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Tamara Lovegrove, chair of Hamilton’s Bark for Life event, holds Roxy, who helped her through a long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The 2014 Bark for Life is May 4 at T.B. McQuesten Park.

Cancer’s barking up the wrong tree

By Gord Bowes, News staff

Dogs are known for their innate ability to understand when something is wrong with their owner. They jump into action and try to ease any stress that person is feeling.
Tamara Lovegrove says she has no doubt about the important role a dog can play in the life of someone battling cancer. She was helped by Roxy, her bichon shih-tzu, during her long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“She’s my best friend,” says Lovegrove. “She got me through some really rough days.”
“She would never leave me alone when I was at my worst.”
Lovegrove is chair of Hamilton’s Bark For Life fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. Similar to Relay for Life, except for the dogs, it’s a chance for survivors and their canines to raise money for the cancer society together.
The second Bark For Life takes place May 4 from 9 a.m. to noon at T.B. McQuesten Park.
After being diagnosed in May 2008, Lovegrove, who was 26 and recently married, didn’t respond to four types of chemotherapy. She then went through 32 days of radiation in an attempt to at least slow it down. It did slow the cancer, but she was not cured.
Entering her second year of treatment at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, she decided she needed a break.
“By that time, I was fading away to nothing,” she said. “I was getting blood transfusions, I was very very ill. The doctors told me I had weeks to months to go.”
Lovegrove took the summer off from treatment to spend time with her family.
That September, she was told of a drug trial that looked promising. She was accepted into the program and the drug did help, but there were side effects, including nerve damage in her arms and legs. Doctors stopped the treatment after three of eight scheduled rounds because they feared she could end up paralyzed.
Then she contracted pneumonia, which took a long time to defeat.
“It was the worst time of my life, but it’s also the best thing that happened to me because I feel like I learned so much about myself and life and I’ve become the kind of person that I’m proud to be,” said Lovegrove.
Throughout her battle, her loyal pet was with her.
Lovegrove had received Roxy as a gift the Christmas prior to becoming ill. She was working as an education assistant in Hamilton before being forced into her extended sick leave.
“All of a sudden, I’m home alone every day,” said Lovegrove, a Dunnville resident. “Having (Roxy) was a huge blessing because honestly, some days I don’t know what I would have done without having that dog.”
“Even when I was very sick, I would think to myself, well I have to feed the dog, I have to take the dog for a walk — it motivated me to keep going. I wouldn’t maybe have gotten out of bed some days, but since I had a dog to take care of, it motivated me to get up and keep moving.”
The first Bark For Life was held last September, said Lovegrove. But the organizers received feedback that September was too busy of a month for many people to attend, so it has been turned into a spring event.
“In May, people are looking to get outside,” she said. “They’ve been locked up all winter, the weather is nice. We thought spring would be more successful.”
There will be a costume contest again this year, but with a theme based on the day the event is being held.
“We’re doing a spin on Star Wars — May the 4th be with you,” said Lovegrove.
For more details or to make a pledge, call Katherine Vooys-McDonald at 905-575-9220 or see cancer.ca/BarkHamilton‎. This year’s goal is $10,000.

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