Walking the Dogs: One Woman’s Strategy for Coping with Cancer Diagnosis
Susan Fariss is an advocate for cancer patients of all stripes. Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012, she has taken it upon her self to speak and on behalf of others in numerous ways. She volunteers with METAvivor.org, a volunteer organization whose goal is to raise funds specifically for metastatic breast cancer research. She has testified in front of the Washington, D.C. City Council’s Health Committee on behalf of a Death with Dignity bill following the publicity garnered by the assisted suicide death of Brittany Maynard in Oregon. She is the brains behind the blog titled Uppity Cancer Patient, whose mission is to collect positive and uplifting stories from survivors of metastatic cancer. And she is a frequent contributor to the website CureToday.com and CURE magazine, which serves as a guide to the cancer experience.
Life Lessons For Coping With Cancer
Susan has proven herself a force to be reckoned with in the face of a devastating disease. She is an inspiration and a voice of comfort for those seeking a way to deal with the various emotions that are interconnected with a cancer diagnosis. In one of her most popular columns on the CureToday website, “Walking the Dogs: Coping with Cancer Fears,” she spoke movingly of the important lesson that she learned while watching her own mother find a way to deal with the fears and stress that she encountered in her own life.
Though Farriss’ mother was not herself a cancer patient, she had her own struggles, including a difficult childhood spent with unsupportive, critical parents and a divorce that forced her to start her life anew with four children, a dog, and no work experience outside the home for over a decade. Farriss’ mother turned to walking her dog when she needed a moment of calm and clarity, and had told her daughter years later that she had “walked that dog for miles and miles.”
An owner of multiple dogs herself, Farriss speaks eloquently about the tremendous fear and uncertainty that came with her cancer diagnosis, saying,
“Cancer is a whole new level of uncertainty and fear. Sometimes I’m okay in that fear, the anxiety ebbing low. Other times, the fear sweeps over me, puts me on alert, slows my breathing, buzzes through my brain. It’s at that point that I think of my mom out walking our dog. And like my mom, I leash up my own dogs and I walk. Walking helps, each step acting like a rock tumbler, smoothing the edges of my panic.”
5 Ways Walking Your Dog Can Help You Cope With Cancer
- Cancer is already a challenge to your health. If you are feeling well enough, walking your dog regularly can provide many health benefits that can help your body. Benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones (built up by walking regularly), and decreased stress.
- A cancer diagnosis causes many stresses – physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Stroking and patting a pet can help reduce the physiological indicators of stress, including high blood pressure. Our Funds for Living and Giving (FLAG) Program can provide financial help for cancer patients, ultimately reducing financial stress.
- Decrease the loneliness of cancer by taking your dog for walks. While there are many cancer support groups available, sometimes you can feel very lonely while coping with cancer. One of the great benefits of taking your dog for walks is that you can count on always having an enthusiastic walking buddy. That companionship not only makes walking more enjoyable. It may also reduce loneliness when your human relationships aren’t going so well.
- Take your mind off of cancer, even if just for a little bit, and meet new friends while taking your dog for a walk. Dog owners are typically friendly people who are more likely to greet people on the street. Use this opportunity to make some new friends in your neighborhood with common interests by visiting a dog park. Who knows, your dog may make a new friend, too.
- Walking your dog can help get you outside regularly. When diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to spend all of your time inside your home. The sunshine from being outside can provide many benefits, including increasing the production of Vitamin D, enhancing moods and energy by increasing endorphins, improving immunity, regulating body temperature and treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Getting outside each day will allow you to take advantage of these benefits.
How Susan’s Mom Taught Her To Cope With Cancer Through Example
As important as the secret to achieving calm is to Farriss, she says her mother set an additional example that has served as an even important lesson and gift. Long after the divorce was past, her mother suffered the health effects that followed years of food addiction. Battling through diabetes, crippling arthritis and kidney failure, she moved past her fears and anxiety and pushed herself to ask for help. She joined Overeaters Anonymous and attained food sobriety, as well as a resolution of all of her health issues. Most importantly, Farriss says that her mother was as happy as she had ever seen her, and she attributes it to the difficult but important step of admitting that she could not do it on her own. She speaks eloquently of her own struggle with doing the same thing.
“Like my mother, I am fiercely independent and I can dwell in fear. I do not want to be a burden or dependent. I am afraid to ask for help. But here I am, in a situation where I have no choice. In order to stay alive, I must ask for and accept help. At these moments, when I’m too scared to ask for help or take the hand offered to me, I look at my mother’s example. This frightened and independent woman chose life by asking for and taking help every day. The life she led was finally one of serenity and peace. My mother deserved that peace, and so do I.”