"I have metastatic melanoma and I have been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer twice.
All four of my boys have been very important to my survival. Each one of them was brought into my life at different times to help me survive various serious illnesses.
The reality of cancer
My real problems started back in 2007 when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer for the second time. Given this diagnosis, my medical Oncologist told me that it was necessary that I start aggressive cancer treatments.
The Interferon treatment plan: five weeks of aggressive treatments, followed by self-injections five days per week for an entire year.
My doctor informed me that Interferon was not as toxic as chemo or radiation, and that it was the treatment for Metastatic Melanoma. Therefore, I tried it. However, I did not know at the time that this treatment was a lot stronger than chemo and that it was going to attack and destroy my healthy cells and organs, along with the cancerous cells.
After being treated aggressively for one week, I started to gain weight and my heart kept stopping. I ended up being hospitalized twice because of this. I started losing my hair and my lips and nose bled. I also was constantly out of breath and turning yellow, and I couldn't walk too far. And, I was covered with sores all over my body and at one point, became so weak that I wound up in a wheelchair.
After the aggressive 5-week treatment, my doctors started me on the next treatment phase - home injections five days per week. I knew that I was dying because my body started to shut down. Since I truly thought it was the cancer that was killing me, I stopped fighting and just accepted the fact that I would be dead by 2009. I even began making arrangements for my family for once I was gone.
Power of canine therapy
In November of 2007, I saw a red Siberian husky while I was rolling around a flea market in my wheelchair during a recent trip to Florida. I am not sure how, but that puppy made me smile, and for the first time in months, my husband saw some life in my eyes. We didn't adopt the puppy though because it would have been difficult to bring him back to New York with us. And given how sick and weak I was, my husband was afraid that if we adopted the puppy, that I physically and emotionally would not be able to cope if the husky were to somehow become ill.
But, my health continued to deteriorate. In fact, just a couple of months after returning from Florida, I started making arrangements for my funeral. At that point, my husband became desperate and asked me if I still wanted a husky, which of course I did. We then immediately started to hunt for my first boy.
We found Cain three hours away in Lancaster, PA and brought him home. Since I was too weak to even step outside, I had to watch my husband and son play with my new baby without me. In time, I finally told my husband that I wanted to help train Cain. At that moment, he told me that I had to start fighting for my life; if I didn't, I would never be able to see my new baby grow up. This was ultimately the turning point for me.
Fortunately, through consulting with other doctors, I eventually learned that I had to stop the Interferon treatments; these treatments were deteriorating my health. Once I stopped, I slowly began to heal and to become stronger.
Throughout this healing journey, my new puppy Cain comforted me and pushed me to get better so that I could train and walk him.
Further health hurdles
Despite my efforts to heal, I had two more tumors that were later discovered that required surgery to be removed. This time fortunately though I had Cain waiting for me at home after my surgeries to help me heal - making this healing effort easier than it had been before. I started to get stronger every day.
However, on October 19, 2008, I had another hurdle to overcome - a broken ankle. Although I knew that the cancer treatments had weakened my body and organs, I did not know that the treatments had also weakened my bones. When I was at the dog park with Cain on October 19, 2008, two dogs ran into me, causing my ankle to snap. This ankle break unfortunately required that I wear a cast for about nine weeks, putting me back into a wheelchair. Needless to say, my depression came back...
To help me cope with my depression, my husband helped me find another husky, since he knew that I wanted another one. Therefore, when he found an ad in the paper for a red husky puppy, we ended up bringing this pup home with us, and named him Frankie.
Although I spent another eight weeks in a wheelchair after my surgery, I was able to deal with it because I had my two boys there with me - these boys gave me the unconditional love that I needed to help me heal.
The power of husky love
From 2007 to 2009, I needed seven different surgeries to recover from tumors and broken bones. These surgeries weren't so bad though anymore because Cain and Frankie were always there when I got home to make me laugh and smile, and to help me heal. And due to my weak immune system, throughout the years I also have suffered with pneumonia twice, and have had other illnesses including but not limited to diverticulitis, pancreatitis, 2 MRSA infections, and Chronic Venous Insufficiency.
Since my husband knew how much my two boys meant to me and how much they were helping me cope through so much pain and suffering, he found me my third husky Tsar. My husband truly knew how much our huskies helped me heal and reduce my depression.
Because of my boys, I no longer use pain killers after surgeries. Cain, Frankie and Tsar always know when I need them and always lie down next to me, allowing me to pet and cuddle into them until I calm down. Once I calm down, the pain just seems to ease up and eventually fade away.
I still get sick often, but I can deal with the pain as long as I have my boys to come home to. I am checked twice a year for tumors and so far my last tumors were in 2009. But, I know that the tumors can come back at any time.
And, we just added our fourth and final husky to our family, a mostly black puppy who we named Thor.
Frankie and Tsar are now certified to help others heal
My middle boy Frankie and second youngest boy Tsar are now certified therapy dogs through the Love on a Leash organization, and they volunteer at one of our local hospitals every Saturday, visiting the patients in the oncology unit.
My boys are powerful healers, having a gift to help cancer patients heal. Therefore, my goal is to share their love to help others coping with similar illnesses. And, as Thor gets older, we plan to train him to become a certified therapy dog, as well.
Although I would love for Cain to be also certified, he was recently disqualified since he makes a noise when he is touched anywhere from the shoulders back. He remains though the sweetest and gentlest boy and has never - nor would he ever - hurt anyone.
Reflecting back on all of the pain and suffering
I used to think that what happened and what continues to happen to me was a curse; and I often told people that if it wasn’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.
Now I look at all that has happened as a blessing because if I didn’t go through what I went through, I would never have brought my four babies into our lives and I wouldn't have met the wonderful people that we have met through them.
There may be things that I no longer can do, but I am now doing things I would never have dreamed of doing – all thanks to my boys. I used to cry and say I just wanted my old life [before I got sick] back, but I no longer feel that way. My life is now so much more enriched because of my four boys and all of the wonderful people that are now in our lives.
And ironically, I actually was not a dog lover until Cain first came into my life; I now love dogs and can't imagine my life without my boys. I need these boys to survive just as much as I need air to breathe. They are my strength to continue fighting, especially when I feel it is just too hard to keep going.
My boys have helped me to become a survivor and I am lucky to have them in my life."
- Jodi Ekberg, Puppy Mama & Cancer Survivor