Cancer 101: Live life differently, breathe love and be joyful

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Danger. Beware. I’m breaking blog best practices. I’m going off topic and deeply personal. My black lab son has cancer.

As a single woman, Bo is the center of my universe. Actually, he IS my universe. If you know me, you already know this. If you don’t, allow me to paint our love story picture. Plus, I’m pretty sure, we’ve got some pearls o’ life wisdom you’ll appreciate.

A black lab lies on a dock at the lake and looks at the camera with brown eyes and a flopped ear.
Sweet baby Bo in 2009 – Badin‌ Lake in NC
A black lab with gray whiskers looks at the camera as he sits on a dock at the lake.
Already getting gray distinguished in 2013 – Avon, NC

Live life differently

A little family background…Bo came into my life ten years ago. He was a sassy and precocious two-year-old. He grew to be my beloved son, main man and the apple of my eye. Bo has moved with me four times, ran a dozen races, traveled hundreds of miles and healed my soul a thousand times plus one. With this cancer, we didn’t get a warning sign. And after days of heaving snot-filled tears, I distilled one thing. When God journeys you differently, you move with Him. And you live life differently.

A white women hugs a two-year-old black lab. They are on a deck next to a chair.
Our first day together, spring 2008 – Greensboro, NC

On the cancer race track

A little cancer background…In November 2018, we went for a surgical consult on Bo’s knee. One hour later, I was told he had cancer. Two days later, I learned there were several fast-growing tumors in multiple places. Within a week, Bo had surgery. Extreme gratitude and humble love to Dr. Greenwood and the team at First Coast Veterinary Specialists. Paw high fives to SEVO-Med for the ongoing oncology care. The biopsy results said four tumors, two types of cancer and it will return. As we continued running on the cancer race track, we began chemo. It’s an at home pill called Palladia. At 60 days, cancer free. At 120 days, it’s back.

Breathe, hear and smell the love

No lie, Bo’s cancer has crashed down on me like a wave. At times, I feel swept out to sea. Treading hard to keep my head above the water line to avoid drowning in sadness and ache. And then I catch a deep breath, like a gasp, and wake up to our ever-present blessings. I still have him and he feels good. He doesn’t know he has cancer.

A white woman in a blue sweater kisses her black lab dog on the beach during the afternoon with the ocean in the background.
Photo props Kim Armsworthy‌ (HS bestie) – Neptune Beach, FL

Wisdom Pearl #1. A high school bestie‌, who’s given several dog children to God, shared this: “Keep taking him to the water, sit on the beach and both of you breathe, smell and hear the love. Make memories.”

Cancer as a lifestyle

I’ll admit it, when we joined the cancer club, my attitude was ‘we’re kicking its ass.’ Once surgery was a viable option, I simply said – GET. IT. OUT. I wanted this growing sickness taken out of my son so we had a fighting chance. The mass of it all, which took over ever so quietly, needed to know the jig was up. Enter Warrior Mum mode and off to battle we went. Cancer mountain, meet our God.

Wisdom Pearl #2. I have a local friend who’s also on a cancer journey with her husband‌. She recently said: “I consider cancer a lifestyle vs a battle. We make it joyful and full as possible.”

A black lab with a gray face trots on a wooden bridge in the woods with green trees behind.
New lifestyle – weekly journeys – Guana Reserve, St. Augustine, FL
A white woman hugs a black lab in the woods. They're sitting on the ground and there are green trees in the background.
Living life large – Guana Reserve, St. Augustine, FL

Pace and embrace

When a family member has cancer, it permeates your personal and professional boundaries. And schools you as well.

A little new biz startup background…I left the corporate world about a year ago to launch my brand consultancy business. I’ll admit it, I was a virgin – unknowing and naive.

When you pursue a solo entrepreneurship, your strength gets tested in new ways. You split time between networking, brand building and revenue generation. It’s a challenging pursuit. The feast or famine affects your identity and value. And it seems, no one talks much about the relentless famine struggle, outside of triumph. There’s nothing like cancer to ground you. And say f-it. I’m doing my best; I’m pursuing my truth. This is going to feel different; put one step in front of the other.

Wisdom Pearl #3. Pace. Embrace. Pick your challenges and learn to move past most of them. Do your best and honor small steps.

A black lab with a gray face sits on a brown sofa and stares at the camea.
Part of Mum’s f-it attitude, I’m now allowed on the sofa.
A black lab with a gray face sleeps on the sofa with his eyes almost closed.
I own the word – embrace.

