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WHAT IS SURVIVORSHIP?

ANNIE (LEFT) AND LULU, EIGHT WEEKS OLD, THE DAY I BROUGHT THEM HOME.
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Like many women who’ve had breast cancer, sometimes I think about why I’m still here. In part it was due to the type and stage of my cancer, my good physical shape and the great medical care I received, but I always come back to my faith in God and my determination to survive. And when I think about the word “survivorship,” and all the courageous people, dealing with their own set of problems, it may sound strange, but also I think of my 16-month-old puppy, Lulu. 

At birth, if you’d calculated Lulu’s odds of surviving, they would have been slim to none.

From the moment Lulu and her seven siblings were born on the streets of South Texas, this scrappy little girl struggled and fought to survive. Whether it was a turn at her mother’s teat or a morsel of garbage from a drainage ditch, this runt of the litter had a take no prisoners, laser-focused instinct to survive. Initially it wasn’t Lulu I’d thought about adopting but her littermate, Annie. 

I’d seen Annie’s sweet brown face online at San Antonio Pets Alive. She was barely six weeks old when I drove an hour south of town to meet her.

ANNIE THE DAY I MET BOTH GIRLS, BARELY SIX WEEKS OLD.

As the largest sibling in the litter, Annie roamed the small, fenced inclosure of her foster family’s farm and stopped just long enough for me to kneel down, cradle her face in my hands and ask if she’d like to be my dog? Without so much as a lick or a nuzzle—and already having forgotten our brief visit—Annie raced off to see the chickens. What I didn’t know was the whole time I’d been there, her sister, Lulu, had been trying as hard as she could to get to me.

LULU AT EIGHT WEEKS OLD, SOON AFTER I BROUGHT THEM HOME.

With the exception of Annie, Lulu and their other litter mates were corralled in a round, plastic wading pool a few feet away from me. Except for this tiny, black ball with the wide eyes, the rest of the puppies didn’t know I existed. Like a miniature Terminator-in-training, this determined little girl crawled on top of one squirmy puppy after another, using them as step stools to climb her way out of the pool, a seemingly insurmountable task.

And each time she fell off, she would pop back up and peer at me with an urgent look that said, “Wait! Don’t forget me!”

When Lulu finally scaled the slippery slope of her Mt. Everest, she toppled over the edge to the ground, and in a blink, she was racing toward me. Jumping up on her hind legs, her front paws barely reaching my shins, she was determined to get up in my lap… and she did! I’d gone there to adopt one dog, Annie, but this little runt… this little fighter… was my kind of girl. She had me before “hello.”

LULU TODAY

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t languish in the “kiddie pool,” waiting for someone to help me. Like Lulu, I kept fighting and trying. I researched doctors, the treatments they suggested, foods I should eat, and like Lulu, I did it with deliberate intent and laser-like focus.

Regardless of where you’re at in your life, I hope each of you will live today with joy. Keep singing; keep laughing; keep trying, and pull from each moment those things you want to remember. Savor them! Cherish them! Do them deliberately and intentionally and never take them for granted.

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36 thoughts on “WHAT IS SURVIVORSHIP?”

  1. Isn’t it funny how they find you before you find them? When our Cosmo passed we waited a while before getting a puppy to keep Sydney company. She didn’t seem lonely but, we like having two dogs. They really do bond and keep each other company. So, I found a rescue organization that let me know when a new group of puppies was taken from a puppy mill. I drove down to see them with Syd. The woman’s house had an enclosed front porch and all the pups were at one end behind a gate. Most of them were piled up together in the corner but, one little guy was dancing back and forth screaming, “Pick Me!” I put him on my lap and Sydney seemed fine with my choice. Nine years later they are still the cutest couple in all the land. I can’t imagine not having dogs.
    xoxob

