Companions 4 Life program helps cancer patients care for their pets

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When Valerie Moore first arrived at the Cancer Alliance of Help & Hope office in Palm Beach, she didn’t know what to expect.

The Delray Beach resident, who is battling breast cancer, was immediately welcomed by two administrators who had not one but two gift baskets — one for her and the other for her three cats.

“I had no sooner entered the building when I was presented with a basket filled with (items) that I could use in my home. Then they handed me another basket loaded with all kinds of supplies for my cats,” said Moore, who still faces several rounds of treatments including chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction.

“I was grateful enough for the first basket, but when they brought out the second one for my cats, I was moved to tears,” said Moore, who at one point had six felines but suffered through the loss of three of them. “It was filled with over 20 pounds of pet (essentials).”

Moore is among the about 50 countywide recipients of baskets supplied through the Cancer Alliance’s new Companions 4 Life program. Thanks to the support of many sponsors and donors, the endeavor provides aid to cancer patients struggling to keep their pets due to the financial burden connected with rising medical expenses.

“Our pets mean so much to us, and for the (Cancer) Alliance to give out something that benefits the animals and makes them happy means so much,” Moore said. “When I got home and started taking things out of the pets’ basket, my cats quickly got on the blanket and were playing with the catnip toys.”

Delray Beach's Valerie Moore is joined by one of her cats as she recovers at home following a recent round of chemotherapy. Moore is among about 50 cancer patients who have received support for their animals through the Companions 4 Life program.

Delray Beach’s Valerie Moore is joined by one of her cats as she recovers at home following a recent round of chemotherapy. Moore is among about 50 cancer patients who have received support for their animals through the Companions 4 Life program. (Cancer Alliance of Help Hope / Courtesy)

Back at the office and on hand for the memorable moments with Moore were Cancer Alliance’s CEO Stanton Collemer and director of client services/patient navigator Hector Rubio.

“Hector and Stanton were so nice and greeted me with such warmth,” Moore said. “Not only did they give me the baskets, but they also gave me a gift card to PetSmart and offered to give me a credit toward (a recent) vet bill, which I thought was very nice.”

An extension of the Cancer Alliance’s other initiatives, the Companions 4 Life program was started last May with the goal to keep pets in their homes throughout Palm Beach County by providing funds and supplies like medicine, vitamins, treats and toys for the cancer patients’ furry family members.

In Moore’s case, since she has cats, the gift basket included litter, catnip and other fun things for her felines. The baskets are created specifically in keeping with the types of animals owned by each individual cancer patient.

“This new program helps keep cancer patients and their animals together so that they don’t have to consider giving them up for adoption or taking them to a shelter,” Collemer said.

He also pointed out that pets offer many benefits to cancer patients including companionship, improved mood and motivation to stay active.

For Rubio, who helps guide each patient through the process of seeking and receiving aid for their many needs during these tough times, the expressions of joy and appreciation make every day a special one.

And the assistance doesn’t end when the patients leave the office.

“We stay in touch and continue to provide assistance once a year for their continuing financial needs,” Rubio said. “We have a system where we’re constantly calling the clients at least once every quarter (three months) and making sure everything is OK with them,” Rubio said. “Not only do we want to know how they are doing but also their animals.”

The program doesn’t only bring an emotional uplifting to the cancer patients. It also warms the hearts of Rubio and Collemer.

“It’s very humbling to see the happiness this brings to patients like Valerie (Moore) and so many others who have come to us,” Rubio said. “They and their pets become our extended family.”

He emphasized that having cancer is hard and anything that can bring a positive experience into both their lives and their pets’ lives is extremely important.

“I feel very honored that my job allows me to interact with so many wonderful people,” Rubio said. “(Cancer patients) want to feel like they belong and they’re understood, and a lot of that also involves understanding their pets.”

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Sandra Diaz, who lives in Greenacres, has two Shih Tzus who rely on her to provide them daily love and affection. As was the case with Moore, she was also facing the daily decision of how to feed herself and her pets.

“When Cancer Alliance came through with that basket of wonderful things for my dogs, it touched my heart and was a great blessing. There was everything you could imagine in there including shampoo and dental care,” said Diaz, who has been battling breast cancer for the past two years and is mom to two teenagers and a 22-year-old.

Since she continues to receive ongoing treatments for her cancer, Diaz cannot work and so through this program and other financial resources, she is able to survive “this toughest time of my life.”

With the PetSmart gift card, Diaz was able to buy extra food for her dogs.

“We have long recognized the unending love and support that family pets can bring into the lives of those with cancer and their loved ones,” Rubio said. “Companions 4 Life is an extension of our commitment to help ease the burden of those in our community receiving cancer treatment and who are financially in need.”

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