Paws for thought

Darrin McGrath
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A brush with cancer reminds writer Darrin McGrath there's nothing better than a day in the woods

This is an article about cancer and beagles.

Not cancer in beagles.

In mid-April 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer.

There was a tumour attached to my stomach.

This is an article about cancer and beagles.

Not cancer in beagles.

In mid-April 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer.

There was a tumour attached to my stomach.

Emergency surgery removed the large growth - and half my stomach. I believe it was by the grace of God that the tumour was not attached to other organs or major blood vessels in the abdomen.

As I write this, I am cancer-free. Doctors are doing regular CT scans to see if there is any regrowth, since they figure there's a 30 to 40 per cent chance it will return.

If it does come back, it will likely be in my stomach or liver.

The good news is, the more time that passes without a recurrence, the less likely that is of happening.

One of the first things that went through my mind when I got the call from my family doctor (and first cousin), Sheilagh McGrath, was what will become of my four beagles if I die?

Caring for four dogs is time-consuming and I worried that my wife would not be able to manage it and her work at the same time.

I thought about my two good friends, Paul Smith and Pat (Bud) Constantine, both of whom have large kennels and many dogs. I figured maybe they could each board two of my beagles so that they wouldn't have to be put down or taken by the local group Beagle Paws, which finds adoptive homes for retired hunting dogs or abandoned pets.

Living

The news that I had cancer came as a real shock. I don't smoke or drink. I am active and am in the woods constantly.

But there's a fair bit of cancer in my family. My father's three brothers (Jack, Jim and Tom) all had different types of cancer. One of my dad's sisters, Alice, also had a stomach tumour, and my own sister, Rosemarie, died of cancer at age 52, just six weeks after diagnosis.

When I awoke after surgery at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's, I saw a person in green hospital clothes.

I asked "Did you get it all?" He replied with a smile, "Yes."

My oldest brother, Pat, was at my bedside. I turned to him and exclaimed, "We'll be hunting this fall!"

I live for hunting. While I enjoy other outdoor pursuits, such as riding my ATV, it's the time from mid-October to the end of February when I can shoot rabbits that I love most. Those 4-1/2 months are my favourite time of the year.

Since I've had a brush with cancer, my time hunting has become precious to me. Whether it's raining or snowing with a -20 C windchill, I don't care as long as I'm in the woods with my beagles. And I don't care if I bag a rabbit or not, as long as I can hear the bells ringing and see the colours of my dogs flashing through the green woods.

I spent eight days in hospital after surgery, hooked up to a variety of tubes and IVs. For a man who loves to walk and spend time outdoors, it was hellish. For the first four days I couldn't eat or drink anything and was only getting IV fluids. I craved a cup of coffee, my drink of choice. And I vowed that, if I lived, I would spend every spare moment in the country.

My friends and hunting buddies rallied around me, and my family was around me night and day.

Faith

I was raised in a family where my father spent a lot of time in the country. My dad also had a very strong faith in God. He passed both these things on to me.

The day before surgery, a calm had come over me and I believed I was in God's hands; it was up to Him to guide the surgeon, Dr. Al Felix.

Before surgery, I asked the doctor if I'd get some hunting in during the fall, and he smiled confidently and said, "Oh, I think you will."

Once I was discharged from hospital, I became a patient of the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre. My oncologist, Dr. Stewart Rorke, told me that I was very lucky to have had the type of tumour I did. What I had was called a "GIST" - a gastrointestinal stromal tumour.

Rorke specializes in treating GIST cancer and told me that if I had had the typical stomach cancer with a tumour as large as the one I had, I probably would have lasted about six months.

It was a sobering moment. And when he told me my latest CAT scan was clean, I jumped up and hugged him.

I didn't shoot a lot of rabbits during the 2008-'09 season - maybe a dozen to the end of January. But the rabbits I got were hugely important to me. Whether it was a morning hunting with my brothers, or an afternoon near my cabin on my own, I said a little prayer of thanks to God each time I was in the woods.

