Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Everyday is Thanksgiving

So there you are cruising along through life and **bam**, something bad happens. Something really bad. You feel numb for a while, and then as you regain your balance, you realize that this really bad thing is happening to others. Lots of others. And you say, "Someone needs to do something about this". Then you look in the mirror, and you say, "I need to do something about this".

So you do.

Because you've never done it before, you make mistakes and you learn from those. But you also do a lot of things right. You learn from those too. Throughout, you are focused on the end result, and it keeps you going.

And then the most amazing things start happening. You become the recipient of kindness and generosity both material and spiritual. You begin to connect to others in unexpected ways. You find out you have friends who will walk 39 miles with you, wearing cat ears and tails because they believe in you and the mission. You get support from total strangers who become loyal and true friends. You meet a guy who tirelessly motivates others while wearing a cow suit. You meet people who love your angel as much as you do and they faithfully show up for you and her everyday.

Your friends are there for you - they buy your merchandise and generously participate in your fundraisers. And all the while they are cheering you on, every step of the way. You are are on a mission, one you could not have imagined, yet one that has become a driving force in your life.

You are humbled.

You realize that some of your friends aren't really friends and that is disappointing. But you also see that some strangers really are friends.

You learn that there's a fine line between obsession and passion and that your mom was right, you do get what you give. You accept that it's OK to shed a tear everyday.

Although you'll always hate that the bad thing happened, and would change it if you could, you are grateful for the good that has come from it. You remember what someone else who had been through the same bad thing said to you at the beginning, "This will change you". She was right and you are grateful for the changes, because you are now living something you've said countless times, "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey". You realize how true that is and you're grateful for what this journey has given you. It has taught you that no matter how dark things may be, the world is filled with good people who are generous, kind, compassionate, and loving.

You have discovered the power of gratitude. It has become your guiding compass in life. It has become your religion. And while you may not formally celebrate it everyday with turkey and stuffing, you realize that everyday is Thanksgiving.

And for that, you are thankful.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Ripple Effect

It's been over three years since Sugar was diagnosed with feline mammary cancer. Since then, my life has changed in ways I could never have imagined. In fact, I can't think of a single event that has changed my life as much as Sugar's mammary cancer.

When I started Sugar Rub!, there were two goals:

  1. Raise awareness that pets get breast cancer
  2. Encourage pet owners to do monthly breast exams on their pets

Then I learned how little research has been done on this hideous disease, so I added a third goal to fund feline mammary cancer research, and the Penn Vet Sugar Rub! Feline Mammary Cancer Fund was created. 

Over time, I started receiving messages like this one,

 "I was giving my kitty a Sugar Rub! and I found a lump. She's going to the vet tomorrow". 

Sometimes the lump was nothing, just fatty tissue, but sometimes it was breast cancer. Because of Sugar Rub!, this pet had a chance. And I was gratified that my mission was accomplishing its goals.

But what I never anticipated was the ripple effect. 

"Now I give my pets a Sugar Rub! every month, and then I give myself one too. I never did that before".

"Sugar reminded me to get my annual mammogram".

Wow! Sugar Rub! is not just raising breast cancer awareness for pets, it's influencing human breast cancer awareness too.

On the first anniversary of Sugar's breast cancer diagnosis, I published this post on Facebook. I think it bears repeating now, modified, because she is no longer with us here on Earth.

By all accounts, Sugar was an ordinary cat. She was a tabby, the most common of the feline coat patterns. Like thousands of other cats, she was a rescue from a shelter. Even her mammary cancer did not set her apart; one in 4000 cats are diagnosed with breast cancer and it is the third most common feline cancer. 

But despite being quite ordinary, Sugar did something extraordinary. She raised awareness about this disease and now a lot of people know that animals get breast cancer. Pet owners know that they need to check their pets at least once a month and contact their vet PDQ if they find anything suspicious. 

Sugar has created a community and has brought together a network of people who are sharing the Sugar Rub! mission. She has raised almost $30,000 for a feline mammary cancer study at Penn Vet. Her tabby paws have touched hearts all over the world.

In addition to all of that, Sugar and her illness have taught me a lot of lessons:

  • I've learned what it's like to be humbled by the kindness and generosity of others. 
  • I've learned what it is to feel empathy for anyone who hears the word cancer in the same sentence with the name of someone they love.
  • I've learned that there are thousands of compassionate, truly good people in the world - more than I ever imagined.
  • I've learned about the amazing power of hope.
  • I've learned that there are angels here on earth.
  • I've learned how truly precious simple things are - the sound of your kitty's purr, the smell of her fur, the soft brush of her whiskers against your face. 
  • I've learned that your supply of tears is endless when someone you love has a serious, life-ending disease.
  • I've learned that my husband is an incredibly kind and compassionate man.

