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Chyrisse’s Story

It’s interesting how much of our lives we try to control. We plan and prepare. We dream and worry. We hope and stress. There are things we try to achieve and things we try to avoid. And so often life just take its own course anyway…

George was born in the spring of 2013. We raised him up to five years old, discovering along the way that he wouldn’t have what we were looking for to make our Iditarod race team. By the summer of 2018 we were looking for a new home for George. Based on his personality and habits we knew he’d be happiest in a pet home. Pulling a sled was fun for George, but roaming and snuggling were even better.

a person and a dog sitting on the ground

George and his brother, Ringo, as month-old puppies. Summer 2013

Chyrisse and Tim took a tour with us that summer and we happened to mention that George was up for adoption. We had mentioned that to many visitors at this point, but who goes on vacation and takes a dog home with them? Chyrisse and Tim went home without George, but contacted us months later saying they couldn’t stop thinking about him, and would we be willing to send him to North Dakota? Sure! We can do that. Well, it ended up being more expensive that we’d all hoped, and logistically pretty crazy, but we got him there and by Christmas he was making the rounds to midwest holiday parties, eating cookies and being snuggled by kiddos. It was perfect. Chyrisse sent us updates during those first few months with George. We chatted about training techniques and dietary subjects. She shared photos. Everyone was happy.

a group of people standing next to a dog

Chyrisse and Tim during their tour with us. Summer 2018

Then several months passed without hearing from Chyrisse. No surprise there. We’ve adopted out several dogs throughout the years and we know that eventually a threshold is passed over-which the dog stops being ours, and truly comes to belong to their new owners. That’s great! So we assumed all was well with George, and no news was good news. But this week we received an email from Chyrisse, detailing how she and Tim and George have spent the past several months. Excerpts from her email are shared here with her permission:

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“I was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer at the end of February this year. I’d had a 3D mammogram in mid August of 2018 that was totally clear, but in January I found a palpable lump that was somewhat painful in my left breast. By the time the biopsies were done and diagnosis was confirmed, I had two tumors in the breast tissue and at least one lymph node (probably more) with tumor. I went off work in mid March and started four months of chemotherapy on March 19th of this year. I had bilateral mastectomy surgery on August 27th. I will be starting a series of 25 radiation treatments over a period of five weeks on October 7th. As you can imagine, it has been quite a journey. I want to let you know how important George and you both have been to us over the course of the past number of months…

a dog lying on a sofa

Chyrisse and George during Chyrisse’s chemotherapy treatments. Summer 2019

…George has been a faithful, loving, and constant companion to me over the many long days and nights during my treatment. When I was first diagnosed, I asked the oncologist how I could best support myself to get through the treatment as best as possible. He said, “stay active” as this would help manage the inevitable fatigue. George and I already had a routine of two long walks per day, and we kept it up and even lengthened the walks when I was off work. As treatment progressed, I wasn’t always able to walk as far or as quickly. Some days were better than others. 

a dog standing on grass

George on a walk in North Dakota

George always seemed to sense when the day was hard and stayed close to me on the walks or waited for me to catch up to him. Sometimes Tim had to take over for some walks, but I always tried to get back to them as soon as possible. George brought me joy, distraction, and purpose on those walks. The walks were often the best part of my days and sometimes were the only activity I could manage. During the parts of the day when I was inside sleeping or resting, George has been always there with me. Choosing to stay close and hang out rather than go outside by himself and explore the property. When it’s time for food or a walk, he’s always ready to go but never demanding. He’s been so very patient with me! He’s also been an important support to Tim who is walking this journey along with me. George is always ready for a wrestle, or to go outside with Tim while he does chores outside, or to cuddle whether daytime or in the middle of the night. George usually sleeps in the garage, but both Tim and I have invited him in during the night when we were afraid or couldn’t sleep and George will lie down, cuddle and keep us company in the most comforting way. We are both deeply attached to him.

a herd of cattle standing on top of a lush green field

Looks like a nice place to be a dog

You may be surprised to know that you both have also been an important support to us particularly through the period of initial diagnosis and treatment. I was diagnosed around the 27th of February. We were driving back and forth to Grand Forks (100 miles each way) for medical appointments and scans during that time and through much of March. Well, you know that is Iditarod time. We followed your posts and Jeff’s progress closely leading up to and throughout the Iditarod. I signed up for updates on Jeff’s progress throughout the race using a link KattiJo provided on Facebook. We followed all her posts through the race and anxiously awaited Jeff’s blog posts afterwards. Most often, Tim would be driving me to and from Grand Forks and I would be reading posts aloud and letting him know which checkpoints Jeff had passed and then we’d look up locations on the route map and try and learn as much as we could about the race and what he was going through. We were both intensely interested and engaged and I can’t tell you how unifying and helpfully distracting it was to give us another focus for our thoughts and energies during that time! It’s hard to describe. I literally don’t know how we would have gotten through that period without our connection to you, the dogs of Black Spruce, and the happenstance of the Iditarod happening right at that point. It was tremendously helpful. Even though we were only at the kennel for a couple of hours in July 2018, you made a tremendous impression on both of us, and we feel really connected to you and the dogs through our tour and through George.”

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We are sharing this story because we know that Chyrisse is not alone. Millions of women around the world are touched by breast cancer each year. We pray that each of them has a support system like what Chyrisse has. It might be a dog, a partner, or a beloved routine that helps to keep these women strong and fighting. It might even be a blog like this one, or a social media profile that helps to add distraction, humor or inspiration on a long car ride, or before a scary doctors appointment. We often think about what we get out of posting online, but rarely stop to think about what others might be getting out of it.

To Chyrisse & Tim – Thank you so much for including us on your journey. You are not alone. You are in our thoughts and prayers, and now you are in the thoughts and prayers of everyone who is reading this. Keep fighting, and keep walking. George will be right there with you every step.

a group of people standing in the sand
Meant to be… Chyrisse harnessing George during her tour with us. Summer 2018