January 3rd

January 3rd is a special day for me. In 1995, a year after my diagnosis, my Grandpa Johns passed away. At the time of my diagnosis, his health was declining to the point; we thought he was going to die. During my initial hospitalization, my chaplain Fr. Ralko, was the only one to ask why my mom had a funeral planning book at my bedside. Apparently, the hospital staff assumed my mom thought I was dying and she was getting ready to plan my funeral. While everyone else made assumptions about my mom, Father Ralko asked questions. Mom explained that her father was extremely sick and close to the end of his life. She was getting ready to help her mom prepare for his funeral. Luckily, my grandpa recovered and lived another year.

Eight years later in 2003, I think Grandpa was listening. This was the first year I can remember making new years resolutions. I was determined to adopt a dog and train her to become a therapy dog. I think my grandpa must have heard because two days later on January 3rd, I met Velvet for the very first time. She had been in the shelter 2 months, was featured as the dog of the week, yet no one wanted her. I think my grandpa knew she was meant to be my dog and helped me find her.

I knew the moment I saw her sitting in a cage at the shelter she was going to be my dog. What I didn’t realize at the time was that she would change my life and the lives of so many people. Velvet was a people dog; she loved being around people. This attribute made her the perfect therapy dog. She came to work with me throughout her life, and I have countless stories of people she met and the lives she changed. But none stand out more than the day she met Max.

Shortly before she met Max, I heard the devastating news that Velvet had cancer. At the moment, I felt what my parents felt when I was diagnosed…my heart sunk. Velvet was 12 years old, surgery wasn’t an option, and I wasn’t going to put her through chemo, so I did the next best thing. I put her on doggie hospice. I didn’t know how much time I was going to have with her, she had a growing tumor in her chest that was already putting pressure on her heart and lungs, so I wanted to make every minute count. I took her out of retirement as a therapy dog, and started to bring her to work with me again. That is when I met Max.

Max had terminal cancer and loved dogs. I bought Velvet to visit him one day; when I told him Velvet was also dying of cancer, he said with a smile, “She’s just like me.” Her visit made a difference to him. She gave him one last opportunity to pet a dog and relate to someone. Cancer had connected the three of us, and I left work knowing Velvet and I had comforted Max. He died a few days later.

A few months later on January 3, 2015 I said good-bye to Velvet and sent her to Rainbow Bridge. Even though Grandpa wasn’t too fond of dogs, I know he met her there. I know he wanted to meet the dog that made me so happy. Velvet will never be forgotten. She wasn’t just a dog; she was my dog. Velvet was my family; my furry, four-legged, tail wagged best friend.

You can read more about Velvet and how her cancer diagnosis affected me and the people she met in Chapter 15 of my book: Faith, Hope and Cancer: The Journey of a Childhood Cancer Survivor.

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