Pets Can Help Patients and Caregivers Cope with Mesothelioma
- Cancer & Caregiving
- July 18, 2013
Advances in medicine over the years have resulted in a plethora of pharmaceutical drugs to treat any physical or emotional pain we may experience.
Thankfully, this allows many people to live longer and enjoy a much better quality of life.
There is, however, another type of “medicine” available that works alongside mainstream medical practices and has been helping to improve the quality of people’s lives for a very long time.
This “medicine” needs no prescription, can be taken as often as needed and never fails to make us feel better.
And the medicine is — the unconditional love of a pet.
The Best Kind of Medicine
For most of us, there has been a pet of one kind or another sharing our lives at some point. And it would be hard for us to imagine what life would be like without them.
Pets are wonderful to be around and have such a happy disposition that our spirits are lifted simply by being in their company.
This is especially true when a family is dealing with mesothelioma or another type of cancer.
No one wants to think about cancer all of the time, and a pet can provide a wonderful diversion for both the cancer patient and the caregiver.
If you don’t own a pet, I highly recommend that you consider adopting one into your family — and into your heart.
Choosing the Pet that is Right for You
The type of pet you choose will depend on your personal preference, your living arrangements and your ability to provide the level of care they will need.
Thankfully, there are many types of animals to choose from and a pet can be found to suit everyone. The good thing is, that no matter what type of pet you choose the benefits they bring will remain the same.
Benefits of Having a Pet
- Unconditional love: Pets love you no matter how you are feeling.
- Companionship: Pets want to be with you.
- Comfort: Stroking your pet makes you feel good and is very relaxing.
- Diversion: Pets take your mind off cancer.
- Routine: Pets need to be fed and looked after each day.
- Fun: Pets are fun to be around, and their antics make you laugh.
- Exercise: Playing with your pet or taking them for a walk can provide enjoyable exercise.
Pets also give you something good to talk about, and you can share stories of all the fun things they do with your family and friends.
Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend
Personally, I am a dog lover, and over the years I have been blessed with the companionship of a number of these beautiful creatures.
Any dog lover will agree that dogs are a bundle of unconditional love. They bounce, jump or walk into our lives — and into our hearts — with the pure abandonment of a child.
Perhaps this is why many of us are devoted to them and treat them just as we would treat one of our own children. In a sense, they are like children — as they are totally reliant on us for their nourishment, care and protection.
But this does not mean that the devotion is one-sided; dogs care for us, too, and will risk their lives to protect us. They are incredibly intuitive creatures who seem to know what mood we are in and alter their behavior accordingly — sitting quietly beside us when we are not feeling well, or bounding around wanting a game if they sense we are up to it.
The beautiful thing is, no matter how we are feeling, they love us just as we are and make this obvious with every movement of their body.
How My Dogs Helped
When my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, we had a beautiful Staffy cross red heeler named Ben.
He had been with us for more than 10 years and was my constant companion.
Ben and I shared a special bond, and he seemed to know when I needed him the most. First thing every morning, he would come into my room to greet me, and we had a little ritual that we did every day.
I would sit on the edge of the bed and say to him, “Give me a hug.” He would then sit up on his haunches, place a paw on each of my shoulders and nuzzle my neck. This always warmed my heart and alleviated any stress I had woken up with.
Ben’s presence during the day was also a comfort to me, as he was never far from my side. As soon as I sat down, he would come to sit beside me. He loved to be stroked, and I found equal enjoyment in his response to it. Ben was also close to Brian and loved to be petted by him as well.
A New Bundle of Joy
About seven months before Brian passed away, we decided to find another dog to keep Ben company, and shortly afterward, a little brown and white Jack Russell terrier came into our lives. He was just 6 weeks old, and we named him Rufus.
It didn’t take long for us discover that Jack Russells are extremely energetic and playful little dogs who need a lot of attention, but this turned out to be exactly what we all needed.
Rufus was a little live wire, full of fun and quick to learn new tricks. This created a great diversion for all of us, and it was hard not to smile when he was around. Best of all, he made us laugh, which was a blessing.
Ben also found great enjoyment in having Rufus around and never tired of playing with him and teaching him what dogs do. Though both male, they got along famously and soon became inseparable.
Despite his boundless energy, Rufus did enjoy some quiet times, and these were usually spent on Brian’s lap being stroked to his heart’s content. Brian adored him and was so relaxed and happy in his company. I loved to watch them together and was so thankful that we had brought this little bundle of joy into our lives.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ben and Rufus, our beautiful, loyal and loving companions, helped both Brian and me during Brian’s illness. And they were also a great comfort to me after Brian died.
Companionship and Unconditional Love
I had the pleasure of Ben’s company for another seven years after Brian passed away. He was 17 when he died, which is a long life for a dog — but not long enough for me. I miss him terribly.
Thankfully, Rufus is still with me. At 12 years of age, he is a little quieter than in his youth but still has lots of energy. He now has another Jack Russell named Jack to keep him company.
Having two Jack Russells to care for keeps me on my toes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rufus, Jack and I are equally devoted to one another, and they take advantage of this by jumping up on my lap for a cuddle each night in front of the television.
Though this does not leave me much room on the couch, I cannot refuse them — nor the pleasure I receive from having them so near.
I wouldn’t be without my “pet medicine” and feel truly blessed to have the companionship and unconditional love of my two little dogs.
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Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net.