Therapy dog helps cancer patients get through treatments

SOLDOTNA — At Peninsula Radiation Oncology in Soldotna, a new therapy is available to help patients cope with cancer treatment.

Her name is LC, a 12-year-old English Setter.

As a certified therapy dog, LC is regularly present in the building’s lobby to help patients relax and relieve stress before receiving treatment.

Before becoming certified more than a year ago, LC was the pet of Dr. James Blom, one of the center’s radiation oncologists. Now, she is part of the treatment center’s family.

“She has been such a joy, and such a blessing for each and every patient,” said Jennifer Bostelman, Peninsula Radiation Oncology front office coordinator.

Bostelman said that LC has made a big difference in patients’ lives. 

One example of LC’s calming influence she cited was when a patient had extremely high blood pressure and couldn’t be treated without first calming down. Bostelman said the patient opted to sit in the lobby and pet LC instead of treating her blood pressure at the hospital.

“It wasn’t 20 or 30 minutes later she went back in (the treatment room) and took her blood pressure and she was perfectly fine, and she was able to get treated,” Bostelman said.

Bostelman said similar stories are not uncommon at Peninsula Radiation Oncology.

Soldotna isn’t the only place where therapy dogs are used. They are becoming common at hospitals throughout the nation including the Mayo Clinic, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has been using therapy dogs since 2007, canines have many therapeutic benefits including reducing anxiety, providing a comfortable environment, and decreasing the need for pain medicine.

While therapy dogs have proven benefits, people who are uncomfortable around dogs need only notify Peninsula Radiation Oncology and LC can be removed. Peninsula Radiation Oncology also posts signs warning people that a therapy dog is present, however, Bostelman said there has never been any problems with LC.

“She’s just so well behaved,” she said. “As soon as the door opens she’s greeting our patients. She comes over and has a seat with them, and they pet her until it’s time to go get their treatment.”

LC has become so popular that patients regularly bring her treats and take her for walks outside the hospital. LC was even given her own business cards.

“She has brought so much joy and peace to our patients,” Bostelman said. “They’re so grateful.”

Ian Foley is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.