I posted two news articles that covered stories about cancer stricken patients and their families visiting zoos. It’s a mere coincidence. I remember when I was in graduate school and working full-time as an animal keeper when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was a health professional herself, a very active community leader and an anchor for her family and friends. She was transferred from an Ohio hospital to the Mayo Clinic and I stayed at home to continue to work and go to school because she didn’t want her children to suddenly give up their lives. My work colleagues were convinced that my coping mechanism was to immerse myself in my work to try to avoid dealing with the emotional distress. I still don’t know if that was the case. I think if anything, I wanted to hold on to something that was familiar, but it certainly put things into perspective. My managers were most accommodating. It was healing to be around animals because they continue to depend on you and although I believe they sense intensity in someone’s emotional state they provide a calm and renewed sense of real-time and an appreciation for living in the moment. To them it’s another day. With that said my mom’s aggressive and terminal disease forced me to look at my life and evaluate some things. In some ways I immediately recognized my own mortality and decided that life was far too short to not take risks. In retrospect, I think I chose to give up working as an animal keeper to hurry through school to finish my degree, but to what end. Although I was most fortunate to be invited back about a year later for a new research position, I think I hastily accepted the job in an effort to get back into the field when I really belonged back in animal care. I’m still thankful for the opportunity.
I should be discussing the healing power or the spiritual benefit of bringing animals into our lives, but I wanted to point out to you that your colleagues who are facing similar life experiences need some support and guidance, especially the younger ones, because as much as the illness affects our loved ones it radically changes the career paths and personal goals of immediate family members. It changes our perspectives about what we do and why we do it. It challenges our dedication to our career aspirations and our role as animal care providers. It makes us reevaluate big and small priorities. It entirely turns our lives upside down and clouds are minds at times.
It also changes our perspective on the quality of life in the context of permitting our animal charges to become competitors for longevity records when their quality of life may be compromised from age related issues. We look at those things differently as well as the limitations of clinical oncology both for humans and animals alike.
This is not the best resource for patients or health care providers, but it is user-friendly and concise, yet comprehensive:
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus