Friday, July 28, 2017

Coping With Cancer Gracefully-Lessons Learned From My Aging Dog

My last year with Cheri, a 16-year-old black Labrador retriever, was a difficult year. Her deafness progressed to the point where she couldn’t hear or respond to my voice. I began screaming at her, hoping my volume would penetrate her level of deafness. I came to the realization that screaming at Cheri contained elements of anger and frustration, which was inappropriate to the circumstances.
At first, I thought my reactions were due to the frustration and difficulty of trying to communicate with a dog that couldn’t hear me. It took almost a year to realize I didn’t like the changes that occurred in Cheri. I was equally unhappy, frustrated and angry about the changes that occurred in my own life post-surgery.
It became very clear to me that unless I learned how to treat Cheri kindly, there was no chance I’d learn to treat myself kindly. Therefore I became highly motivated to find a different way to communicate with Cheri. I needed to communicate in a way that involved kindness. Because her sense of smell was intact, I paired a gentle nudge with a piece of cheese by her nose.
When she’d get up to follow the scent she was rewarded with a piece of cheese. Eventually, Cheri would get up with a gentle nudge. We’d found a way to communicate!
Toby, our King Charles spaniel, found his own way to communicate with Cheri. If he wanted Cheri to come outside with him, he’d go to where she was lying down, sniff her and circle around her until she got up and followed him. I paired Toby’s behavior with a command and a treat. Eventually, I could tell Toby “Get Cheri,” and that’s exactly what he’d do. Finding one kind way to communicate, led to another.
In the process of learning to communicate with my deaf and partially blind dog, I discovered it’s a colossal waste of time, effort, and energy to rage against the inevitable changes that aging brought to Cheri — and that a prostatectomy brought to me. Making peace with the changes in Cheri’s life was the first step in making peace with the unwanted changes I experienced after prostate surgery.
If you’ve been treated for cancer, or you are the partner to someone treated for cancer, the odds are you’ve experienced more than one unwanted or unpleasant change.
Have you found kind, graceful and loving ways to cope with those unwanted changes? If so, would you share how you’ve done that? If you are stuck in negativity, I hope you’ll reach out to someone further along in the journey to find new ways to cope.
I never expected an aging dog would be my teacher.