Jun 25, 2020 3:00 PM

As Jim Pehkonen walks through the corridors of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), tapping feet and claws sound down the hallway. With his small brown dog, Luna, he is instantly recognized. They are a famous volunteer duo who come to comfort patients and staff. Though most don’t recognize Jim without Luna, he once frequented the same hallways as a cancer patient.

jim and luna

The circumstances leading to Jim’s cancer diagnosis began on a warm evening in August of 2014 when a semi-truck plowed into the rear of Jim’s vehicle. The physical therapy that followed the car crash should have helped, but it only agitated his back. After five months, the doctor ordered a CT scan. The scan revealed a large tumor in Jim’s kidney pushing up against his spine.

Within a week, Jim was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had a surgery scheduled at HCI. “On St. Patrick’s Day of 2015, they removed my left kidney and the tumor,” Jim says. “I was lucky because the post-surgery tests showed the tumor had not metastasized. The kidney was still holding everything in.”

Because the cancer hadn’t spread, Jim didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. After learning he was cancer-free, he chose to adopt a dog and train it. Roughly a year later, Jim found himself back at HCI, this time with Luna at his side in a red vest that read, “Therapy Dog.”


Before getting Luna, Jim didn’t consider himself a “dog person.” But the two are now an inseparable team who provide comfort, peace, and smiles to patients in all stages of cancer. Jim says he has grown to love and appreciate the work the staff and volunteers do at HCI. Of the patients he visits, he says he has met some of the strongest people he knows.

“This is my giveback,” Jim says. “When you get diagnosed, you often think you are going to pass away. Yet there are a lot of people who not only survive their cancer, but end up thriving in life. I think cancer makes you pause and reflect, and you get to determine what is important for you and what you want to do with this one incredible life.”
luna and jim

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