A dog is a girl’s best friend.
At least, Chevy was Katie’s best friend for a season. Someone who showed up when life was at its worst. When I had not seen her smile in weeks, Chevy brought her smile back.
At that time, Katie had recently relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma which was showing itself to be unresponsive to treatment. She had recently been flown from WV to Cincinnati in grave condition. After a couple weeks of intense management, she was now awakening to life as a teenager living in a hospital with an unknown prognosis. Oh, and she was losing her hair. Again. It’s really no wonder the smile had disappeared.
At their first meeting, Chevy peed in the hallway. Katie walked out of her hospital room on weak and unsteady legs to sit in a chair and throw a ball to him. Her eyes got as big as her smile and we all just laughed when he hiked that leg up! (Please note – he doesn’t normally do that, but Chevy works 40 hours each week and it had been a long day for the pup!)
He introduced her to the outdoor playground on the 5th floor because best friends share secrets. She taught him tricks and gave him treats because, well, friends do that, too.
He visited the ICU when he wasn’t supposed to. On hard days when there really were no words to share, Chevy just laid there, because sometimes friends don’t have to talk.
He also showed up on days when life was good – like the day she was discharged from the hospital. With his naturally crimped ears and snazzy bow tie, he is quite the charmer. I swear that dog can even smile!
Chevy supported Katie through radiation
He sent encouraging notes when she was going through outpatient radiation. What Chevy was not able to do with his own two paws, his handler managed for him. His handler is a child life therapist at Cincinnati Children’s, also named Katie, who loved on our family in ways that went well beyond whatever paycheck she received. She knew our Katie’s personality, what she liked, what would upset her, how to help her through procedures, her favorite foods, what staff she related to best and who she enjoyed the least.
You may hear me occasionally refer to graces so quiet that very few people even notice them. I have learned to look for these. To listen for them. To find them hidden in really ugly places. There are a lot of graces hidden in that hospital.
Katie went home for three really great months. Other than the baseball cap covering her head, it would have been difficult to see her as a cancer patient. She smiled and laughed and loved life to the utmost. Regular trips to Cincinnati for infusions found her looking for Chevy. On more than one occasion, we would linger in his favorite places before making the long drive home, hoping to sit in the lobby rubbing his belly for just a few minutes. It may not have been lucky, but his furry ears were much better than any rabbit’s foot.
Unfortunately, as much we wanted to believe that Katie’s internal healing matched her external countenance, it just didn’t. She smiled more and more as her cancer got worse and worse, despite every ounce of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation we used against it. Her last week was spent in Hawaii on a Make-A-Wish trip with us and her four siblings. The trip was incredible, filled with laughter amidst pain and uncertainty. So much like Katie’s life. And, in similar fashion, the trip was cut short.
Chevy and Katie’s last visit
Chevy spent time with Katie on her last day. He was sitting beside my kids in the little conference room when Chad and I told them their sister was going to die. Having him there in that moment was nothing less than God’s quiet, beautiful grace.
So last Friday, Chad and I went to Cincinnati to hand deliver a donation to Chevy and to give him a really good belly rub. Our local little league in our hometown, through a baseball/softball tournament in Katie’s memory, raised a significant amount of money which they wanted to give toward something Katie believed in. Some of the money went to other organizations, and some of it went to the Animal Assisted Therapy Program within the Department of Child Life at Cincinnati Children’s. I knew pet therapy existed before we went there, but I honestly had no idea how valuable it could be in a child’s healing.
It was wonderful to see all of Katie’s team that day. Dr. Norris, Dr. Ben, Molly (our social worker), and Meg (one of our favorite nurses). They all hugged us as family. But Chevy and Katie were the reason we went. Because when no doctor, no nurse, no radiation, no modern medicine could heal her, Chevy could do what no one else could. He could just be with her. As best friends do.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Sarah Cobb’s blog, Courageous Katie.