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.