    • “The cutest couple in the land… ” Oh, Barbara! That makes me smile!! For a 15 years I had only one dog, but as strays would come to my door, and I couldn’t say no, I welcomed them. Since then, I love having more than one dog, especially since it’s just me in the house. There’s always something going on with two dogs, and I adore them! xoxox, Brenda

    • Hi Sweet Lady! Thanks for stopping by! You’re always on the go, go, go! Like San Antonio, you’ve been hit with brutal heat as well. Wishing you wellness and happiness, Brenda

  2. Oh I love every juicy word of this post. My own BC journey began in 2015 and in many ways I see it as a gift because survivorship takes you to a different level of understanding & of strength. I too found my furry little friend post recovery & my boy has his own story to tell so together we have that special bond.
    On a final note; I recall a conversation that I had with my BC nurse one very dark lonely evening during my recovery. My stitches were being removed & it was the first time I had seen that part of my body post surgery. I cried and asked her would I ever get back to being my old self and she answered me truthfully telling me that I’m starting a new chapter and the journey is very much down to me. Three years on a much healthier me acknowledges just how true her words were.
    With love xx

    • Jeanette, I’m so happy you stopped to leave me a comment and that you’re doing well. Truth telling… Everyone kept telling me things like “once you’re back to normal… ” and from the beginning, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It made me feel isolated, like no one understood what had happened to me. Then I went to a day long breast cancer event and heard the term, “new normal” and wept… right there! In my heart I knew it would come to be an accurate description of this journey. Nothing’s ever the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. It’s just different… Our new normal, and I’m good with that. Please stop by and see me again. xoxo, Brenda

  3. This is such an inspirational story. Lulu, hopefully, will have a long and healthy life. I’m just curious as to why you went ahead and took Annie, She of the short attention span and busy ways, also? It does seem to have been the right choice.

    • LOL! Yes, Annie and Lulu have different personalities, and I knew that from the beginning, Alana. Something about both girls spoke to me, plus four months before, I had to put Molly and Sam to sleep. My house was so empty and quiet, and I missed them. So having two dogs was familiar to me, and since I don’t have a spouse or children… They’re my family, and they’re double the fun… also double the trouble and expense….. I call them my $10,000 dogs! Lots of emergency room visits that first year. Great question, Alana! xoxo, Brenda

  4. These girls are so adorable, and what a blessing for you to have them now! They, and our still being here, are blessings from the Lord for sure!

    So thankful for you and the good fruit He has brought through you. Rejoicing with you!

    Hugs!

    • You’re right, Rebecca! They give us strength, and yes… LOL! Sane. They’re more than just companionship, and since I don’t have a spouse, they keep me from being lonely; they keep me grounded and my world isn’t all about me! They’re my family! xoxox, Brenda

  5. A great story! You and your dogs are soul mates.
    A friend of mine grew out her beautiful blonde hair and recently chopped it and donated it for wigs for cancer patients undergoing chemo. It’s the second time (it takes a while to grow it out again). A wonderful gesture. Pantene sponsors a program to collect hair.

    • Taste of France… Thanks so much! Soul mates?… Not so sure, but I love them like crazy except when it’s roller derby time… They get bursts of energy and run around like they have wheels on their feet. My biggest fear is one of these days they’re going to come around a corner at full speed and knock me off my feet, and I break something… like me!! xoxo, Brenda

  6. I love a happy rescue dog story! I’m waiting until after my England trip to adopt another rescue dog to perhaps teach my current one to SHARE. She’s a joy and a stinker and I can’t believe I’m this lucky to have her. When I was diagnosed with a tumor on my pancreas, I guess I was fortunate enough to be so distracted by my own dog’s liver cancer and my Mom’s dementia that I didn’t have the time or energy to worry about my prognosis. But faith played a huge part in holding me up during that time. Thank you for sharing this dog story. I have a special place in my heart for people who rescue rather than buy from stores or mills.

    PS: I follow Lone Star Dog Ranch Rescue based in Anna, Texas. They recently rescued about 15 poor dogs from a very cruel ranch owner.

