I am so fortunate to have had my hearing ear dog, Sita, by my side for eleven years. Not only has this marvelous creature changed my life and made me feel safe by alerting me to noises, but her warm and sweet personality have guided me on my cancer journey. One of the lessons she has taught is how to take naps gracefully!
I have been battling cancer for over eight years now. Sita is around 14 years old, which is unusual for a larger dog like a yellow lab. I also have an adorable little black rescue kitty named Cesar, who is 10. I tell them we are all getting older together!
As any cancer survivor, who has been on any kind of treatment knows, fatigue is an unavoidable side effect. When one has been on chemo as many years as I have, the fatigue keeps increasing rather than decreasing. The cancer also causes one to be tired, and for someone with an incurable cancer, the tiredness never leaves.
When I was first given my service dog, I was working two jobs and we would both be gone for hours at a time. My mother was still alive and we would go out to eat with her afterwards, often getting home at 11:00 at night. After my mother passed – she died a year after I got Sita – we would go to a local playground where Sita would run and run. She would sniff and smell and walk all over while I laughed delightedly watching her. I even purchased a blinking collar so I could see her in the dark.
I also enjoyed hiking over the playground and just being outside in the rain and snow and sun. Sita met another dog, a gorgeous black lab named Max, at the playground, and they would frolic together almost every day.
The years went on and life changed dramatically for us. I was diagnosed with cancer and on constant chemo, since it is a blood cancer. I quit one job and then the other as I became weaker. Sita walked less and less as she aged, until she developed arthritis and had elbow surgery.
Sita is now content to go out every day, have lunch at a local restaurant, especially on a patio when weather permits, and go home to her special arthritic bed. Meanwhile I have developed neuropathy from the chemo and we both have to be careful on stairs. We are a sight going up and down together as a couple of “old girls.”
Meanwhile, Cesar used to tear around my apartment and actually broke a couple of lamps! Now he goes out on the patio in the sun, or stays inside when it is cold, and lays on his condo (or my bed) for hours.
When the fatigue hits seemingly out of nowhere, and I cannot move any longer, I go to my bedroom. Cesar curls up between my legs. Sita lies on her huge bed at the bottom of mine and we all nap together.
They obviously feel no guilt or pangs of conscience that they should be doing more like I often do. Sita has served me as a service dog for 11 years, when the average length of time for a dog to serve is 6-8 years. She knows her job is almost finished, and it is time to rest. Cesar also knows he is not any younger. They both accept age with grace and dignity. I am older and have cancer! If only I could do the same and not feel quite so guilty. Deep down I know I should! Animals can be smarter than people and we can learn from them.
Excuse me – we are all going to take naps now!