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pug with bladder cancer ribbon in mouth

My Cancer Companion

Three months before I was diagnosed with high-grade bladder cancer, we decided to get a dog.

Adopting a dog for my son

At the time, we had no idea cancer was in our future, nor did we have any idea what a lifeline he would be to me when the diagnosis came. We decided to adopt because my then three-year-old was terrified of dogs, and could barely be in the same room with one without bursting into tears. When we discovered that Tang Tang was up for adoption – an elderly pug who had been trained as a therapy dog – we snatched him up fast, hoping exposure to a dog that didn’t lick, bark, or bite would help him overcome his phobia.

Tang Tang was wonderful from the start: Well-mannered and fully housebroken, he was content to spend the day sleeping or sit on your lap, breathing loudly and letting himself be pet. Whenever the kids were sent to time out, or started crying from some childhood squabble, he would sit next to them patiently until they calmed down. And while my youngest still isn’t a huge fan of dogs, he learned to tolerate Tang Tang and even petted him ever so often – a huge accomplishment for him.

My cancer diagnosis

Three months after we adopted Tang Tang, I came home from the doctor’s office and sprawled out on my couch, sobbing inconsolably. I didn’t know much about bladder cancer, and I probably wouldn’t have been as devastated had I known that the survival rate for non-invasive bladder cancer that hasn’t metastasized is a stunning 96 percent.1 All I knew was that I was twenty-nine, had two young children, and had a cancer diagnosis. True to his character, Tang saw that I was upset and sat next to me dutifully.

His calming presence

Between my first cystoscopy and the TURBT, I spent two weeks agonizing over the future – what my treatment would be like, whether the surgery would be successful, whether I’d live or leave my children motherless. Amazingly, Tang never left my side. Whether I was crying on the couch, laying in bed, or in the kitchen making some herbal tea to soothe my nerves (yes, I was very dramatic. An anxiety disorder tends to do that to you), he sat on top of my feet or lay directly on my chest like a fluffy, weighted blanket. The constant, gentle pressure calmed me. And his smushed little face cheered me up despite everything.

Therapy dogs and cancer

As I researched my cancer, I researched cancer-related therapies as well, and I was not at all surprised to find that therapy dogs are a common sight in cancer centers, interacting with the patients and helping them cope.2 And although pets can sometimes pose a risk for people on chemotherapy, who have lowered immunity, they are generally considered beneficial.3 Therapy dogs have been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone.” From personal experience, I can attest to those benefits.

Providing me comfort through each step

Tang provided me comfort through every doctor’s appointment, every cystoscopy, every hospitalization, every bladder spasm, every panic attack. When Tang died eighteen months later after a surgical complication, I was devastated – but I was also flooded with a deep feeling of peace and acceptance. Tang had dropped into our lives with such auspicious timing and had been there for me for some of the most frightening months of my life. Now that they were behind me, it seemed fitting that his spirit would move on somewhere else for another assignment.

We had gotten the dog for my son, but the Universe, in Her wisdom, gave me exactly what I needed.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Bladder Cancer - Statistics. Cancer.Net. Published March 20, 2018. Accessed September 28, 2018.
  2. Ways Dogs Ease Cancer Treatment. WebMD. Accessed September 28, 2018.
  3. Is It Safe to Keep My Pet While I'm Being Treated for Cancer? American Cancer Society. Accessed September 28, 2018.