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Man’s Best Friend

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJuly 3, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

I wasn’t sure what to write this week. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this week. Because I knew this would be hard. And maybe this won’t make any sense, but I still wanted to share.

My dog, Bambi, got sick last week. It was out of the blue, and it was really bad. It started with her having trouble walking, which turned into her being unable to walk within 12 hours of her showing symptoms. We took her straight to the vet the next morning, having to carry her in and out, because her little legs still couldn’t work. She got fluids, antibiotics, and a steroid from the vet, in hopes of that being able to help whatever was going on. But, more than likely, it was something more serious.

She spent the next day lying in the same spot we set her down at after taking her to the vet. Finally toward the end of the day, she had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t even get up to do so.

The next morning we called the vet to check in and let them know she wasn’t any better, except she could finally lift her head a bit. This poor dog was only a year and a half, and she was deteriorating right before our eyes.

The vet had thrown out a list of possibilities of what could be wrong. One of which was a brain tumor. Apparently her breed, Australian shepherd, has a history of brain tumors under the year of five. While we never found out for sure, it stuck with me.

Of course. Of course my dog had cancer. That’s just my luck.

We spent her last day with her trying our best to make her as comfortable as possible. We loved on her, cried over her, and sat with her. But at the end of the day, there was nothing we could do. We could have taken her to a specialist, but for them to tell us what? Probably the same thing the vet said. This is likely something neurological, and there’s little we can do for that.

This was my first dog. We adopted her seven months ago, and many of those months I was away at school. It at least made me a little grateful for my university switching classes to online when the pandemic hit, because it gave me more time with her. I didn’t realize how special that time would be.

I haven’t experienced loss to this degree before. At least when I was old enough to remember. I had no clue this would be so hard. And throwing cancer into the mix – or even the possibility of cancer – makes this so much harder. I know what it’s like to go through that. But the difference is, I made it out on the other side.

I’ve always heard about survivor’s guilt in this community, but I’ve never experienced it firsthand. But this is a dog, right? It shouldn’t be too terribly hard. Right?

I wish that were the case. However, I’ve found myself in a pit of despair. She was what I looked forward to waking up to in the mornings, which makes nights and mornings the hardest these days. I wake up and just remember all over again that she isn’t there. She won’t be out in the kitchen when I go to make my coffee. She won’t run up to me with her tail wagging, saying hello and good morning. The dryer timer goes off in the middle of the day, and now it’s followed by silence instead of her incessant barking. I walk past her favorite room in the house, expecting to see her lying on the floor, even now. But she’s not here anymore. And I don’t know how to deal with that. She had become such a central part of my life.

We don’t know for sure if it was cancer. We do know that whatever it was, it happened fast. And she was suffering. But just the possibility of it being cancer made this so much harder.

I wonder if I would struggle this much with her loss if cancer was never a possible factor. Because I know what it’s like to get sick young. I’ve been there. And even though she was a dog, I still hurt for her. And it got me wondering all over again why this has to happen. Especially to the seemingly young and healthy.

I recognize that this might sound ridiculous to those who aren’t animal lovers or who haven’t been through cancer. But I keep trying to tell myself to not let that invalidate my experience, because my emotions are real, and I need to feel them. The only way out is through. I can’t just “move on” and forget.

It’s never that simple.

Man's best friend


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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