It made no difference if my youngest dog, Ranger, roamed a little too far and I had to search for her. Or if Tiny, my oldest dog, was too stiff and sore to run every day. I spent every spare minute in the woods. I even shot a couple of rabbits on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Of course, I still get mad if I fire at a running rabbit and miss. And I worry from time to time that the cancer will return and end my hunting. But I'm learning to label such worrisome thoughts as intrusive and put them out of my mind.

I also remind myself that I have to trust God to look after me.

I take nothing for granted.

Darrin McGrath writes from St. John's.

Organizations: Mercy Hospital

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • tedley
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    hunting rabbits for food is not a bad thing. these animals tend to multiply greatly if not controlled. they are also delicious. those so called animal lovers do not realize that if those animals are not hunted, they can over populate, which can cause them more harm than good. to Darrin, Bravo for you and congrats on beating Cancer. to the people who wrote in to condemn Darrin, Please, for your own sake, get a life...by the way, Beagles LOVE running and hunting. to cage them up in a small apartment is way more cruel than to let them do what they are bred to do..HUNT.

  • mercedes
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Your article doesn't impress me! Next time you go out leave your dos at home. Beagles are small shorthaired dogs and I'm sure that they dont tolerate twenty% below zero too well! And if you didn't shoot those rabbits for food, don't thank God for senseless killing;He had no part in it!

  • Animal Lover
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Beagles are not just hunting dogs. They are like all dogs that need to be loved, fed and warm. Why is it that so many hunters own one and then either shoot them or abandon them at the end of the hunting season. These animals have hearts, but to those that abuse them have neither.

  • Animal Lover
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    To those that think I am insuating that this person doesn't love his beagle is wrong. I never said that he didn't, but what I am saying is that there are some who just have them to hunt and for nothing else. They show no love or mercy and when the game is over, they get rid of them. Just read the paper and see how some are either abandoned or shot to death after the hunt. Sure they are great hunting dogs, but that doesn't mean that they have to be treated inhumanely. No, I never accused this person of being abusive, but my message is to anyone that owns an animal is to fed it, keep it warm (as you wouldn't want to freeze to death either) and take care of it. Pets aren't disposable as some may think. To those who do the crime, I hope do the time. Every other minute there's animal abuse. Just read your local news. Another animal left out in the freezing cold this past weekend to be found with 14 pups, 4 froze to the blanket dead, another six had to be put down and now because someone out there cares, this animal and the four remainder pups are out of harm's way. These kind of stories need to make those jerks accountable. These animals cannot speak for themselves so we have to be their voice. Be responsible pet owners and to those who don't like what I'm saying really need to get a life.

  • Roxanne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Your story is inspirational Mr. McGrath. This story is about facing death and learning to appreciate life and in your own way you have made us all feel a little more appreciative.

    I am an animal lover, and I know there are people out there who abuse beagles, but I have to say, how many people thinks about what will happen to their dogs when they are faced with death. You even considered who would care for them for you. You obviously love your animals. Thank you for sharing this story.

  • Stupid Comment
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    OK, so enough of the stupid comments by so called animal lovers . Anyone who has ever owned or hunted with a beagle will know that you'll never see a beagle happier than when he/she is hunting. I'm sure that Mr. McGrath takes very good care of his beagles, as do most people who own and hunt with Beagles. You people try to take the few stories of abuse that do exist and make every hunter look like they abuse their dogs just because they hunt with them. Comments such as those above by Mercedes jones and animal lover are not pertient to this story and are basically idiotic. Please get a life. Mr. McGrath, hopefully you'll keep you health and enjoy many more days with your dogs. Cheers.