    • Hi Jean, All of my dogs have been rescues… most have found their way to my yard. Annie and Lulu are the first dogs I’ve adopted from a shelter, but I’m with you… I could never buy a dog from a store or a puppy mill. Thank you for telling me about Lone Star Dog Ranch Rescue. Groups like that are Godsends. My friend Lisa McCarthy in NYC is president of ARF, the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. During Katrina, she organized people with private planes, vans and big buses, together with medical teams to go to New Orleans and rescue the animals there and all along the way back where it had flooded. Lisa and her team rescued hundreds of dogs! Jean I hope you’re doing well now with your cancer. What would we do without our dogs to love and care for us? Mine… Sam and Molly… got me through losing my husband and our entire family immediately afterward and then my mother’s dementia and her death. For awhile, I wasn’t sure how to proceed when both Sam and Molly died. Finally a friend urged me to get another dog, and that’s when I found Annie and Lulu. Thank you so much for leaving me this heartfelt message! xoxo, Brenda

  7. Sounds as if you and Lulu were soul mates from the beginning Brenda. I’m sending this to one of my friends whose cancer is in remission right now. She, like you, has fought very hard, as many cancer survivors do. Very inspiring…

  8. Thank you, Margaret, for sharing this with your friend. I hope she’s doing well. A dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m devastated for her and her family. I do appreciate you and your comment. xoxo, Brenda

  9. Hello Brenda and welcome to the #MLSTL community. My mother had breast cancer back in the late 70s and it was her inner strength and faith that kept her fighting it for 10 years. I do believe we all have an inner strength and resilience that we can draw on. Thank you for your positive message and take care. I do hope you will link up with us again and it is lovely to connect with you.

    • Hi Sue, I was delighted to find your group, today, so absolutely! I’ll be back every week! Our inner strength and faith can see us through anything! I’m glad for your mother that she had both to lean on. See you, again, Brenda

  10. Hi Sue, I was delighted to find your group, today, so absolutely! I’ll be back every week! Our inner strength and faith can see us through anything! I’m glad for your mother that she had both to lean on. See you, again, Brenda

    • Thank you, Mithra! From one writer to another, I appreciate your comment. FYI, still researching and thinking about the event you mentioned. I have some questions. I’ll email you. xoxox, Brenda

  11. I like to read your blog because it seems to give me strength as I go through the unknown about my husbands’ diagnosis. I marvel that you have lost two husbands and had breast cancer and have come out on the other side doing well. I am sure there were/are days you didn’t think you would.

    • Hi Victoria, I’m glad you take strength from what I write. Living through a husband’s diagnosis and wondering what will happen next is so stressful and scary. You’re rarely prepared for what happens. Somehow, you need to find something that strengthens YOU… I don’t mean to sound trite, but a regular exercise schedule, a book club, a Bible study group… something that’s just for YOU. And while they won’t fix things, they will give you an anchor separate and apart from your husband’s diagnosis, and you need that. Your husband needs you to have that. By the time my first husband died of cancer, I’d experienced his drug and alcohol dependence and his Jeckle/Hyde behavior, his secret project that put our lives in danger, daily, for years and a controversial startup company that required us to have bodyguards. When he died, I was wrung out… I’d been wrung out, for years. It was past time for me to get out in the sunshine and embrace life. After my second husband died, unexpectedly, Christmas Day… That was another story. We loved one another so much. We had carved out a beautiful life, together. I was devastated, and to make matters worse, his family went off the deep end when he died, so they weren’t there for me. This was the darkest, most difficult time of my life. I credit my faith in God, my friend, Joan, who lived in another part of the country and called me EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR A YEAR to see how I was doing and my friend/personal trainer. I went to the gym three days a week, so he was my lifeline to the outside world. If I even tried to text, “I’m not coming today… ” He had a fit and so I went. Even to this day, he watches over me, and if I say I won’t be there… He gives me the third degree, and I appreciate that. He’s my accountability factor, physically and mentally in so many ways, and he’s my dear and beloved friend. I can say that when you’re in “the storm,” thinking you won’t make it through just makes matters worse. You have to know… BELIEVE… the one person you can always count on is YOURSELF. If you let go, all is lost. You can’t let yourself wring your hands and say, “What am I going to do?” Instead, slow down and think about the “next step.” Logically… What can you do? What will help? Then do it! If nothing will help, then just getting yourself under control will help you immensely as you move forward. If I write a book… and I’m seriously considering it… the biggest takeaway won’t be all the things I’ve been through and survived, but as you said, I “have come out on the other side doing well.” We can make ourselves mentally and physically ill with our thoughts. So can we make ourselves mentally and physically strong enough that we WILL weather the storms and come out the other side. It’s a mindset. I’ve never been able to imagine myself as helpless and lost…. This is turning into a blog, Victoria!! LOL! Maybe I’ll work on this and add some things I think might help you and make it Saturday’s blog. I hope in some small way, it will help. Sending love to you, Brenda

