A dog lounges in the shade at a man's feet

Catching Shade

Last updated: March 2021

Four and a half years ago, a creature was introduced to me that changed my life for the better. At the time, she was a little puppy, cuddling and squirming around in a box with a bunch of her brothers and sisters. A very cute, very black Lab puppy that we named Zoey. We brought her home, and from that day forward she has been a part of our family. She's my companion, my friend, my sometimes vacation partner, and my everyday workout encourager. She got me out of a deep, dark funk born from the hormone treatments for advanced prostate cancer I was on at the time, and she also gets me out of my chair to walk every day.

Zoey and I have walked through it all

This time of year is challenging for Zoey and I and our daily walks. Because I start work so early (5 a.m.!) I get out of work relatively early, around 2 in the afternoon, which is usually the hottest time of the day. My routine is to get home, have a cup of coffee and a little lunch, and Zoey sits at my feet, patiently waiting for me to finish. When Zoey decides I have had enough time to chill, she literally starts barking at me to get up, get the leash, and get out the door.

And the weather doesn't matter. Over the last 4 years, we've walked in every kind of weather that you can imagine. Hot, cold, rain, sun, cloudy, you name it, we've seen it. We've been caught in summer thunderstorms and winter snow squalls. Last year we got caught in a hailstorm that had us running for the shelter of a local school. Nothing fazes us.

Despite the heat, we push forward

But I must say, summer is the hardest time of the year for us to walk. As the temperature soars, the desire to walk for me lessens. I work in a non-air conditioned factory, so when I get home to the coolness of my house, the last thing I want to do is head back out into the heat. And Zoey is very black and absorbs heat like a strip of asphalt. She's all excited to leave for the walk, but after about a mile she looks at me like she's saying, "What was I thinking? This is ridiculous. Let's get home to a cool drink."

But we keep walking, albeit a little slower than usual. And she has a unique way to beat the heat. I walk Zoey using a leash that can extend up to 16 feet, which gives her freedom to roam a little, sniffing under bushes for bunnies, peeing a ridiculous amount of times, and, this time of year, catching some shade.

Normally walking Zoey can be a challenge for me, because she wants to walk faster than I do, but in the heat of a summer day, she will veer off the sidewalk, slow down and luxuriate in the coolness of the shade of a waiting tree. I'm sure it feels good to get off the hot sidewalk and to feel the cool grass under her paws, even if it is just for a few seconds before we forge onward into the heat. It gives her enough of a respite to continue moving forward.

We all sometimes need a little break

I thought about this the other day watching her take one of her many mini-breaks. How many times in our lives do we just need a little break, a little mini-vacation from the everyday trials of life?

As a stage 4 prostate cancer survivor, and still working a full-time job, I know that these breaks can be lifesavers. I get up early on the weekends so I can quietly listen to music and write, which straightens out my head and helps me appreciate the life I still have in front of me. My wife and I will sometimes go to a local restaurant for a midweek meal, so we can talk and enjoy each other's company in the middle of a busy week.

A quick trip to the lake on a hot day, a visit to a friend's house you haven't seen for a while, or an impromptu trip to a ballgame can be just the ticket to relieve some stress and recharge your batteries. Last year, in the middle of chemo treatments, my brother took me to a Tigers baseball game. I made sure that it was just before an infusion so I would feel okay, and we had a great time. It was just what I needed to keep going, to keep moving, and to complete my treatments.

It's not always about bucket list thinking

As a cancer survivor, I can get caught up in bucket list thinking, about grand vacations to exotic locales that I want to see before I pass. I think that is a natural desire. But, as my life progresses to its inevitable end, I need to remember to take the occasional break that makes the here and now more tolerable and lets me recharge and renew, and appreciate the life I have right now.

Sometimes, that's as easy as feeling the coolness of the shade on a hot summer day. Sometimes its as easy as the wonderful feeling of cool grass under your paws.

Thanks for reading.


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