And perhaps the most important lesson is the simplest one. Anyone can make a difference - even an ordinary tabby cat.

Friends, we all have the ability to make a difference, and never underestimate the ripple effect. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Day One - A Small Pink Ribbon

Day One of the Avon Walk comes early as we drag ourselves out of bed at Oh Dark Early.

Like soldiers preparing for battle we assemble our gear, making sure we are prepared for this arduous day of walking 26 miles on a sunny but cold New York day:

Fanny Pack - check.
Water Bottle - check.
Cap - check.
Cat Ears - check.
Cat Tail - check.
Gloves - check.
Chapstick - check.
Moleskin - check.
Advil - check.
Charged Cell Phone - check.
Extra Socks - check.
Space Blanket - check.
Bling - check.

And then there are our mementos. Wristbands, pins, posters, and signs showing who we are remembering or honoring. I carry Sugar's sign and 100 pink ribbons.

The ribbons are small, 1/2" x 2", but their significance is enormous. Each has a  name on it, the name of a warrior, a person or pet who did something I've never done, faced and fought cancer.

They occupy a small physical space, but their place in my heart is huge. Carrying these ribbons is a sacred trust, a way for these brave souls to matter, to be honored, to be remembered for their strength and courage. It is a privilege to carry them.

We assemble in the lobby for a team photo, then ride the bus to the pier and gratefully sip hot coffee as we wait for the opening ceremonies.

Just as it becomes light, we are off. We walk, we talk, now and then we shed tears. We stop at our pit stops to eat a snack, refill our water bottles, and use the port-a-potties. People ask me about Sugar's sign and I share her story; most are amazed that a cat can get breast cancer.

I meet one of Sugar's followers from the Sugar Rub! Facebook page.

Seth, the MooCow Guy is everywhere! He hands out Cow Tales candies. He cheers us on!

We walk across the Brooklyn Bride and see Angie, our personal team cheerleader. Soon, we stop for lunch.

We walk through Brooklyn and back to Manhattan. It's getting colder and some of our team members gratefully wrap up in the space blankets provided by my husband.

Finally we reach Randall's Island. The last two miles are brutal in the cold and relentless wind. But finally, we are there!
After a quick dinner in the freezing cold food tent, we ride the bus back to our hotel. We gratefully take hot showers, take some Advil, and hop into our warm and comfy beds.

And so Day One has ended. We are tired, cold, and sore. Our hearts are full, and we are happy that we only have to walk 13 miles tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Arriving in New York for the Avon Walk

My flight from San Francisco to New York was very pleasant and the flight attendants were kind enough to let Sugar ride in the First Class closet. I worked on my memorial and honorary ribbons during the flight. As I left the plane, the flight attendants assured me that Sugar had been a very good traveler.

My roomie, Tomi, found Sugar and me at the luggage carousel and off we went to our hotel in midtown Manhattan. Unfortunately Tomi's luggage wasn't with us, but it did arrive the next morning.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at a close-by restaurant and were joined by another team-mate, Julia, and Anne, another cat lady who lives in New York. We had all known each other online for a quite a few years, so it was a real treat to finally meet in person.

The next day we walked to Ground Zero. None of us had seen the completed 9/11 memorial and it was a very sobering experience. It was meaningful to see the name of the woman who's name is on the bracelet I purchased at the gift shop several years ago on one of my visits to Ground Zero. 

That night, Julia, Tomi, and I had dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant, Gato. Where else would three cat ladies on the prowl eat in Manhattan? We had a wonderful time and appreciated the attentive service of Luciano.

On Friday, we took a short walk in Central Park, then went to the Avon Walk registration where we met up with our remaining Trekkin' for Ta-Tas team-mates, Laura, Andrea, Sue Lyn, and Gina. I also had the pleasure of meeting Seth, the MooCow Guy, and we found that we have **many** things in common! He immediately fell in love with Sugar, but then who wouldn't? Just look at her sweet tabby face!

Friday night the team went to dinner and we were joined by Andrea's husband Barry, and two more cat ladies, Angie and Carol. 

Because we knew we had to be up early for the walk the next day, we called it a night around 9 pm. 

It was a wonderful time and in my next blog post you will hear all about the walk itself!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cat Lady Walks

In just two days I leave for New York to participate in Avon 39 - The Walk to End Breast Cancer. This is my fifth breast cancer walk and my third since Sugar's feline mammary cancer diagnosis.

For me, October 17 - 18 is the culmination of four months and hundreds of miles of training walks, as well as raising over $2000 in donations. Along with my team-mates and a few thousand people, I will walk 26 miles on Saturday and 13 miles on Sunday. It is no small thing.

Why do we do it?