  12. Brenda thank you so much for your reply. You do get where I am coming from. Yesterday was husbands’ 12th treatment so the next days will be tough. I can’t make myself go to the gym but I do have a strong support system in our community and with my daughter. Husbands family are not folks I can count on for anything they want me most of the time to support them. If I didn’t have my faith in God I would be completely lost. Most days I can carry on very well as long as I get enough sleep. I think I escape with sleep. I get 8 to 9 hours a night and if I don’t I find myself weepy and unable to cope. I am a retired oncology nurse so this gives me more knowledge about my husband’s stomach cancer and this is a blessing and a curse. Again thank you.

    • Victoria, I finished tomorrow’s blog about making it through tough times. Even before I saw your second comment, I’d decided to do a post next week about the depression that can come with and after this kind of stress. Look for that one next week. If you were an oncology nurse, you already know about that. Even before I breast cancer and James died, I had what I now know was PTSD, but it was never addressed. Even so, I was rock strong, which is amazing if you knew the details. When my first husband was diagnosed with cancer I saw a hypnotherapist and then discovered Guided Imagery audios… which is essentially self-hypnosis… by Belleruth Naperstek. She’s world renown and admired. It’s only been since James died that I’ve had severe depression. Most of the time I get it under control… but in January of this year, I couldn’t crawl out of the hole. I seriously… daily… began listening to Belleruth’s “Affirmations to Relieve Depression” every single morning as I’m getting dressed. If I stop listening to them for any length of time, I find myself backsliding, so listening has become part of my morning ritual. https://www.healthjourneys.com/a-meditation-to-help-you-relieve-depression You might consider it. Her “Guided Imagery for Depression” will also download at the same time. It’s best to listen to that one relaxed, laying down with your eyes closed. I’m glad you’re a woman of faith and have a strong support system. As you already know, “family” can suck you dry and when they don’t need you anymore, abandon you, so put yourself over them. Email me anytime. bcoffee@1010parkplace.com I continue to send love and offer up a prayer, Brenda

  13. I DO………….JOY Is what its about I FIND IT IN every day living!
    You found these two MUTTS I did not know they were sisters!
    I find JOY in a lipstick to my pet piggy to the grocery clerk who needs help with her garden!
    WE NEED TO MAKE OUR OWN MOST OFTEN.PEOPLE FORGET THAT!
    YOU HAVE JOY!!!
    THANK GOODNESS for 4 legged animals!!!!!
    XX

    • Elizabeth, You and I are fortunate in that we’re joyful women who seek joy and like-minded women. And you’re so right about needing to make our own joy! I wish that was something we could teach. We can give examples and be good role models, but with some people… my mother was one… the instant the joyful moment is over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. So sad! Thank you my darling! xoxox, Brenda

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