Unsolved Cat Mysteries: Cats and Cancer Therapy in Humans – Sasha and the Cancer Patient Follow Up
I know that everyone who has a rescue animal says that – and they truly and whole-heartedly believe it; Sasha is different, however.
Sasha is an uncertified cancer therapy cat.
According to a study by Nestle/Purina Pet Care, “During times of stress or illness, the bond between a pet and … (patient) can be particularly strong.”
The study says that breast cancer patients relied equally upon siblings, parents and CATS for emotional support and love during chemo treatments.
We’ll get back to this in a bit. First let me give you some background.
Sasha knows what the “school of hard knocks” is like… she spent the first 6 months of her life being neglected, ignored, underfed and possibly abused (I never found out for sure but she definitely showed the signs when I stormed in and took her from the previous owner). When I went to “meet her” to see if I was indeed going to take her off the hands of this girl who had flyers around campus, I met a 19-year-old college girl in an apartment with hardly any furniture, an overflowing, disgusting litter box, no water bowl, beer bottles all over the place, a huge stereo… and … well that’s enough of that talk.
That was when I was 21. 21 and boisterous, raw, expressive, gutsy, a bit crazy and willing to do and/or say anything in the name of “animal rights.” (Now I have drawn a metaphorical and precise line between animal welfare and animal rights, with animal rescue advocacy being somewhere in the middle…)
Trust me; I left that apartment with Sasha underarm, police number in hand, ready to report animal cruelty and with that small sassy mademoiselle shaking in her skivvies.
Sasha first started being “therapeutic” back in those first few months I had her in the summer of 2001, my last semester of college at Colorado State University. We had a very nice neighbor, Mrs. B, whose husband denied her the love of charming, kind and cute kittehs; thus, Mrs. B would often put plates of food and other goodies out for Sasha (& Theodore) to eat so she could spend time with them, even though I politely asked her to stop. (Theodore was an outdoor cat with open in and out privileges – I feel no need to deny felines their natural instincts to play and hunt outdoors – I couldn’t very well make Sasha stay in when she was so socurious as to what Dora was doing out there all the time…)
I later found out that Mrs. B, who Sasha took a special liking to, was suffering from breast cancer. Sasha – night and day, would sit with her on her front porch for hours, food or not, letting Mrs. B stroke her beautiful long black fur. Sasha would often opt to let Mrs. B cuddle and snuggle her outside during gorgeous stormy days in those unspeakably beautiful Rocky Mountain foothills of Fort Collins.
(Sasha’s older (and covetous, cantankerous) brother Theodore would surely come if food was out, but he was otherwise way too busy clearing the bustling college neighborhood of small birds, Colorado field mice, chipmunks, etc.)
Mrs. B told me – right when she found out that I was leaving Colorado to move back to California to find work after graduation – that she was sick and that Sasha had provided endless comfort to her. She had left me in the dark about her condition for about 8 months, as I left to go to Cali in February or March of 2002. (After 911, finding work in Denver was nearly impossible with so many college kids competing for the same jobs.)
Mrs. B was quite sad to say the least to see Sasha go; so sad in fact, that her husband, after seeing the amazing and positive effects that Sasha had on her over the months, finally caved and went on allergy medication. Mrs. B could now adopt her own cat. I kindly offered to take her to the Humane Society where I had found my Theodore — she immediately found a cat like Sasha, one who “spoke to her” through the wire cage, one who she said she could feel feeling what she was feeling.
That’s how it happens for most of us cat rescuers I think…
It is scientifically proven that petting a cat:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers heart rate
- Calms emotions
- Has potential to stop or lower symptoms of a panic attack
- Makes the person feel at ease, i.e. more relaxed
The Purina study also “found that 84 percent of women battling breast cancer said their cat had a calming effect on them during their treatment. Cats also provided daily support to the patient, according to 76 percent of survivors surveyed.”
LifeWithCats.tv offers further proof of the science and history of these relationships for those questioning it, or those interested in the research.
