Furry Friendship: Our Companions During Chronic Illness

I’m sure you’ve read many articles reporting that pet owners receive numerous health benefits from the mere presence of animals in their household.  So, is this actually true?  Many studies over the years have indicated that pets do, in fact, impact our quality of life.  And if you’re a pet owner, you may be nodding your head in agreement.

In the March 2012 edition of The Atlantic, author Martin Mulcahey reported that “dog owners worldwide enjoy longer lifespans on average, reduced blood pressure, improved cardiovascular fitness, and far less stress.”  Deeper in his article, he revealed that “according to psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University, the emotional benefits pet owners receive from animal companions could be the equal of a human friendship.”  Apparently, when examining factors such as depression, illness, self-esteem and general activity, it seems that compared to our counterparts who do not own cats, dogs, or other animal companions, we fare far better both physically and psychologically.  

This comes as no surprise to me.  My furry friends, Shelby and Cupcake, rescued me from some pretty bleak times during my breast cancer diagnosis.  Like many of the women I’ve spoken with over the last 5 years, I saw firsthand just how important my pets would be in my recovery process.  Every day, after my treatment, I was greeted by my Basenji, Shelby, and every night my tabby, Cupcake, cuddled up with me at bedtime.  Something so simple brought me great joy during a time of immense stress and worry.

If pets are an integral part of your lives, too, I don’t have to tell you that they are also intuitive.  They sense fear, excitement, unhappiness and have even been known to “sniff out” cancers and other illnesses.  My 14 year old feline, Cupcake, was my constant companion during treatment.  Normally tucked in and snoozing in my armpit at night, when I was diagnosed in 2011, she switched her routine and climbed atop my right breast, sleeping there until my treatment ended.


Aside from being utterly amazed that her sixth sense was spot on, I found it comforting to know that she understood I was going through a difficult experience.  Her empathy helped combat my feelings of loneliness.  Cancer was a very isolating illness for me.  I lost many friends and, at times, it did certainly feel like I was drifting along in a sea of unknowns desperately clinging to my life raft which, by the way,  seemed to be springing leaks as fast as I could plug them.

I recently asked my Facebook followers about the roles their pets played in their recoveries.  The responses were overwhelming!  From the cat who slept next to her owner in the recliner every night to the dog being ever so careful until her master healed fully, my thread was full of survivors’ pictures of beloved furry family members.  So, today, I’d like to hear how YOUR pets have been an integral part of your health and recovery.  How have they helped you cope with cancer?  That’s the real story here.  Share your memories below.


Victorious Val


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