Zeb (11 ½ y/o), as told by owner Thornton Kirby // chocolate lab // loving canine devoted to Thornton & Jim Kirby (brother & father of Survivor Series photographer Mark) // survivor of a prosthetic cyst (abdomen); mast cell tumors (skin); & currently surviving lymphoma

Dogs are pretty special. They’re our partners, our wingmen & our teammates. They are protectors, herders, retrievers, search & rescuers, providers of service & comfort. They guard our children, our homes, & our livestock. They watch over us, hunt with us, walk with us, sniff for us, listen for (& to) us, sit with us, play with us, & let us hold them while we cry. Dogs share our lives with us, & in doing so they help us live; they are home, & they are family.

So it made sense to specifically incorporate these best friends of ours into our Survivor Series, because you know what? They can be cancer survivors, too – just like Zeb, this 11 ½-year old chocolate lab, who is currently undergoing treatment for lymphoma.

But there’s a greater reason we felt it was important to highlight dogs in the Survivor Series: Dogs teach us how to love & nurture. As someone who has been a full-time caretaker for someone fighting cancer, I think that there are a lot of parallels in the rewards & lessons of that experience & in this ancient pact of man & dog. Both teach us about “unqualified devotion” (to use the words of Zeb’s owner, below) to another being through a relationship bound by complete trust & selflessness. It is through this symbiotic legacy of man & dog that we first learn how to be in tune & useful to another being, even when language as an expressive faculty isn’t an option.

I think that I speak for all our featured Survivors when I contend that the rewards of love are not found through the ambiguity of emotion, but through the act of love itself – rewards many of us have most profoundly realized through our dealings with cancer. No matter what side you’re on – that of leading & feeding, or needing to be led & fed – it is through these acts that we discover the most beautiful parts of living & of living together.

It won’t be long until we’ll all have a grand new place to walk, play, sit, heal & celebrate life with our dogs…Shiloh (my collie, who was appropriately featured with me in the Series a few months ago) & I can’t wait to see you in the Park!

“Zeb has lymphoma, & hopefully he’ll be a two-time cancer survivor! He had a knot on his snout; a big lump that just all of sudden appeared…He’s getting chemo now. They decided there was no need to do surgery [this time, though he had tumors removed the first time]. Mark & I’s mom died of lymphoma…It’s is a system-wide cancer, so you can’t really fix it with surgery. The first chemo – he did not respond well to; the mass continued to grow, so they switched up the formula a little bit. The first was intravenous, but this one is oral. He takes it with treats.

“They don’t give dogs doses of chemo that are toxic enough for them to lose their hair. Humans understand what’s going on, & why they are losing their hair – but animals don’t. They don’t push animals that far with their treatments, & the result is that they don’t get as long of a remission. We’re kind of watching the intersection of cancer & arthritis, & which one will be a bigger problem with him down the road.

“[The great part about dogs] is the unqualified devotion; they are constantly happy to see you. I’m driving up to home right now, & they’re running out to the car. It’s the companionship, the constancy of affection & loyalty. There’s a lot of medical literature that suggests that animals are good for blood pressure & stress & everything else. But you don’t get a dog because you want to lower your blood pressure. You get a dog because you love having a companion that’s always around you, & there is some gratification in taking care of another creature that depends on us, & returns that with loyalty & devotion. It’s different than raising a child or taking care of an elderly parent – a different level of dependence; the all-out dependence & reverence for you as the master, or the alpha. They bond with their pack leader.”

Written by Emily Price