Again – here is some precursor information to lead me into Sasha’s current cancer patient.
When we lived in California from 2002 to 2006, Sasha was a neighborhood roamer — again. Sasha would visit with folks up and down the street, picking the good ones to stop by, visit with and stay awhile.
When we moved to Ohio, she and Theodore couldn’t wait to go out every morning and explore. They absolutely loved the blowing leaves and super-strong lakeshore winds in the fall (similar to where they “grew up” in Colorado), the little critters in the summer and spring, the crisp clean rain to help them groom, and just having four seasons again in general.
We met sweet, sweet Laura right away as Sasha was frequently found in her beautiful backyard garden paradise. Then she started inviting herself into their garage (not the first time she had done this – I once awoke an angry CA neighbor “Umm, my cat is stuck in your closed garage sir…”)
Sashy immediately loved Laura, her son Jon, and her husband Dave. She LOVES men (we deduced it’s because a woman first neglected/abused her as a baby.)
We found out through speaking to Laura outside on a sunny day that she had been fighting breast cancer for a number of years. My ears immediately perked up; my eyes immediately welled up…
She mentioned how sometimes Sasha would be outside meowing to come in their house. Never to turn down a sweet face or this new love in her life, Laura let her in and it was, as I have said before, love at first cuddle.
At some point Sasha got chased by a rather large Great Dane who was visiting the house behind us and she stayed inside for the winter and then through the spring of 2007. When she finally started going outside again – late spring – it was straight back to Laura’s. It was like she went outside and immediately ran over there.
Something was wrong and Sasha could feel in inside. She was relentless at the door at 6 am before it was light out to get over to see Laura; she needed to confirm her suspicions. She would zoom over to Laura’s as soon as the door opened for her in the morning, and stay over there all day until we went to get her at 9 or 10 pm or Dave brought her home.
Mom and I started to joke around about it before we knew it was serious: we always jested that over at Laura’s, Sasha has a silk pillow with satin lining and an “S” engraved on it. This is surrounded by a personal fan, a porcelain dish consistently filled to the brim with crème, and an entire corner of the couch. (Now in reality, she does have her own small couch, and she does spend many days sitting on their absolutely stunning, black Baby Grand looking out the window… And of course she gets crème there, but the whole neighborhood gives her that at this point!)
In an earlier post about this, I noted that sweet “Auntie Laura” has kitty treats – the good kind — for Sasha. And she also gets – sometimes — whatever the family has for dinner because Laura has said that Sasha meows for food (she’s a bad beggar, comes from her early roots) and she can’t resist her sweet little ways.
Laura was in such bad shape at this point that her son, Jon came home to help Dave. The chemo was totally wrecking her body and for quite a while we didn’t see her outside in the yard gardening… or outside doing anything. She lost weight, or gained it. She got sicker from the chemo. So sick she couldn’t’ leave her bed some days.
(Those of you who have experience with this know what I am talking about; I have been blessed to never have a human family member get cancer so I do not know first-hand what treatment is like…)
When Laura finally did appear in the mid-summer she wandered over to our house. Practically in tears she was exasperated, and said that she didn’t know what she would do without Sasha; how Sasha comforted her and help her relax. Sasha would lie on her (or next to her) for hours or all day long to keep her company. Sasha was the only thing that made her happy and gave her hope. She always had the energy to snuggle Sasha no matter how tired she was. This is what Laura told us.
We offered to help Laura find a rescue cat to keep. She said she wouldn’t be able to do it because she would never want to leave the cat. We asked her where she was going and she trailed off, “I don’t know how long I’ll be…” She kept repeating how Sasha is her savior and how enamored with her she is.
My Mom and I were almost in tears after that. We realized just how much Sasha meant to this sweet lady. We allow Sasha to stay at Auntie Laura and Uncle Dave’s all day long, bringing her home only at night time to sleep with me. Every now and then she will actually eat dinner at her real house, too.
We don’t care. We just want her to help Laura.
