As many of you may remember, I took up the sport of Dog Agility after my recurrence. My dog, Amber, who we believe to be part Jack Russell was full of energy and needed an outlet for all the energy. At the end of puppy obedience class, the instructors, Joe and Rebecca, put out some agility obstacles. Amber ran right through the tunnel. She looked like she would be great at agility. But I wasn't sure if I was ready to start something new. I just had a recurrence the year before would I get started and have to stop for another recurrence? Did I have the energy to learn a new sport? I was experiencing chemo-brain, would that impact remembering the course layout? For those who aren't familiar with agility, handlers move around the course directing their dog to take different obstacles. Some handlers can work at a distance from their dog and the obstacles and others like myself need to run the course as the dog runs over , around, on top of and through the obstacles.
At the same time I came up with reasons why I shouldn't try agility, I thought that maybe something unrelated to cancer would help me recover from the past few years where my life was laser-focused on cancer and treatment. Maybe I needed an outlet from cancer as much as Amber needed an outlet for her high level of energy.
I know that taking part in agility is a choice I could make and having
cancer was not my choice. But there are parallels in how I
approached agility and how one could approach cancer treatment.
Amber and I took lessons for a number of years before our first competition. For one piece of equipment the teeter, which is like a see-saw, the dog had to run up to the middle and down the other end causing it to drop to the ground. When other dogs ran the teeter it made a thumping sound when it hit the ground. Amber who does not like loud noises wanted nothing to do with the teeter. If the obstacle didn't move - like the dog walk or A-frame she had no issues. We slowly trained with it to overcome her fear. I would give her treats to run up to the mid point. Then I would give her treats as I controlled the decent with my hand. I needed her to trust me that it was OK. It took us almost a year for Amber to not hesitate running the teeter. Finally she felt comfortable.
When I started my initial treatment I was fearful of how treatment would affect me. How long would it take me to recover from surgery? How would I be affected by the chemotherapy treatments? Would I be tired? Would I feel nauseous and vomit? Would I have bone pain or neuropathy? I wasn't comfortable with what laid ahead. My chemo nurses and gyn oncs walking me through the process, providing me the necessary nausea medications, answering my questions while assuring me along the way. Did I want to stop after 6 initial treatments? I sure did. But I trusted that the way to ensure the best results was for me to have three more cycles.I felt comfortable with what I had to face.
As we got closer to entering competition we went to a few trials just to scope out the routine of crating with other dogs, signing in, getting to the line on time and getting measured. I volunteered to work the rings so I would see how things worked. Amber and I did the best we could to prepare for our first competition.
After I finished my initial treatment, I went back to work. I learned more about ovarian cancer, how to be empowered to make a difference and started volunteering with my local ovarian cancer non-profits so I could be on top of ovarian cancer treatment. I was preparing for whatever the future held for me.
Our first competition and those that followed were not uneventful. I had to deal with different occurrences in the ring. There was the time the helicopter flew over the outside course and Amber hid in the tunnel and would not come out. Or the time she got to the top of the A frame and just stood there watching the dog in the ring next to us. We were certainly over the course time on that run. Or when chutes were used in competition and she tried to enter the obstacle through the closed cloth end. Or there were the many times she got on the table and then off to smell the cone with the obstacle number on it.
But there were times when everything went right. We Q'd. We had no faults and finished below course time. Amber even qualified for a few titles.
When I recurred I was prepared for part of the process but as in agility I had to deal with a number of things. I had an allergic reaction to carboplatin and ended up in the hospital. I was upset I had lost my best choice to get me back in remission, carboplatin. I had to postpone treatments when my platelets were low. The additional cycles of taxol made my neuropathy worse and caused my toe nails to lift from their bed. But I dealt with each thing as it came my way. It was not always easy and not without shedding some tears but I did finish treatment.
An agility friend shared this on Facebook. While written for the agility community I see parallels with what cancer patients experience.
" maybe we ought to take a step back and look at, well, most of us who are there achieving things you can’t see on paper. Those who gather the courage to step to the line for the first time. Who put their embarrassing moments behind them and then do it again. Those who struggle to cope with their dog’s stresses and their own anxieties, yet come to understand and accept them and get back out there again anyway. Those who, little by little, find ways to improve. To celebrate the first time their dog completes a course, or allows a rear cross, or pays no attention to the judge. Or even the first time they didn’t get lost on the course.
What really, truly matters aren’t the letters or a piece of parchment paper. It’s the memories we make.
We haven't competed in agility in over a year due to Amber's health
issues including her recent diagnosis with Cushings disease. We miss the
camaraderie of the other dog and handler teams and the fun times running
the courses. But we are happy to celebrate her 12th birthday this week.
Every Day is a Blessing!