I'm a dog person. When I moved out of my parents' house to go to college, I really wanted to get a dog of my own, but it just wasn't practical. I was in school and working full-time, so I didn't have the time to properly care for a pet.
Then, in 2009, cancer happened. At 19 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IIIb melanoma. I had to withdraw from school and move home.
What better time to get a dog, right? My parents weren't going to say no. Sure, it was a pity purchase, a cancer perk -- call it whatever you want. I was using my cancer as an excuse, but the truth was that I needed a silver lining.
Finding my very own therapy dog during melanoma treatment
I did my research and made plans to pick out a puppy just a few weeks after I finished the induction phase of my melanoma treatment. The puppies made my choice surprisingly easy. One particular girl curled up in my lap and only left to greet my family members -- but then came right back. Though she was a young puppy with tons of energy, she rarely left my side. She was attentive and seemed to have a particularly keen sense of my need for her companionship. She came home with me that day.
Her name is Schatzi. She also goes by the names "Schitzi" (used for those "special" puppy moments) and Schatzi Ann. We went everywhere together when she was small.
She took care of me when treatment made me feel really bad.
And she got me up and moving when I needed to most.
We went on multiple walks a day together. She was patient when we had to slow down or take a break. Puppies don't care if you have cancer. Schatzi didn't notice that I was sick. To her, I was just Amanda. That felt good.
Life with Schatzi after melanoma treatment
Schatzi came into my life as I was starting the at-home portion of melanoma treatment: giving myself shots three times a week. She learned quickly that my energy swings were just a part of life.
Some days we got out and played, while others we snuggled on the couch. She always knew what I needed and exactly when I needed it, even if I didn't know it myself. Now I understand that those days when she was a little too rowdy was just her way of telling me I had taken my "down time" a little too far.
I gave myself my last shot on Feb. 26, 2010 and returned to college the next semester. Of course, Schatzi went with me.
Schatzi is my best friend. Today, she lives with me, my husband, daughter and, yes, another dog. She knows me better than anyone and, to this day, gives me all the support and love I need. I'm convinced that my cancer treatment would not have been as successful were it not for the motivation and positivity that Schatzi brought.
I am making sure that Schatzi feels the love and joy she's given me.
Amanda Woodward now lives in Alaska with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Schatzi loves the cooler weather and now has her own big backyard.