In late 2011, Laura’s cancer, after coming and going for years, progressed into many places: it came back with vengeance and pure evil and invaded her bones and spine, among other places. She has had too many relapses to count, and each time, she gets herself through with support from her family – and from Sasha.
All chemo options have failed. All medications, steroids, pills, radiation treatments, and other courses have done some, but little, to help her. Some of the best doctors in the world at the Cleveland Clinic offer ideas or courses of treatment that simply cannot compete with the comfort, relaxation, and general good vibes that Sasha offers Laura.
Sometimes the Sasha relationship is not all sunshine and roses. There have been a few days here in the last couple months where even Sasha can’t really help her. Shakespeare once said, “Though he be little, he is mighty;” and that’s the attitude Sasha has. She’s come home a few nights recently with a small fever or a bit of an attitude of her own because, as Laura says in her cute little voice, “she’s punky!” Punky! Ha! You can tell that Sasha is “off.”
I made some inquiries to behaviorists/therapists and found that Sasha is simply trying quite hard to take on the emotional and physical pain Laura is experiencing – she is trying SO hard to help and heal her.
She’s the “Laura Whisperer.”
I told Laura this, and she got a bit upset, but I added that it does not hurt Sasha. Most cats and dogs have a very large capacity for pain of any kind – they are so much stronger than we humans are. That is, after all, why they can be used in therapy in the first place.
They heal. They help. They quiet. They cool. They make people smile and laugh; they help patients forget – even if just for a bit – about their conditions. For example, a 2005 press release on PRWeb said that one study group reported, “… a cat’s purr has been analyzed to be at the same frequency of vibration that mends bones.”
Laura is the strongest woman, alongside my own Mother and my Grandmother, that I know. I have such great respect and admiration for her – I love her like I love my own Mother.
And Sasha is responsible for bringing us together in illness. I suffer from Multiple Sclerosis as well as a brain/mental disorder. Laura just happens to be a studied and specialized therapist in treatment; she holds a PhD and my doctor told me she is one of the most well-respected and reputable treatment specialists in Cleveland, and that 10 years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find someone in the field who didn’t know her name. She has helped me multiple times and she says it’s in exchange for Sasha’s services.
Sasha has grown increasingly frustrated being in at our house since we got the two rescue babies – Maxwell and Tater. She does still love, of course, to sleep right next to my head, exactly as she has for the last 10 years of her life. But she prefers to spend her days relaxing with Laura and/or sleeping on Dave’s lap, offering him comfort too, as cancer is a family disease.
I will continue to allow Sasha to do what she can to help and heal Laura.
I will continue to do as much research as I can on the issue to find out what I can; I also plan to see if it’s worthwhile to get Sasha certified, although that idea sometimes leaves a bad taste in my mouth because I want Sash to continue to be Laura’s special treatment plan, and hers only.
Ironically, we found out this week that Sasha is suffering from her own condition – Osteoarthritis. She is on steroids – which Laura was on for months and months and months. So it seems that now Laura is familiar with what Sasha is feeling.
Amazing how the Powers That Be work sometimes, isn’t it?
Sasha and Laura will be forever connected, and I couldn’t be happier about the relationship. As for their diseases, I pray every morning and night that they will be comforted and that maybe, just maybe, a cure will be found one day soon…
Bless you Laura, and all you have done for us. Having you in our lives makes us grateful, more loving and caring, more forgiving and happier to be alive. We love you. And Sasha will always be here for you!
*** If you have thoughts on cats treating humans with cancer or animals offering cancer patients therapy, please leave them below. ***
**** Please, more importantly, leave your encouraging words for Laura – our dear Laura – who is such a fighter that on her last trip to the doctor, when her oncologist looked at her and told her they had been through all her options, she replied by looking up at him and saying, “Well then we’re going to have to figure something out aren’t we because I’m not just going to give up.” ****
It’s people like Laura and Dave (and Jon, the most caring son you could imagine having) that make this crazy world a better place.
* *All Live Strong© graphics are copyright the Lance Armstrong foundation, but were used in the graphic designs of my dear friend at Zoolatry for general use.