“Sissy, look. Doggie!”
Elise brought her sister, Claire, over to meet Finn. Claire (age 4 ½) was still a bit groggy from anesthesia, but her interest and wonder in Finn was apparent. Finn first met Elise, who is the 23-month-old sister of Claire. Elise was drawn to Finn like a magnet. She squealed with delight as only a toddler can…and instantly she wasn’t in a waiting room, at a hospital, in a strange city, waiting for her sister to come out of treatment.
Mom, Kim, shares their story: “Everything started on September 11th—of all days. We woke up and Claire’s eye was not functioning correctly.” Suddenly, the life of the family changed. It was a whirlwind 24 hours. They were living in Sri Lanka, where dad, Don, is a diplomat for the US State Department. When they took Claire that morning for an exam, the health service knew something was seriously wrong. Claire was flown that evening to Singapore for an MRI. The diagnosis: Ewing’s Sarcoma. The past several months have been focused on treatment—from port placement, to g-tube, to bone marrow biopsy, and now chemo and radiation; Claire has been a trooper.“Elise has grown up fast over the last six months. At first, she would cry when we would leave her to go to the hospital. But now, she is used to Claire getting treated and seeing her sister look like this.” Elise has become Claire’s number one cheerleader.
The family is a dog family at heart. They were first posted in Uganda with the State Department where they rescued a mutt named Izzy. She had been tied up by her hind legs, and left hanging from a tree. They had her for six years and lost her just last spring. Claire was very attached to Izzy. Claire knew Izzy her whole life. “Even to this day, when we talk about Izzy, Claire cries. All she wants is another dog.” Claire is wonderful, gentle, and loving with Finn. You can tell her bond with dogs is deep.
For the family, spending time with Finn is therapeutic. They love puppy kisses and seeing Finn every week has given them all the opportunity to get some major snuggles. Kim says, “It’s been good for me, too. I just love snuggling and cuddling [with Finn]. He is so loving and affectionate. It makes me happy to watch the girls with Finn…being so happy [and] he remembers them [week after week]. Claire now thinks about packing treats to bring Finn and on the way to the hospital Elise says, “We are going to see Finn today! Finn! Finn! Finn!”
Don will be starting a stateside assignment once Claire completes treatment, and as soon as Claire recovers, the family plans to adopt a beagle and name it “Bagel.”
For more information or questions about animal assisted therapy and cancer patients, contact Christina Bach, [email protected]
Healing Paws is a joint project between OncoLink and the Department of Radiation Oncology, Penn Medicine. Finn, the therapy dog, is a registered therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International (TDI®).
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