Extra Life Boo & Wow

This post is more personal than some, but then at some time in many of our lives cancer gets personal.  As many of you know, I have a companion and co-therapist named Boo.  For the past 12 years Miss Boo has worked with me to help in therapy.  We have worked with hundreds of children, adolescents and adults in settings ranging from special needs classrooms, alternative schools and outpatient settings.  And for the past decade we have been working together in my private practice.

This past Spring Boo developed a form of cancer known as osteosarcoma, which is a form of cancer where the tumor grows in the bone.  In her case, Boo began limping and we discovered that she had it in her front right leg.  What followed was a series of scary tests and decisions.  The recommended treatment for this in dogs is amputation of the limb and a course of chemo.  I was worried about this on so many levels:  I didn’t want to lose my friend, I didn’t want her to be in pain, and how was I doing to explain this to my patients?  You can’t just have a dog show up one week with one less leg and be all blank screen about it.  Some people suggested I retire her, but so many people come to me with ruptures in attachment, people who just walked out on them or were taken from them, that that didn’t make sense either.  Nope, we were going to do this honestly and mindfully.  If Boo could show up for such a challenging treatment, I could show up for her and we could show up for our patients.

Over the next few weeks I let people know what was going on if they wanted to know, to the extent they wanted to know.  While she was recovering from surgery I let people know that as well.  And when Boo came back to work, well that was a powerful week.  Cancer changes your body, but the self persists.  Boo had a visible change, there was a scar.  Some people approached petting her, some didn’t.  Boo accepted all of them.  Some people were reluctant to talk at first, imagining their problems were nothing compared to cancer or losing a leg, but we explored and put those concerns in perspective.  We all had work to do, and we did it.

Time passed, and chemo ended.  This is the result:

Each year, I take part in Extra Life, a worldwide celebration of the social impact of gamers of all kinds from video games to board games and tabletop RPG’s! Since 2010, Extra Life has raised more than $14 million to help children’s hospitals provide critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment, research and charitible care.  Your donation is tax-deductible and ALL PROCEEDS go to help kids nationwide and locally at my awesome colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital.

This year, on November 7th, I’ll be playing World of Warcraft with a special avatar in honor of Boo.  (Of course I’ll be taking breaks every 45 minutes to keep my health ans stamina in good shape.)  If you want to join our team, Miss Boo’s Battalion, you can do that too!*  You don’t have to play WoW, you can play Minecraft, Dark Souls, Candy Crush, my colleague Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter, Zombies Run!, anything.  You can play Tabletop games like D&D or Pathfinder.  You don’t have to go 24 hours straight, any amount of time, anything you raise, helps.  Sharing the post helps too–you never know who might decide to donate or get their game on.

Miss Boo is my hero, and if you are living with cancer in your life you are my hero too.  Whether you are battling it yourself, defeating it, thriving after it, supporting someone who is, celebrating a win or grieving a loss, you are a hero.  On Saturday, November 7th, why not be a hero too?

*Past and present patients are asked to refrain to protect their privacy, but can always get involved with Extra Life on their own here.


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Giving Up, Up and Away!

photo courtesy of NASA and Wikipedia

I am a believer in tangible gifts, gifts that make a difference in our lives.  No, I am not talking about the iPad.  This time of year I often give to one or two charities.  But how to decide?

My friend Jennifer T. and I once had a conversation when I was solicited her for a charity I was working with.  She declined to give, and explained to me that she and her partner had decided that they would think together and decide on one or two charities that they felt they wanted to get solidly behind.  They took time to think about what was important to them in this world, and get behind it solidly.  They researched several.  I don’t remember which ones they decided on, but I do remember being impressed with the thoughtfulness of this.  Myself, I often have reacted based on guilt and immediacy, which means that often the charities with the best marketing get my attention.  If you have a similar difficulty, try checking out Charity Navigator. It has the demographics served, financial information which breaks down where your money goes, world reach, etc.

Or if you want to donate to one of the following, please do.  I have picked a few that I have supported throughout the past few years.  These are based on the people I work with, family and friends, so that when I am helping these charities I can picture people whose lives I may be changing for the better:

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has helped millions of animals and did amazing work during Hurricane Katrina for the companion animals left behind in the wake of the storm.  They also have a great hotline to call if your labrador retriever eats something he’s not supposed to and you are freaking out about poison.  Yes, that is a personal experience.

Continuing with the dog theme, I can tell you from personal experience that working with my dog Boo in therapeutic settings over the years has enabled me to reach patients in a way I never could alone.  I am thinking in specific of an alternative school setting I used to work in, where she joined me monthly.  One adolescent with Prader Willi syndrome was really struggling with compulsive eating and lack of exercise.  He was able to decrease his impulsivity after we set up a plan where he was rewarded by being able to take Boo on a walk with me.  That’s right, exercise as a reward?!?  If that doesn’t speak to the power of animal-assisted therapy, I don’t know what does.  Although Boo never had the opportunity to receive formal training and certification, a donation to the Delta Society will help provide for the care and training of other therapy dogs and make a huge difference in the lives of the patients they help in years to come.

Have someone you feel ambivalent about this year?  Give them a goat.  The Heifer Organization is an organization that takes your donations and makes donations of sustainable livestock to communities in developing countries all over the world. Maybe grandma would like socks again this year, but maybe she’d get a kick out of seeing the picture of a flock of geese she donated to a village this year.

If you want to support transgender rights and protections, please consider giving to my local friends at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.  Besides being a one-stop source for all sorts of trans resources, they are really pivotal in my state for advocating for legistative changes, including their advocacy on behalf of trans youth in the development of our states cyberbullying regulations.  Best part is you can set up a recurring payment through PayPal, if you are well-intentioned but absent-minded like me.

Whether you are looking for more information, considering being a plasma donor, or wanting to give money, a donation to the International Multiple Myeloma Foundation will make a difference to patients and families all over the world dealing with this specific form of cancer.  You’ll also be helping a friend of mine’s family as they work on kicking this condition’s a** and I’d appreciate the support with that particular a**-kicking.

Or if you are wanting to deal with cancer in a more general way, go for it.  A gift to the American Cancer Society will do just that.  I know from the hard work my friend Johanna R. has been doing their that it is a global force as well, with her traveling to all over the world to organize the planet to combat cancer.

So there you go, try to get behind one or two of these (or one of your own) singlemindedly, I recommend them.  That’s it from me till after Christmas, I hope if you celebrate the holiday you enjoy it!  ML