If you have a dog son or daughter with cancer and you want to connect or learn more about metastatic AGASACA or Palladia, contact me via email. As you know, each dog and case is different. That said, knowledge is power and I’m happy to share my experiences and learn from you as well. It’s how we get through this cancer race as we live life differently.


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Helen · at

Written movingly. 🙏 for you and Bo. Long ago I learned that to love a dog is to grieve a dog. Oh, but the joy they provided. ❤🙏

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Helen. He has moved me, stirred me, opened me and allowed me to grow as a person. I appreciate your kind words.

Pam · at

Gosh, Deb, I’m so crushed to hear you are going through this with your Bo. I have so enjoyed your posts and watching you two on your life journey together. My heart and prayers are with you both. I pray he will not suffer but enjoy his last days in peace with you. I LOVE YOU. Pam

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Pam. I’m holding out for a miracle of cancer free once again. Dr. Neumann told me to love him endlessly and to be strong for him. That’s my goal in life!

Kim armsworthy · at

I’m at a loss for your wonderful words and love. Throughout this entire post, I see, smell, hear, and breathe the love. There is no greater power than that one simple word. For that and Bo. I love u both so very much. I am so proud of you both and can only stand by and watch and feel the love. That in itself is a gift. Pebble taught me patience and unconditional love, u both have all that and more.

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Kim. Your time with us was special and I’m so glad you got to meet my son. I think we can both say he dug you! Hugs and prayers to you and Eddie, as well brother Blue. We love you all.

Lynn Wright · at

*Lump in throat – tears in eyes* Happy and sad at the same time. Happy knowing how much you love him and he loves you. I wish everyone could be so lucky. Sad because I know too well the pain of letting them go. What gets me through is that I KNOW I gave them a good and happy life. They were the lucky animals to have someone to love them and that makes me really happy. I am sending lots of love, prayers and hugs your way. Stay strong and make the most of every day. We love you ❤️

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Lynn. Yes, I feel the same way. Happy and sad at the same time. I’ll take it versus sad all of the time. : ) I know our love is special and I appreciate you sharing your experiences. And we receive your love, prayers and hugs.

Nancy Freeman · at

Your message is one of love; love in it’s deepest meaning. You, with your insight, caring, sharing, struggles, and overcoming are a role model. I had the privilege of meeting Bo and seeing the love shared between you two. I admire you tremendously and send my love and my prayers.

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Nancy. I don’t see myself as a role model…a simple, real human being…that’s all. And I’m happy you got to meet Bo with Kevin and Teri. Thank you so much for your post, love and prayers.

Martha · at

Deb, my heart breaks for you. I have walked in your shoes and it is a difficult journey. Love and support of friends become your sanctuary. God has blessed you with the privilege of parenting Bo and when He takes Bo through Heaven’s gates, you will be left with beautiful memories and the knowledge that you did everything you could during Bo’s earthly journey. I hope that will comfort you. Meanwhile, enjoy each day into itself. Know that Bo loves you and God loves you. You’ve got some friends here in NC that think you’re pretty cool too. This is your best writing! Journal or do something to get your thoughts down on paper.

    cooldeb · at

    Martha, tears in my eyes as I write. Thank you my friend. It took a journey to get here – to write and share. I kept the cancer journey private for several months thinking if I don’t claim it, it will go away. Now, I needed to claim it. I wanted to share my love in honor of Bo while he is with me. I hate you’ve been in my shoes; I appreciate your wisdom and support.

Edie · at

Thank you for sharing from the heart. The loving energy in your message unites your human community, even us newbies. 💜

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you for joining the cooldeb community Edie! I appreciate you reading my blog and commenting. I equally appreciate your love and energy as well. : )

Nikki · at

Beautifully written! Bo is such a special dog! He knows you will take care of him through the ups and downs. He lives and loves with everything he has… just like you! Stay strong! Love you both! ❤️

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Nikki. And you got it – he is living and loving and I’m taking his lead. Appreciate YOUR love!

Joe · at

Deb, I’m so sorry that you and Bo are on this journey now. Thank you for sharing this – the photos alone tell the story of the bond between a special pup and his equally special “Dog Mum”. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you’re also trying to use this experience to help others who may be in similar situations. Both of you are in the thoughts and prayers of many people. Virtual hug!

    cooldeb · at

    Joe, I learn from you and Michael regarding how to help others. You got this in our story. Yes, it’s a sweet love story for sure. I also want to reach out to other ‘rents who are going through the same journey. We learn from shared experiences, which you know and live.

