10-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Finds Hope in the Love of an Adopted Puppy

For Graham, an adopted puppy named Phoebe was his wish come true, and the start of an incomparable love story.

Emily + Phoebe

Emily’s son, Graham, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was just 10 years old. Though comforted by the therapy dogs in the hospital, Graham wished for a puppy of his own—and his wish was answered in Phoebe.

"I think there was also a beautiful spark of lives changing in the instant Phoebe and Graham met. Phoebe lay down next to him right away, belly up. Her crate is next to Graham’s bed, and he feeds her and takes her to puppy class. Though she clearly loves all of us, she knows he’s her boy."

In November 2017, our lives changed dramatically in an instant. Our vibrant 10-year-old boy, Graham, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What followed was an epic battle, during which our family was buoyed by an amazing community of love and support. Though Graham was a recipient of all that kindness and caring, there was one thing that kept him going through his treatment and beyond: dogs. Graham asked for his pups endlessly in the hazy, blurry days after his surgeries. 

Once out of the ICU, he was allowed therapy dogs. The joy they brought to Graham was measured by his obvious transformation in their presence. When a dog hopped on his bed, his beaming smile emerged from under the tubes and swollen features. To hear him describe it made everything clear. “Dogs just see me as a person. They don’t see cancer.”

During this time Graham kept saying, “I want a puppy.” And then, as a matter of fact, “I’m puppy deprived.” I argued this point and failed every time. But Graham was clear, and to hear him, the puppy deprivation was real: he hadn’t yet raised his own pup. 

When your bald, suffering child asks for a puppy, everyone tells you to get a puppy. But we were in the hospital two weeks out of every month. This puppy wouldn’t even know Graham. So, I had trust in the future—that there would be a future with a healthy Graham; one where he would have a puppy.

There is no dramatic finish line with cancer. Chemo ends. The feeding tube comes out. Physical therapy spaces out. Follow-up visits happen every three months. Then every four. And then Covid happened. Everything got canceled, even summer camp. Graham knew exactly how we could fill our time: with a puppy!

We like to think that life also changed in an instant for Phoebe. Abandoned under a house in Mississippi, she and her litter were lucky enough to be rescued by the warm web of Sweet Paws Rescue. They got baths and vet care and food and love.

I think there was also a beautiful spark of lives changing in the instant Phoebe and Graham met. Both were shy. Phoebe lay down next to him right away, belly up. Her crate is next to Graham’s bed, and he feeds her and takes her to puppy class. Though she clearly loves all of us, she knows he’s her boy. She watches if he leaves the room and zooms to him when he returns.

Today, Graham’s puppy deprivation is cured. We are sure that once Phoebe was scooped up by the amazing Sweet Paws Rescue team, she was destined to have a great life. But we feel quite certain that she was meant to be Graham’s puppy. Maybe she is his finish line. We know they have endless adventures ahead.

Each year, Petco Love Stories invites adopters to share how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Emily won Sweet Paws Rescue in Essex, Massachusetts a 2021 Love Stories award.