If you ask 100 people, you'll get 100 different answers. Each individual has their reasons for walking. I walk in memory of Sugar and to raise awareness that pets get breast cancer too. But united we all walk for one purpose - to end this hideous disease.

This weekend, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, please take a moment to think of those of us who are walking in New York. Wish us well or send us some positive energy. Heck you can even wear something pink!

If you're in New York City, come out and cheer us on along the route at one of the many cheering stations. Your encouragement is the best fuel to help us along the way. NYC Cheering Stations

If you're not in New York and you'd like to follow along, just check back here on my blog as I document our pink journey. Feel free to make an encouraging comment here and it will be shared and appreciated by our team.

And finally, if you haven't done it this month, give yourself a breast exam. And if you have pets, give them one too.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Angels Among Us

Many, many years ago, when I had my first kitty, Misty, she was in a freak accident and broke her leg. I was barely making it financially, living paycheck to paycheck, and had no resources for the surgery she needed to repair her leg.

Fortunately for me, a friend loaned me the money and said, "Pay me back when you can." I truly don't know what I would have done without her assistance. She was an angel to do that for me and to this day I feel immense gratitude toward her.

I guess that is a major reason why I am so passionate about the mission of The Murphee and Sugar Angel Foundation - helping others with the financial costs of pets who are critically ill.

The Foundation has helped quite a few pets in the past year. We've contributed toward life-saving surgery, helped with the cost of medications for manageable illnesses such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, and more than once we've helped when it is time to end the pain and suffering of a seriously ill pet. Helping others through the Foundation is both heartbreaking and rewarding, and it is always gratifying.

But the reality is this - my co-founder Kate and I cannot achieve the Foundation's mission alone - we need your help.

100% of your donations go to help others. Kate and I cover all Foundation expenses personally and we do not take a dime from the Foundation.

So, please, be an angel and join us for Sugar's Birthday Celebration by sending $1 and sharing this post. The first $1400 will be matched by me and one of our board members.

Not everyone has a angel who can do what my friend did for Misty and me. And who knows, you may need an angel yourself someday - we all know how uncertain life can be. With your help now, Murphee and Sugar can be there for you and others, just like my angel was there for Misty and me all of those years ago.

We Believe in Angels. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Before Sugar was diagnosed with mammary cancer, my cats had never needed anything more serious than a dental cleaning. Then  I heard those horrible words, "Your cat has cancer" and my world changed forever.

First, I cried until I didn't think I had any tears left. Then I put on my big girl panties and I began to navigate the waters of having a seriously ill pet. I scoured the internet for information. I talked to people I knew who had experience with feline mammary cancer.  I began to speak a new language  - the language of cancer; it includes words like "margins", "malignant", "chemo", "remission", "recurrence", "oncologist".

As I swam through this turbulent and foreign sea, I tried to stay afloat. We took Sugar to a veterinary oncologist and there were decisions to be made. How bad is this? Should we do the mastectomy? Should we do chemo? What about diet, supplements? How long will Sugar live? Can she be cured?

Unfortunately, when it comes to feline mammary cancer, the answers are few. It's aggressive, we know that. But beyond that, we don't know much. And that is true of many other feline cancers because there has been a lot more research done on canine cancer than on feline cancer.

So we learn as we go. We put our trust in our veterinarians. We watch our kitties like hawks. We talk to others dealing with this relentless and hateful disease. Some of us reach out to animal communicators, some of us pray to our higher power for a miracle. In short, we do the best we can with what we know and what we have to work with.

We try not to think about what is going to happen; we try not to constantly worry about what we will do when "it" does. Will I find another lump? Has it spread to the lungs? Will it spread to the lungs or somewhere else?

Greeting the sun.
How do we cope when we are living every day with such uncertainty? Well, I took my cue from Sugar. Blessedly, she didn't know she had cancer. She lived each day to the fullest. She enjoyed her food, she napped in her favorite sunny spots. She watched birds. She sought out and received a million cheek rubs. She slept curled up next to the humans she loved so much. She stopped and smelled the flowers and rolled in the catnip patch. Sugar taught me how to live in the present, to appreciate each day for the gift that it is.

And ultimately, the day did come when "it" happened. The cancer was in Sugar's lungs and pleura and it was time to give her the most loving and unselfish gift that a parent can - a peaceful journey to her tenth life at the Rainbow Bridge.

After Sugar's crossing, I was consumed with grief and doubt.  Should I have done this or that? Would it have made a difference? Could I have done more, done something else?

But the reality is, I don't know and neither does anyone else. I can't rewind the tape and edit it. I can only replay it and learn from it. In my case, I share what I've learned with others through an online support group for parents of pets with cancer and the Sugar Rub! organization.

So I forgave myself. I took comfort in knowing that I did the best that I could based on the resources available to me at the time; that's really all that any of us can do.  And that my friends, is no small thing.