Vanessa · at

I am so sorry that this has happened. But thank you for writing about it, and highlighting the love and joy that can be present in the face of upheaval and change. My fur baby Simon is now 18. For the first time I can see his age. He is stiffer. He has a lump (non cancerous but ugly) on his head. He is changing and I feel that the end is, if not near, foreseeable. It breaks my heart and scares me. I fantasize about putting him my car and driving and driving in an attempt to outrun his mortality. But this is something I can’t run away from. So I am taking comfort in your story, and your continuing relationships with your beautiful son Bo.

    cooldeb · at

    Vanessa, thank you for your kind words. Yes, joy in the presence of upheaval and change. Perfectly stated. I get the get in the car and ‘shut up and drive’ state of mind. Bo and I extend our love to you and Simon. Hang tough! And go Mum Warrior power!

      Cindy · at

      It took me a while to read this….it just breaks my heart. I remember laying on the floor with Ruby and loving on her. She was “my girl”. Of course, I’ve loved all my fur babies. They are what completes us. There is not one I have ever forgotten. You and Bo have been in my prayers. And you are so right we learn so much going through something like this. Continued love and prayers and huge hugs ❤️

        cooldeb · at

        Cindy, you are so correct…they complete us. We appreciate your prayers and I know how much your Mama heart loved Ruby. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Susan · at

What a BEAUTIFUL post Debbie! It brought tears to my eyes. 😢 I am also fighting the good fight with a fur baby…but she’s a fluffy feline. My sweet Baby was my daughter’s 13th birthday gift and she’s battling large cell lymphoma of the stomach. We’re also doing the chemo route and hoping and praying for remission. Keep on breathing, living life and doing what you’re doing…we’re only given today. ❤️

    cooldeb · at

    Susan, I’m sorry we’re sharing this same journey. I appreciate our offline chat and wish you well and wish you strong on this journey. Let’s stay in touch so we can cheer our babes on together! Thank for sharing your good fight journey.

Jill · at

As someone who has lived the cancer “lifestyle” with my beloved dog, I am deeply touched by your words. And as single, entrepreneurial women, we have the extra burden of doing this all alone.

    cooldeb · at

    Amen Jill, a to the men. I stand on your shoulders! : )

Theresa Hunter · at

I just love you two so much! I can’t wait for our visit. The reunion is going to be fabulous! Tell Bo his girlfriend is excited 😊

    cooldeb · at

    Theresa, I can’t wait for Bo and Elly to be reunited. True love will be in the house!

Kay · at

I remember that day on the lake when Bo was just a babe. His first swims smacking the water; him leaning into you as we rode on the boat and later him overcoming his trepidation and going for it and jumping in with you off the dock. Bo’s zest for life and your wonderful ability to live in the moment are the best combination for anyone living with cancer – 2 legged or 4. My first love, Blackie passed from cancer when I was 20. It happened quickly but I wish I had been as wise as you to understand the gift of time we had left together. Bo is loved so much and will have one of the best dog’s/son’s lives I know because of his mum. I love you both more than words can say. Bo’s Aunty Kay

    cooldeb · at

    Aunty Kay, Bo loves you too. Yes, we have shared so many good and monumental moments at the lake! He is a water boy and I’m waiting for the ocean to warm up so we can swim together. We learn from the sea. Thank you for your loving, kind, sweet and heartfelt words. Touched me deeply.

Kevin Scalf · at

I’m sorry you’ve been put through one more test to show just how strong of a woman you are. You and Bo are living life to the fullest and as long as I’ve known you, you’ve never backed down from anything. And you’ve always come out the other side much more grounded and centered. Cancer is not something Terri and I’ve had to deal with yet with our dogs, but for the past 169 weeks of our journey I don’t know what we would have done without them. Love you.

    cooldeb · at

    Kevin, I can remember you telling me to get a dog many moons ago because ‘I had to put my love somewhere.’ That stuck with me so I bit the bullet to not only get a dog, but to get Bo. What a great call and thank you for the encouragement. I know your 169 week journey has been arduous and life altering. I’m glad your other babies with the four legs have helped your collective hearts. XO back at ya.

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