Suleika Jaouad Gives Update & Snuggles with Service Dog River
- Between Two Kingdoms author Suleika Jaouad, 33, is fighting cancer for a second time (she first battled the disease in her 20s).
- She recently shared an update on Instagram, saying she completed a round of chemo and had a bone marrow biopsy. She shared a picture of her with her service dog River, expressing appreciation for her beloved dog.
- Many people with mental or physical health issues, including cancer, use therapy or service dogs. Cancer therapy dogs provide comfort and positivity and help ease a person’s anxiety when going through cancer treatment.
Jaouad shared a picture of her with her service dog River, writing, “Seven days of chemo, a bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap later…River knows all kinds of fancy service dog stuff, but I’m learning that what I prize most are her (new) lap dog skills.”
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In another recent update, she shares a powerful new painting. The author and artist writes cheekily that the painting is her, “Summer 2022 out of office reply.”
Jaouad has regularly focused on art through cancer.
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Jaouad’s Leukemia Battle
Jaouad first battled leukemia in her early 20s, and again today in her early 30s. Partner Jon Batiste has supported her through her health battle. Jaouad had a bone marrow transplant for treatment for her most recent bout of cancer. A bone marrow transplant is a treatment used for some cancers, like leukemia. It replaces bone marrow with healthy cells; it is also called a “stem cell transplant.”
Dr. Nina Shah, a SurvivorNet adviser and hematologist at the University of California San Francisco, explains in an earlier interview how to best understand leukemia. “One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Shah says.
“In general having a blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning correctly,” she explains. “And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia. Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Speaking with Vogue magazine in an interview earlier this year, the Princeton University graduate said of her cancer, “I, today, am actually doing well. I believe I’m on day plus-32 post transplant and I’ve been out of the hospital for almost exactly a week,” she tells the magazine. She says she learned her illness was back in November of last year.
The New York City native says, “It’s so incredibly rare, I think less than 1% of patients, according to my doctor, relapse 10 years after a bone marrow transplant. When my oncologist called me, she was in tears. Not just my world, but my partner’s world and my family’s world completely imploded. We had a weekend to pack up all of our things, to find temporary homes for our dogs, to find a borrowed apartment in New York City and for me to begin chemo.”
What Does a Cancer Therapy Dog Do?
Cancer therapy dogs or cancer service dogs, like Jaouad’s dog River, are trained to help people with cancer feel better emotionally and physically. A cancer therapy dog helps a person going through cancer treatment by reducing anxiety and lifting a person’s mood. In short, cancer therapy dogs primarily provide comfort and support through cancer.
Studies show that spending time with dogs lowers a person’s blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. Therapy dogs may help with pain management, too, as time with dogs can trigger a release of endorphins which mitigate pain and discomfort.
Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet’s experts says that having a positive mood through cancer can benefit treatment. And scientific evidence around depression and cancer show that treating depression positively impacts cancer treatment. This is where aids like cancer therapy dogs can play a tremendous role. However, for more severe cases of anxiety and depression, speak to a psychologist before pursuing treatment or support from a furry friend.
Jane Kopelman, who heads up Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Caring Canine Program, said during a previous interview that they’re hoping to get more pups involved in the program because patients request them so often.
“What most patients say, and studies have proven, is that the dogs reduce anxiety, reduce depression, and they give people a sense of hope–they often motivate people,” Kopelman said. “Patients have said that they were so eager to have the dogs come that it motivated them to get up.”
The dogs can visit patients who are in the hospital after undergoing surgery and also visit outpatient locations where patients may be undergoing treatment like chemotherapy.
If you’re interested in pursuing a cancer therapy dog, speak with your doctor about next steps, or organizations to connect with that train these types of dogs. Note that waiting lists for service dogs tend to be long and their training period is long, too, so time is of the essence if you wish to get a service dog.