  • Ted
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Your story touched me. I too was touched by the hand of God. In December 12, 2003, I underwent what was to be routine surgery, to remove a growth in a saliva gland. I was so scared when going into the surgery. Although I was raised in a Catholic family, I never really knew what it was like to pray. That was until that day. I asked God for the strength to withstand whatever was going to happen to me, and just prior to being wheeled down the hall for the surgery, I felt the hand of God hold on to me. Suddenly, all my fears were gone. It was at that time that I vowed to do something good for someone when I got better.
    It was late in the day when I got out of surgery, and when awakened, the doctor was standing over my bed. He held my hand very tightly, and said that the surgery took far longer than they thought. He said that the growth was not in the saliva gland, but rather, it was what he referred to as a Neuro-Fibular Tumor. He said that since the tumor wrapped itself in and around the nerve, it could possibly be Cancer. Either as a result of total shock and fear, or because of the workings of God, I looked up at my Mother, who had flown from Stephenville to St John's to be with me during my time at St. Claire's. I told my mom that something strange is happening to me. I asked her to call my dad, and tell him that he has to call his sister, who he has not spoken to in over 20 years, and that he has to make up with her. She looked at me very strangely, but did what I requested. My dad said that he could not do this, as he was very angry at his sister. In a very short time, we received a call. It was from my dad. He was crying. (My Dad doesnt cry for anything!) He said guess where I am! I am in the arms of my lovely sister! We do not even know why we were arguing, but we realized that it was silliness
    Since it was so close to Christmas, I was sent home so that I could be with my family for the holidays. The doctors would send the tumor outside the province to have it analyzed, to determine whether or not it was cancer. My church had prayers for me that whole month. People came by to visit me, and asked if I was alright. For some reason, the thought of having Cancer did not bother me. I just looked forward to having it cured. (This from someone who, before the surgery, was afraid of band-aids)
    I got a call in February; it was one of the nurses who worked at the Health Science Center. She asked if I could come back to St. Johns for a MRI. She also noted that they got a response from the people who tested the tumor, and it was not cancer at all.
    When I spoke to the Doctor, he said that he, along with the many Oncologists who worked on me during the surgery, thought for sure that it was Cancer.
    Since then, my whole life has changed. I went back to school and did a program that taught me how to better help the public, and from there, I created a volunteer group that consisted of youth and other community members visiting seniors on a weekly basis. I also worked to help out victims of a flood in the town in which I lived. I met a very special woman who is now my fiancé. I became a much better person, confident and positive in everything I do. I have now attained a job that enables me to help people on a daily basis. I owe everything to God for this. I owe him or the gift of a better life, for the gift of having the best doctors, for the love in my life now, and for the gift of having my Dad and Aunt talking again.
    So go ahead and enjoy your life. If hunting is what you enjoy, then do it. Do not listen to the negative people who may comment on your wonderful letter, but go and be thankful for having a second chance at a normal life. And Thank you for writing a letter that has helped inspire my day.

  • Roxanne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us to enjoy life. I'm sure you take very good care of your beagles they are most happiest when they are hunting!

  • Coda
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Boy oh boy oh boy.
    Some of the people who left comments here are missing the boat. Go get an MRI done to see if you are missing any part of your brain.
    You didn't have the sense to get the moral of the story but had to criticize a life changing experience by posting ridiculous comments about beagles when that is not the story.
    Mr McGrath, thank you for sharing the story with us and I wish everyone could be so lucky as you and Ted. God bless and keep the faith. I guess you learn, but better late than never, that you shouldn't waste time on the unhappy things but doing what you love the best. Don't mind those other useless comments, those idiots don't know any better.

  • JK
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    You appreciate life and yet you kill furry little animals for the fun of it?

  • Lori
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Darrin, thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes it takes a huge event to realize what is truly important to us. I'm sorry people are quick to label you a senseless killer and animal abuser without knowing whether or not you are shooting for food, how much you do care for your dogs and how much beagles (for the most part) enjoy being part of the hunt :).

  • jason
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Darren gald to see you are doing better and enjoying the outdoors. To Mercedes and Animial Lover, why is everyone so quick to draw conclusions on hunters? If you truly knew beagles you would know that is cruelty to not let them hunt. The pure joy on their faces when they are getting ready for a day in the woods. If given the choice they would take -20 and a day in the woods over being home curled up infront of the wood stove. It amazes me how the general population tars everyone with the same brush.

  • tedley
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    hunting rabbits for food is not a bad thing. these animals tend to multiply greatly if not controlled. they are also delicious. those so called animal lovers do not realize that if those animals are not hunted, they can over populate, which can cause them more harm than good. to Darrin, Bravo for you and congrats on beating Cancer. to the people who wrote in to condemn Darrin, Please, for your own sake, get a life...by the way, Beagles LOVE running and hunting. to cage them up in a small apartment is way more cruel than to let them do what they are bred to do..HUNT.

