back.

I had surgery two weeks later, expecting eight full weeks of radiation to follow.  But pathology from surgery showed more problems…the margins weren’t clean. Malignant cells had been left behind.

Back to surgery one more time, this one scheduled for Christmas Eve.  My surgeon felt it was important to move quickly, so the holiday took a back seat.

Christmas Day was a day of blessings. Looking at the faces of my children gathered around me, I saw the road ahead with acute clarity. I expedited the healing process.

New Years Eve I took at call in the last hours of daylight.  My surgeon identified herself by her first name.  It took me a moment to understand, but then in an instant, I got it.

My husband wasn’t yet home from work, so I reached him on his cell phone to suggest we meet up at a local spot for a festive drink together.  Let’s ring in the New Year a few hours early, I suggested.

The pub was packed with revelers, all in good cheer as they sat at tiny tables sharing appetizers and raucous laughter together.  Spotting a quiet corner, I grabbed a newly vacated table for two and waited for his arrival.

His eyes lit up when he spotted me.  We spent two hours talking about a thousand things, as we’d always done throughout our twenty-five years of partnership together. I waited until he was finishing his third glass of wine before I broke the news.

With an incredulous stare, he struggled to retain emotional control. I reached across the small table and held his hands firmly in my own. Listen to me, I said.  I’ll get through this.  It’s doable…it’s just body parts. I can live without body parts.

Sometimes the most unexpected journeys teach you the most profound lessons.  For example, if you simply keep your eye on the horizon, you can travel just one day at a time. By doing so, statistics on travel time become irrelevant because the only timeline you’re on is the one you choose to manage.

The horizon is always there…just waiting for you to arrive, no matter how long the journey. Don’t look back and most certainly don’t look down.