Pebbles: Chemo help from an unlikely source.

The air is warm and balmy without a cloud in the sky as I sit on our side porch, my bum on the warm bricks leaning against one of the cedar posts. I’m back home from chemo at the hospital. I’m feeling peppy as a result, enjoying my 3 day high before the inevitable crash. Despite my spirits, I’m too worn out to do anything but chill. The ever present chatter in my head has dulled, and has been replaced with heavy lead.

There is a crash as a blond Labrador puppy tumbles into our yard having jumped the white picket gate. I laugh.

Imbuing so much joie de vivre, she waddles over swinging her large tail enthusiastically back and forth to greet me.

“What’s your name?, ” I ask. She wags in response. A quarter of an hour later, her name will be revealed when her owner calls her home.

For some unknown reason, she hunches down and crawls to me in submission until she has her head on my lap, a ritual that will be repeated over and over for many times to come. And there we sit, and sit and sit.

There isn’t much conversation on my part, just solitude and quiet company. Occasionally, I stroke her but she never demands my attention.

Our interlude is interrupted when my unseen neighbor calls from across the way, “Pebbles, Pebbles, Pebbles…” Eventually, the calls become more frantic, and Pebbles reluctantly gets up and bounds home.

In these warm days, I often leave my porch doors open for cross breezes and airing. On Days 4 and 5 of chemo, my so called nadir, the bottom of the cycle, when life slows, energy drains, and its requires effort to move, the click, click of her nails on the kitchen tiles can be heard faintly, along with the squeaks of furniture being bumped or knocked.

She is looking for me.

Sometimes she is caught by my husband or I manage to get her “shooshed” out before he arrives. She is naughty, but she is faithful; my nurse checking on me — that I am alright, that I am breathing and still here.

A few times, she sneaks to the top floor and lumbers into our bedroom where she finds me flat out, curled in a ball on the platform bed. I rouse and now rendered arthritic, gingerly shuffle down the stairs with her to get her out of the house. We sit quietly with one another and then she heads home when she can no longer bear the calls for her whereabouts.

Today, she visits after a lull of a few days. Where has my companion been? This time she doesn’t crawl but approaches me timidly, and lies on her side with her paws up in the air. “What’s up girl?”, I ask. And then I see it, she has stitches. She has been fixed.

Her eyes seem to question me. “It hurts,” she seems to say. I explain to her that she’s had surgery. And then an imagined or perhaps real conversation ensues, as her head tilts back and forth repeatedly, like a child continuously asking questions. I picture puppies in my head for her. Eventually, she quiets down.

“Don’t worry you will heal, ” I tell her. And this time, it is me, who provides comfort as I gently stroke her spine and softly rub the length of her tail.

For some reason, I have the occasion to visit my neighbors. Pebbles is lying in the kitchen chewing on a stuffed purple toy. She refuses to look up or acknowledge me. It is as if we are secret lovers and I have invaded her home turf unbidden. She is with her family and I refuse to out her. I let her enjoy her ruse. “It’s okay,” I say in my mind, “Your secret is safe with me.”

Slowly, the visits become further and further apart, partially because her owners have tired of her disappearing acts and have erected a fence. Initially, she is able to jump over it, but she is growing quickly, getting bigger by the weeks. Finally, she resorts to digging her way out.

She visits covered in mud, appearing suddenly with a sideways grin, shaking head and lolling tongue.

Come September, I am away for my next stage of treatment: dreaded radiation. I am gone for almost 3 months. When I return it is Christmas time, the visiting cycle has been broken, and she no longer comes over.

The next time I see her, she is an adult dog, heavy set. Her lithe body has given way to large bones, and a full body. Yet, she remains sweet natured and patient.

Some 20 plus months after diagnosis, my cancer treatments: the surgery, chemo, radiation and biological treatments are over. Our sweet moments together are no more.

Another few months past, when I run into my neighbor at the grocery store and ask after Pebbles. She says her dog is finally staying home and no longer disappearing.

I say to her, “You have no idea, do you?”

“Idea about what?” she replies.

“Pebbles was visiting me. I was going through chemo, and she sat with me everyday religiously.”

My neighbor is incredulous. She says she didn’t know I had cancer.

Aye, but her dog did. I tell her what a beautiful soul Pebbles is, a natural therapy dog.

I warm when I think how Pebbles, an aptly named dog, created ripples that helped get me through the most physically and emotionally challenging period of my life.

Pebbles taught me that you really don’t need words. You just need to consistently show up with your full presence.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;

But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,

Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave

Till you wouldn’t believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

~James William Foley


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