Apr 09, 2019 1:00 PM

Author: Jim Pehkonen

jim and luna (therapy dog) sitting with patient

Originally published April 2017

From time to time, HCI invites guest commentary from our community. The views reflected in these commentaries are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of HCI.

I volunteer at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) with my dog, Luna. It is an honor to serve at HCI.

Let’s step back to the moment the doctor told me they had found a large growth — a moment when time stopped. I stepped out of the office, looked up at the Wasatch Mountains, and wondered, will I see these mountains a year from now?

Three weeks later, my kidney and the large tumor in it were successfully removed. As I recovered under the incredible care of HCI’s staff, I learned I would not have to go through chemotherapy. That is the moment I decided to get a therapy dog and volunteer in the Infusion Center, a place I would never have to visit as a patient. Now my amazing dog, Luna, and I are certified through Intermountain Therapy Animals.

The presence of a dog in the hospital creates a space of peace and love. There is magic in each visit. When I tie Luna’s red scarf around her neck, she knows where we are going. She pulls on her leash as we head into the building. Luna loves walking up the stairs to the Infusion Center on the second floor. Along the way, we say hello to visitors, staff, and patients.

Somehow, Luna understands what a person receiving treatment needs. She sits with each patient for the perfect length of time. We talk about their pets and what they are going through, or we just enjoy the simple love that Luna brings. Together we have visited people from around the world that come to HCI for treatment.

One special visit was with a person who was already in tears as we walked up to her. I asked if she would like to have a visit from a therapy dog and she nodded her head yes. As I sat down, Luna jumped into my lap and placed her head on the woman’s leg. Tears streamed as the woman petted Luna. No words were spoken. After a while, a nurse came over to check the woman's blood pressure. It had lowered significantly. The nurse just pointed to Luna and smiled. For more than 20 minutes, the patient silently stroked Luna’s head, then said a quiet “thank you” when we were done.

As a survivor, I feel honored to spend time with the staff, visitors, and patients at HCI. Cancer is a horrible condition that does not care who it affects. The work Luna and I do can help ease a patient’s burden.

volunteer therapy animal cancer care

Cancer touches all of us.

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