Monday, May 21, 2007

Playing favorites

Over the past five years I've spent working with dogs and their owners I've realized that there are just going to be those students that I favor over others. Any educator will tell you that it's a slippery slope to pick favorites but my educating experience is a bit different from other traditional teachers and professors in that my students are almost always under the age of five, they have four legs and a tail and are attached by a six foot leash to an adult who is usually over the age of 30.

There's one family in particular that comes to mind. For the past six months I've had the pleasure to work with a family that is just so damn... Nice. Yes, nice. Normally, I go out of my way to not use that word but this is one of those times when the word does not seem trite. The kids, a young girl and a boy, are sweet as can be. The wife and I swap baking recipes and the father sends me YouTube clips that he thinks I'll enjoy. Not to mention their kooky dog who makes me smile every time I see his silly face. Every member of this family of five (including the dog) has left a mark on me that I won't soon forget and I'm lucky enough to have them in another one of my classes right now. I care for this family. I care about what happens to them, right down to their crazy mixed breed rescue dog. They're good, kind people and I want to see them happy and successful, not just with their dog training but in every other aspect of their lives.

The other night after class the husband, lets call him "D", hung around to ask some questions. The week before (I found out through email correspondence with his wife) he was unable to attend class because he was with his mother, who has brain cancer, and I could tell he needed someone to talk to. So we talked long after class had ended. What started as a conversation between teacher and student, to make sure he wasn't screwing up his dog by running back and forth to his mother's home and running her to the hospital (therefore, spending far less time caring for and training his dog), became a therapy session between two people who have the unfortunate bond of shared experiences with cancer.

I told him that I had lost my mother three years ago to cancer and that, along with our short past as friends-with-dogs, was enough to get him to open up about his mother's illness.

His pain was so evident that it broke my heart. He knows that he only has a short amount of time with his mom and like most of us who have, or have had, a close relative or friend with cancer he's trying to work out in his head how he can juggle the pressure of helping his mom while still maintaining some normalcy in his life.

Like I said before D. is a good man, a nice man. Right now he's trying to be everything to everybody, but he can't and I'm sure that's tearing him up. He's doing as much as a man with a job, a wife, two kids, and a dog can do when faced with a parent who has this horrible disease, but I know that it never feels like enough.

Dealing with a loved one with cancer, especially when it gets to the end, means putting your life on hold. I didn't do that as much as I could have when my mother was dying (in my defense, I didn't know how quickly she was declining) but D. is and I made sure to tell him that his time spent with his mother and the love he is showing her are the best gifts he could give to her. Because you never know when the end is coming. You have to live today as if there is no tomorrow.

We both walked away that night happier that we found a connection to each other, but fighting back the tears that we were too tired to shed. I hope that a cure, a magical combination of chemotherapy treatments, will be found in time to save his mom, but if that doesn't happen I hope he'll be content with how he spent this time with her.

With the exception of a cure that's the best thing that any of us dealing with this disease can ask for.


Do you have a favorite? Charity, that is. If you do - great! - give as much as you can. Donate your time, not just your money. But if you don't yet have a favorite charity please consider helping the American Cancer Society (you Canadians can go here). Give what you can.

If you're like me and you hate sending a check to a faceless charity please take the time to attend just a portion of your local Relay for Life. The face of cancer is as diverse as the types of cancers that are out there, but so much more beautiful. I've written about the Relay for Life in the past, the indelible effect it had on me and the grace that comes from people sharing the bonds of life and survival but the Relay for Life is really something you need to experience for yourself to truly understand. It's a tight knit community that welcomes anyone that has been touched by cancer. You don't even have to have know anyone who has had cancer (I pray that you haven't but it seems everyone knows someone with cancer) you just have to want to help.

To find a Relay for Life close to you go here and type in your zip code, then attend. Show up. Be present. Buy a shirt or dedicate a luminaria to someone who has cancer, both those who are still fighting and those who lost their fight. Walk, even if you're not on a team. Arrive early for the survivor's lap and stay for the luminaria ceremony. Show those around you that you are happy they're alive and that you want to help with their fight. Your presence will be appreciated.

And I promise you your life will be changed.


Anonymous said...

I lost my Dad to leukemia back in 1999, but I actually starting walking in relays way before that - unfortunately for other family members and friends. It feels so good to walk.

Great post, hun. You really helped your new friend - God bless you!


Anonymous said...

Great post.

I lost my grandfather to cancer about 8 years ago and it still feels so fresh. It's so nice that you could be there for "D". Just too bad it was under such sad circumstances.

OhTheJoys said...

It's like you were meant to be in his life at this exact moment.

Sandra said...

Thanks for this post Mrs. Chicky. One of my very best friends works for the Canadian Cancer society and I am a regular and passionate supporter. Relay For Life is an excellent event ... thanks for sharing this and your friend's story.

