Long before he was making everyone smile with his delicious puppy excitement, long before he was even born - Duke had a name.
Sam picked the name out for her "future puppy" long ago. But, as it does in your 20s, life got too busy, taking her on adventures and leading her down new paths. Sam knew future Duke needed more time than she currently had, so she waited.
She started coughing one day, about three years ago, "and it just never stopped". Despite the constant annoyance, she completed her yoga teacher training in Victoria and was living a happy life on Vancouver Island.
Sam moved home to the Okanagan earlier this year, where her family doctor finally sent her and her persisting pneumonia to a specialist.
[this next part is heavy, brace yourself]
On September 20th, the otherwise healthy, carefree yoga teacher was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer.
On November 3rd, a 12 cm mass (think grapefruit) and half of her left lung were removed, leaving a [badass] incision across her back, baring 30 staples.
The second she could drive, her first trip was to visit a friend whose dog had recently whelped a litter of puppies. Before surgery, her friend had mentioned she thought one of the little pups should be Sam's. Not knowing what her future held, she hadn't taken it seriously, but no one turns down the opportunity to have 9 golden retriever puppies crawl all over them [I have it under very good authority, that it is incredibly therapeutic].
On November 30th, a meeting with the oncologist revealed that she was "incurable". The 27-year-old was told she had only 6 months to live if she left her disease untreated, or 1-2 years with conventional medicine.
It was that day that she decided to get her Duke.
"I needed emotional support; something to keep me going," she says.
Just before Christmas, 1 of those 9 squirmy puppies that had made her forget, even if just for an afternoon, about the throbbing pain of major surgery, officially became hers. Hand-picked by her friend as the calmest in the litter, she calls him her "God-sent angel puppy", and he very well may be.
No dog knows what their job will be when they come home, but Duke has an especially important one. He gets to keep Sam living.
He gets to wake her up, even when she may not feel like moving. He brings her an abundance of joy. He blocks out anything negative that may slither its way into her thoughts. He gives her kisses. He cuddles her every night. He keeps her laughing. He gives her a reason to battle the disease that has now spread into her other lung. He gives her a reason to smile and to move forward.
Refusing to believe her prognosis, she remains a positive light and one hell of a fighter. With the help of naturopathic doctors, an unconventional treatment plan tailored to her, and Duke happily playing at her side, Sam is determined to beat the cancer which resides in her body.
"Plus," she says, "it means I have to live, at least, like, 16 more years. I have a dog son to take care of!"
Blissfully unaware, Duke has a very important job, indeed.