Tracy Kinney and her therapy dogs have been regular visitors to The Christ Hospital Cancer Center for nearly two decades. Both she and her canine friends were already well known to staff and patients alike when she was diagnosed with cancer herself.
"I have 12 dogs total, and eight are registered therapy dogs," Kinney says. But her long partnership with the hospital actually started with a different species entirely, when she came to work as a technician on the Cancer Center's 150-gallon saltwater fish tank. When the hospital learned about her dogs, she was told they would be welcome visitors, too.
"She's almost part of the family down here at this point," says Dr. Cornelia McCluskey, a Radiation Oncologist who met Kinney as a volunteer and later treated her as a patient.
Kinney's connection to the Center deepened when her own battle with cancer began in late 2016. "I had blood in my stool for quite a while. I kept thinking it was because I had a hemorrhoid, but it just got worse," Kinney says.
When Kinney finally sought help, her primary care doctor immediately ordered a colonoscopy. "After I woke up from the procedure, the gastroenterologist showed us the pictures he had taken inside my colon and pointed to this monstrous-looking thing," Kinney says. "He said, 'I'm going to put a rush on it, send it off to the lab to find out for sure, but I think this is cancer.' "
Kinney was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. "If I hadn't finally called, it could have metastasized," she says. "It was into the wall of the tissue, but it hadn't gone through it and elsewhere in the body. I was lucky."
Kinney received care from three different groups in the Cancer Center, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. "The concept was to treat her ahead of time with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to help shrink the tumor," Dr. McCluskey says. "That gave the surgeon a better chance to get everything out."
After successful treatments, Kinney and her dogs returned to the Cancer Center with new insights for other patients.
"I think I have a better understanding of what the cancer patients go through, having gone through it myself now," she says. "It means a little more to me when I can make them (patients) smile with the dogs or at least relieve their discomfort for a short time. I had compassion for them before, but I think I have a little more now," Kinney says.
Kinney's dogs help lower stress levels in patients they visit, whether it's snuggling in chairs with people undergoing chemotherapy or bringing a smile to a person who felt lonely and isolated before a visit with a canine. Dr. McCluskey agrees. "It's a joy having Tracy and the dogs down here. As you can imagine, lowering the level of stress for anybody getting cancer treatment is gold. It's so thrilling that people like Tracy are willing to come and volunteer. I just can't give them enough credit."
The Christ Hospital has a comprehensive survivorship program including emotional, financial and support services available before, during and after cancer treatment. For more information, call our Cancer Support Services team at 513-585-4002.
For more information about colon cancer screenings or to talk to a medical professional, contact 513-620-4545. We offer a full range of colon cancer screenings at locations conveniently located throughout the tristate.