In the months prior to my diagnosis, the Boyfriend and I had been discussing when it would be a good time to get a dog. One of the many reasons we had bought the house earlier that year was its double lot – perfect for a dog. For about five months after moving into the house, we devoted most of our time and energy into clearing up the backyard, which the previous owners apparently forgot was a part of their home. Weeds, years of un-raked leaves, literally garbage behind the detached garage, and so many “garbage” trees and a fence falling apart.
Once we got that all cleaned up, the next step was a dog. However, that fall, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Two months into my treatment – including the initial shock, lumpectomy and beginning chemotherapy, I had come to the conclusion: it’s not a good time to get a dog. I couldn’t see managing a dog, working full time and undergoing treatment for cancer. Even though I was working from home, I still thought it would be a terrible idea to get a dog.
When the Boyfriend called me from the local animal shelter in mid December because he couldn’t think of a Christmas gift for me and somehow found himself at this shelter, I didn’t protest at all. In fact, I forgot about all the reasons why I shouldn’t get a dog, and all I could think was:
The shelter named her Brandy Butter, but we named her Boomer, after a character on Battlestar Galactica. (Back story: when he and I first started dating, one of our favorite things to do when we hung out was watch this show together.)
Two days after we adopted Boomer, or she adopted us, my hair fell out. I vividly remember going into my bathroom, taking a pair of scissors, cutting off my shoulder-length hair because my scalp hurt like a mutha. I stared at my reflection (and a crazy-looking woman looked back) for a couple of moments, and then I said aloud, “Fuck it. Go downstairs and cuddle your puppy.”
During chemotherapy, Boomer wasn’t just a pet to me, she was a welcome distraction. Before we adopted the dog, my brain was pretty much all cancer, all the time. What if it’s really not Stage 1? What if I can’t withstand chemo? What if I go into anaphylaxis? What if this is just the beginning and will never end? When Boomer came into my life, I had to worry about her. Did she need to go outside? Is she hungry? Wait, it’s way too quiet – what shit is she chewing up?
Boomer was a positive light in a very dark time. Sometimes she tested the very little patience I had, but at the end of the day, she was a cuddle monster. She followed me around (like a puppy, har de har har) and when I was crying because I was positive I just couldn’t take any more treatment, Boomer would just stare at me, head tilted in worry.
Why so sad, Mom? You can just pet me, Mom? I’ll make it better.
Boomer was also something positive I could talk to friends and family about during treatment. I would tell them about my most recent treatment or surgery, but then I would tell them about the newest cutest thing the Boomer dog just did. My Facebook status updates were half cancer, half puppy shenanigans.
When I was recovering from chemo, Boomer was my reason to get outside and start walking. If it wasn’t for her, I would have stayed inside much more than I did. I’d get out of the house 45 minutes a day, or I’d take her to the dog park on the weekends. She kept me from becoming a complete shut-in during chemo and radiation.
After my double mastectomy, I was on FMLA leave for six weeks. Boomer kept me company while I slowly shuffled up and down my stairs and slept off my pain medication. We posed for selfies, we slept on the couch and we went to the dog park when I had to get out of the house.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have children and sometimes, I don’t know if I want to have any children. This might be the part where you think, “Oh great, she’s going to compare her dogs to children.” Nope, not in the slightest. Boomer and Mal are my beloved pets, and I adore them with everything I have. I’m going to take as good care of them as I can until death do us part. I love Mal, but Boomer is definitely special to me. Boomer is more than just a pet – she’s the creature that got me through two of the roughest years of my life. She was my lifeline during treatment.