Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Healing Power of Pets

Three months elapsed between when I first noticed a problem with my breast and my cancer diagnosis.

April - Noticed my breast had changed shape...went to my gynecologist...had mammogram and breast son, Derrick, asks me to adopt a homeless, too many pets already.

May - First needle biopsy...negative unhappy, orders an MRI...Derrick begs me to take still unadopted kitten.

June - MRI suspicious...second needle biopsy....Derrick brings home kitten curled up in his backpack....I fall in love.

Dusty's first picture

July - Cancer diagnosis...sentinel node biopsy...kitten owns my heart.

Dusty fit right in with our two cats. They bathed and cuddled with her, treated her like they'd given birth to her..weird since they were both male. She took to me instantly, wanting to be held, always on my lap if I was sitting, always under my feet if I wasn't. At night she slept beneath the covers curled up against my stomach.  She seemed to know that I needed her as much as she needed me.

I think of her as my cancer kitty, a little gift from God. When I listened to her soft purr and stroked her fur I was reminded that everything would be okay and in time I would be well. During the months of Chemotherapy she gave me great comfort. By the end of the grueling treatments, I spent most of my days on the couch sleeping, watching movies, or crocheting while Dusty perched near me batting at or chewing the yarn ball.

Sometimes my other two cats paid a visit and I've have three warm bodies stretched over my legs and stomach.
Harry and Domino

Oh yes, we have a dog too, an Australian Cattle Dog. He'd check on me then go to his spot on the floor at the end of the couch.


As much as I loved my other animals, Dusty was special. She still follows me upstairs every night, meowing and purring until I settle down in the bed. She weasels her way under the covers and nibbles at my fingertips until she's bored. By the time Todd is in the bed and we are asleep, she's settled into her favorite spot near my feet.

When I see how much she's grown I'm reminded that two years have passed. I am well and she is part of the reason. Science has shown that caring for a pet is therapeutic for people with chronic illness. I didn't know it then, but when I'd pet Dusty or my other animals my body released oxytocin, the same hormone released when a woman breastfeeds her child. This helped me to feel relaxed and promoted a sense of peace and well-being.

Dusty all grown up

I found a wonderful article on NPR. In the audio interview, Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says, "Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body's ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can  be healthier."

I certainly needed a boost to my body's ability to grow new cells. Thank you to my pets, especially my Dusty, for helping me in my time of need. It's a win/win situation for people with pets, even if neither of you are sick. Loving an animal who loves us back (unconditionally) is tremendously soothing. We can all benefit from that!

Here is a group of children from my hometown in Northeast Georgia performing a song promoting shelter pet adoption. Save a life. Take home some love.

Adopt a Shelter Pet
P.S. At the request of someone very important to me I must add one more picture and a footnote. Harry is no longer with us. He passed in January at the age of 10. Shortly after, my daughter, Natasha, adopted a kitten she named Fearless Leader. She is a welcome addition to our family.

Fearless Leader on the left


  1. I know what you mean about the healing power of pets. While I don't have any now, I didn't have the advantage of pet love during my own treatments. However, when I was pregnant with my oldest son many, many years ago I had a wonderful little Papillion that we had rescued from an abusive home. He only weighed about 9 pounds, but after he recovered he had the heart of a big dog. Popcorn was my little shadow, constantly at my side and curled up next to me when I was lying down. He'd gaze at me with love in his eyes and a doggie smile on his adorable little face.

    I'd helped him get through the trauma of being abused by his former owner and the owner's two German Shepards and now he was there to help me.

    He lived to be 13 and I miss him to this day.

    BTW, Lisa, I just received the prayer shawl and was overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness. It is absolutely beautiful and reflects your caring spirit. Watch for something from me in your mail.

    1. Morgan,

      First and foremost, I hope you know I love you and admire you! I'm glad you liked the gift. It was cathartic for me to make it for you, especially since you are too far away for me to help out any other way.

      Popcorn sounds like he was an amazing dog. Our Blue gets the same look on his face. Imagine if people loved each other with the sheer abandon that domesticated animal love their humans. The world would be a better place.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Replies
    1. Natasha!

      She wasn't born then. I will add a picture of her if you'd like me to. She deserves to be included.

      Didn't know you were reading, my dear.

      Love you much!
      Lisa (Mom)

  3. I think my first reply to this post got lost! Just want to say great post on pets and their mysterious healing skills. My three dogs and cat are essential to my well being...even though they can drive me nuts at times. Mike has been in the ICU at UMC this past week due to complications from his treatment. For a while we thought he would not be able to be around the pets (his white blood cell count was in the toilet), but it looks like they got a handle on that. A good thing, because he was really upset at the idea of his dogs having to have separate sleeping quarters from us.

    1. Carrie,

      I'm sorry to hear that Mike was in ICU. Being around the dogs will cheer him up, I hope. Hey, if I can be of any help just let me know. You know how to reach me on FB. We should get together when you have time.



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