“It’s so wonderful to watch people light up with happiness.”
While each cancer patient’s journey is unique to that person, many deal with the same feelings of loneliness and isolation. Lynn Clever felt some of those emotions each time she sat in the infusion chair at Pardee Cancer Center undergoing chemotherapy for her lymphoma after being diagnosed in April 2020. As a dog lover and a handler of therapy dogs, Lynn thought bringing in a therapy dog could be great for the patients and staff. “Having a dog or something unexpected – but familiar – approach you when you’re going through something like this is very relaxing,” Lynn said.
Lynn felt compelled to share with the team at the cancer center the value of a light moment in the day that pet therapy can bring, particularly what it meant to her during her treatment. Lynn and her petite female standard poodle, Dani, a licensed therapy dog, are very familiar faces at Pardee. They have been visiting patients and staff at the hospital since 2018. Six months of cancer treatment behind her and with her cancer in remission, Lynn and Dani made their first visit to the cancer center in the summer of 2022. While these trips look different than the usual visits Dani makes to hospitals and long-term care facilities, it is still a beneficial experience for anyone she encounters.
As a therapy dog with 91 team therapy visits “under her collar,” Dani has learned to read human body language very well and Lynn asks permission to visit before they approach anyone. “First of all, you get a big smile and people want to see the dog,” Lynn said when describing the interactions with patients and staff. “They start talking about the dogs in their life, which leads to them talking about lots of things that they consider to be really special in their lives. It’s a good conversation starter.”
For some patients, treatment days are the hardest days, often lengthy and lonely. Depending on the patient, these days can also be disturbing. “With therapy dogs, it’s all about the dog,” Lynn explained. “I have visited the same people and they know the dog and don’t remember the name of their own kids. It’s so wonderful to watch people light up with happiness.”
Having been both a patient and a handler at the cancer center, Lynn has a unique perspective on the therapy dog program. “We are all humans,” she said. “No matter what your job is or what you are going through, we all relate to things in a similar fashion. If there is a break in the monotony or pain or something enjoyable happens, it’s something that we can all relate to and appreciate.”
Lynn and Dani are excited about Pardee Cancer Center’s pet therapy program and look forward to many more visits in the future. “Dani loves people, and for me, it’s all about paying it forward.” She said that while she has always wanted to give to causes, writing a check isn’t enough. “I have to be able to communicate with people. I enjoy seeing the smiles. I hope that when I can no longer have dogs of my own that someone will bring them to visit me in my time of need.”
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