Big hugs to you.

Magpie said...

Nice post. My mother has lung cancer, and my sister is doing Relay for Life for the second time.

karengreeners said...

I'm going to take what you just said, and keep it close, if that's ok with you.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Sigh. Yes, I know that feeling all too well. My dad died 3 months after my third child was born, and while I am so happy he met his first grandson, it fills me with anguish to think of all that he is missing due to this too-early death. Sadly, his death was almost a relief b/c he had been in so much pain for so long.

My soapbox is to ask everyone, esp those over 50 or who have a family history to get a colonoscopy. I will have my first this year. It is a small procedure that could literally save your life.

Julie Pippert said...

I have to be out of place funny for a minute: I read that first paragraph half a dozen times, utterly confused. Finally I got it; I realized you consider the DOGS your pupils. I don't think I ever met a trainer who thought of the dogs as the students...they always told me they were training *me.* It was apparently my job to train my dog. :) So forgive my lapse of comprehension. We joke that we had to repeat puppy kindergarten three times, LOL.

Okay. Done.

How wonderful you were there for him. What a confluence of events to make it so that you could be. Sometimes I feel this awe.

How tragic, though, that it had to be.

Very wise, very touching.

I usually do donate. I've spent every year except this last one (when I got caught in other volunteer projects) volunteering for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. My sister just ran the Race for the Cure.

But thank you for the reminder, all of it.

Girlplustwo said...

you are good people, madame chick. for many reasons.

Avalon said...

Mrs C~~ As ususal........beautiful. What appeared to be a post about training the family pooch took a wonderful turn into something much more.

I lost my beloved Grandmother to Cancer many years ago. I spent the 17 months from her diagnosis to her death spending as much memory-making time with her as possible. I have no regrets.

I think I may just strap on my shoes and join a relay.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful, touching post. I don't know why I always cry when I read posts about losing loved ones. I wish I could toughen up sometimes, but then again, it's nice to know I have feeling. Right?

I've been thinking of doing a walk/run marathon for the American Cancer Society. I think it would be good for me.

Lawyer Mama said...

Yup, the American Cancer Society is one of my favorite charities too. Uncle, liver cancer, 2000.

Lovely post, Ms. Chicky.

Bon said...

you done a good thing, there...just talking with that nice man in pain, and sharing a bit of it.

i've just started getting involved in the Run for the Cure over the past two years, and when the reminder came in the mail yesterday for this autumn's run, i actually considered starting to train and fundraise and do it up seriously, not just walk and call in favours from my extended family the week before. thanks for adding to the push. i may. i just may.

it's actually the running part that scares the living crap out of me. :)

Radioactive Tori said...

My friend and I did relay for life last year and are planning to do it again this year. I love that you are spreading the word!

Mad said...

My niece survived leukemia by having a bone marrow transplant at 3. She is now 16. Thanks for this post.

Jennifer said...

God bless your friend and his mother.

Beautiful post. Great links to very worthy causes.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Chicky - you did a good deed, you made a difference in the life of a friend. I'll be holding on to some hope for his mom, but like you said, hopefully he will have peace knowing he had the time with her.

I had no idea, but they're holding a relay within walking distance of my home! Very cool.

mommiebear2 said...

This was a great post - thanks!

Kara said...

Oh geez- I wasn't expecting you to make me cry, but here I am! crying!

I've never done Relay for Life, but Arwen and I ran a half marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training and Jenn (Mrs. Mig Dubya) and I are running the Komen 5K in Boston this fall. Both events were so powerful on so many levels and I second everything you say here.

Participate! If you're not a runner, they can help in so many other ways. Have extra time? Volunteer to help with planning and promotion. So stretched you can only spare a few hours? They always need help handing out water along the course.

Great post Chicky.

kittenpie said...

Oh, it's so good that he got to talk to you. I think the whole idea of support groups, talking to someone who really knows what you are going through, has great validity. Look at the mommybloggers and how they bond!

Sadly, when they discovered that my grandma was dying of cancer, she had a week. The thing that I am happiest about is that I got my mom on a flight the next day so that she could be by her side along with all her siblings and say goodbye to her, even if my sister and I didn't get there until a day too late.

ewe are here said...

I lost my dad to cancer in 2004, and my uncle is now fighting the same.damn.kind, a particularly rare kind, as I type. And they're not even blood-related which makes it particularly scary/depressing/strange.


May they develop better treatments for this horrible disease faster.

Unknown said...

Great post. Do you know most of our web site at my work are for the prevention of cancer?

Ruth Dynamite said...

You brought him much comfort, Mrs. Chicky, and I'm sure he'll never forget it.

Thanks for bringing all of this closer to our hearts and minds.