We all have those days which we mentally record as a special day that we want to pin to a memory board and hold onto. As part of our new Real Life series for K9 Magazine we're bringing you stories and tales of those very special days.
Meet Amanda Nash and her dog Poppy!
I’ve always loved dogs, and had them throughout my childhood, but when I was working it wasn’t fair to have a dog as I didn’t have the time to spend with it. But all that changed when I took early retirement following my diagnosis of secondary breast cancer at age 40. At such an emotional and difficult time in my life I decided it was a perfect opportunity to get a dog for company.
Secondary breast cancer is when breast cancer has spread to another part of the body and become incurable. My diagnosis came as a big shock - I’d had liver problems and been feeling tired, but it wasn’t until I found a breast lump that I was worried. On 16th November 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to my liver - it can be treated to slow down the spread, but it can’t be cured. It can be hard to get your head around that, but I try not to worry too much about the future. My diagnosis means I get tired a lot but having a dog means I’ve got a reason to get out and be active every day.
Poppy is a Border Terrier (like Andy Murray’s) and I picked her from a breeder at five weeks old then collected her at eight weeks. She’s just turned 2 years old and she’s so well-behaved and intelligent (although I might be biased!). We walk every day in the field behind our house and Poppy’s favourite thing in the world is a ball- I’ve got a launcher and when I throw the ball it’s as if there’s nothing else in the world- she’s not even interested in playing with other dogs!
In 2011 I had Poppy registered as a Pets As Therapy dog. Knowing the calming effect she had on me, I thought it would be nice to be able to share this with other people in a similar situation. We had to be officially assessed in a place she’d never been to and tested for things like how she acted around other people and dogs and eating without snatching. She passed with flying colours so I approached my local hospice and registered as a volunteer and we started visiting the patients every other Friday- Poppy had a smart Pets As Therapy lead, tag and jacket to wear.
Now I’m a patient at the hospice I can’t carry on with the Pets As Therapy there but I do still take Poppy in as my pet as the patients and staff have come to know and love her. She’s so perceptive, especially if I’m in hospital. Earlier this year I had lots of trouble with my lungs and wasn’t at all well, so it was difficult to be away from her. At the moment though, I’m not having any active treatment, which feels a bit odd, but it does mean I can be at home with her. My next appointment is in November when I’ll find out whether I need to start back on the chemotherapy.
When we got Poppy I bought a book about Border Terriers to swot up on how to care for them. In it I read that they can be good at dog agility. People laughed when I told them, but I thought it would be good stimulation for both of us and these days I think ‘I don’t have time to mess about’!
Poppy had to be one year old before we could start agility classes so we signed up for a local class in June 2011. We go once a week on a Thursday afternoon for an hour and it’s completely for fun - I’m not really interested in competitions. There are 6 couples (owner and dog) in our class and Poppy’s best friend is a poodle called Rio. In the training we cover things like jumps, tunnels (rigid and soft), the tyre, the A frame, dog walk, weave poles and see saw. It all takes a lot of control work and the teacher gives us techniques to work around the course and wait at the touch points. The see saw can be a real challenge as it tips over so you need a lot of control - Poppy sometimes just jumps off half way along!
For me, it’s nice to do an activity which isn’t about my cancer. I’m really open with people in my class about my illness though, as I think people should feel comfortable talking about secondary breast cancer so it’s not such a taboo – that’s why I do a lot of work with charities like Breast Cancer Care to raise awareness by speaking about my experience. I’ve definitely found out who my real friends are since my diagnosis, so my theory is, if me being open about my experience can help someone else support their friend in a similar situation then it’s got to be worth it.
I definitely think Poppy’s dog agility classes have helped Ray, my husband, and I with obedience at home- Poppy never begs or steals food and loves to be around people, which is great for my visits from nurses. I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t tend to worry about it, but I’m really grateful that I’ve got Poppy by my side as I face it.