My Chemo Companion: Shirley the Hell Hound.

What might you think about while on death's bed?

I thought of the past and the future that I would miss. I thought of my boys and husband.  I categorized all the firsts that would slip by with me not in the picture:

college application acceptance letters
serious relationships

This list became my mantra. I couldn't write it down, couldn't bring my hand to lift the pen enough to to do so.  So, I spoke them in my mind's eye. I caressed them with tenderness and shed tears as  I went down the list. I hoped that God and the Universe would recognize that these simple attainable truths should not be denied in life and maybe grant me a pardon?

I became encased in thought and wrapped it around me as one would a blanket. Anything could have been on the television screen, and anything was. The Food Network was airing non-stop holiday baking competitions with food I'd forgotten how to chew and swallow. Ten days of "nothing by mouth," or so said the sign on my door had left me parched and frail.

I didn't think about my dog while chanting.  How could I? The parameters of logic and thought had started their own internal shenanigans.

But Shirley, my Cheagle, obviously hadn't forgotten me. Based on her behavior once I got home, I knew for certain that she'd thought about me and worried about me often.  We'd adopted her a few years back from an organization called, Dogs Without Borders.  She was a  rescue who picked us as much as we picked her. We'd seen a picture of her a week before we'd even began to ponder a life with a new dog. Our last one, Java was a lifer and she'd come into our lives and stayed in our lives for fifteen years. She'd died an old happy dog.  Shirley on the other hand had been unwanted. She was in a pen with ten other puppies, nipping at each other. Everything changed when she saw my boys-Harmon and Ely. She trotted over to them, settled on her hind paws and began to interact.

"Can we hold her?" Ely asked.

"Can we walk her?" Harmon demanded.

"Mom, I think this is the one!" They'd both said after fifteen minutes in her presence.

We then went through a formal interview process we'd been preparing for.  We shared a video of our house to prove that we had enough space, that she couldn't get out and hurt herself.  We signed paperwork that committed us to never putting her down or getting rid of her without contacting the organization. We agreed to give her organic food. It almost felt as though we were adopting a third child. At moments I wondered whether she was worth it...

December of 2016, I had no doubts that she was.

Who knew that she would become my chemo companion?

It was a few days before Christmas and our house was filled with loved ones-grandparents and uncles who refused to let the darkness damper my boy's holidays. They'd filled our house with great smelling food I couldn't stomach and laughter that I didn't know what to do with. I felt as though I was a "lifer" stuck in a temporary body. I felt as though I no longer fit.

All things normal, hurt: laughter, sitting, walking, thinking, talking.  There was a dull constant pain at all times except when Shirley found her way beside me.

Shirley sat in the middle of our living room as I limped in that first December evening after my release. I could barely walk without pain, shoulders slumped over, frail and trembling.  I stopped across from her and looked down, tears trickling down my face.

She looked into my eyes and whimpered a deep guttorial howl-cry. Many moans followed, of different sound ranges as if she was picking her words precisely to relay her devastation. She brought me back to reality, momentarily.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I didn't even say goodbye to you before I left."

She shouldn't have responded, but she did.  She didn't bark or howl as one would expect an animal to do. She didn't run around, tail hanging between her hind legs. She sat there on the floor and continued  the deepest conversation I'd had in fifteen days.  Moans, barks, and growls intermixed as she responded to my apology.

"I won't do it again. I won't leave without saying goodbye, I promise," I said, then added, "I am so sorry Shirley, I couldn't help it this last time."

My boys watched, taking it all in, aging a little more than they should have this year.

Then I let Ryan lead me to an arm chair where he eased me slowly down.  Shirley trotted quickly to my side and sat at my feet, watching me intently. I don't think she slept those first few days.  She didn't want to lose sight of me.

"Has she been like this the whole time?" I asked.

"Well, she hasn't been eating well," my mother said.

"She's been restless," my husband added.

I sighed.

I leaned my fingers down and let her thoroughly have her way with them. The saliva fest was for her. For me, it was enough being home with my family.

That night and for all the days to come she either sat beside me, pressed to my thigh as I wrote, or slept under my bed, where I would take long naps to get through the short days. It angered her when I'd go into the restroom or step onto the porch and not let her out.

She became my chemo companion. She rode my mood swings, energy level, anger, and frustration as though she were my personal therapist. If I sat in the shade of my avocado tree reading or writing, she monitored the front yard the entire time, sweeping from North to South and repeating it continuously until I retreated into the house.

And if I could talk back in a language she'd understand, all I would say is, "Thank you Shirley, for picking us as your family! Not sure I could've gone through this hell without my hound."


"The Eight Faces of Cancer" isn't simply a blog. It is a book that highlights the 8 chemo treatments and 8 faces that emerged along this path that have healed my mind and soul.  We are 5/8 of the way through both with treatments and book.

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