  • mercedes
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Your article doesn't impress me! Next time you go out leave your dos at home. Beagles are small shorthaired dogs and I'm sure that they dont tolerate twenty% below zero too well! And if you didn't shoot those rabbits for food, don't thank God for senseless killing;He had no part in it!

  • Animal Lover
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Beagles are not just hunting dogs. They are like all dogs that need to be loved, fed and warm. Why is it that so many hunters own one and then either shoot them or abandon them at the end of the hunting season. These animals have hearts, but to those that abuse them have neither.

  • Animal Lover
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    To those that think I am insuating that this person doesn't love his beagle is wrong. I never said that he didn't, but what I am saying is that there are some who just have them to hunt and for nothing else. They show no love or mercy and when the game is over, they get rid of them. Just read the paper and see how some are either abandoned or shot to death after the hunt. Sure they are great hunting dogs, but that doesn't mean that they have to be treated inhumanely. No, I never accused this person of being abusive, but my message is to anyone that owns an animal is to fed it, keep it warm (as you wouldn't want to freeze to death either) and take care of it. Pets aren't disposable as some may think. To those who do the crime, I hope do the time. Every other minute there's animal abuse. Just read your local news. Another animal left out in the freezing cold this past weekend to be found with 14 pups, 4 froze to the blanket dead, another six had to be put down and now because someone out there cares, this animal and the four remainder pups are out of harm's way. These kind of stories need to make those jerks accountable. These animals cannot speak for themselves so we have to be their voice. Be responsible pet owners and to those who don't like what I'm saying really need to get a life.

  • Roxanne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Your story is inspirational Mr. McGrath. This story is about facing death and learning to appreciate life and in your own way you have made us all feel a little more appreciative.

    I am an animal lover, and I know there are people out there who abuse beagles, but I have to say, how many people thinks about what will happen to their dogs when they are faced with death. You even considered who would care for them for you. You obviously love your animals. Thank you for sharing this story.

  • Stupid Comment
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    OK, so enough of the stupid comments by so called animal lovers . Anyone who has ever owned or hunted with a beagle will know that you'll never see a beagle happier than when he/she is hunting. I'm sure that Mr. McGrath takes very good care of his beagles, as do most people who own and hunt with Beagles. You people try to take the few stories of abuse that do exist and make every hunter look like they abuse their dogs just because they hunt with them. Comments such as those above by Mercedes jones and animal lover are not pertient to this story and are basically idiotic. Please get a life. Mr. McGrath, hopefully you'll keep you health and enjoy many more days with your dogs. Cheers.

  • Ted
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Your story touched me. I too was touched by the hand of God. In December 12, 2003, I underwent what was to be routine surgery, to remove a growth in a saliva gland. I was so scared when going into the surgery. Although I was raised in a Catholic family, I never really knew what it was like to pray. That was until that day. I asked God for the strength to withstand whatever was going to happen to me, and just prior to being wheeled down the hall for the surgery, I felt the hand of God hold on to me. Suddenly, all my fears were gone. It was at that time that I vowed to do something good for someone when I got better.
    It was late in the day when I got out of surgery, and when awakened, the doctor was standing over my bed. He held my hand very tightly, and said that the surgery took far longer than they thought. He said that the growth was not in the saliva gland, but rather, it was what he referred to as a Neuro-Fibular Tumor. He said that since the tumor wrapped itself in and around the nerve, it could possibly be Cancer. Either as a result of total shock and fear, or because of the workings of God, I looked up at my Mother, who had flown from Stephenville to St John's to be with me during my time at St. Claire's. I told my mom that something strange is happening to me. I asked her to call my dad, and tell him that he has to call his sister, who he has not spoken to in over 20 years, and that he has to make up with her. She looked at me very strangely, but did what I requested. My dad said that he could not do this, as he was very angry at his sister. In a very short time, we received a call. It was from my dad. He was crying. (My Dad doesnt cry for anything!) He said guess where I am! I am in the arms of my lovely sister! We do not even know why we were arguing, but we realized that it was silliness
    Since it was so close to Christmas, I was sent home so that I could be with my family for the holidays. The doctors would send the tumor outside the province to have it analyzed, to determine whether or not it was cancer. My church had prayers for me that whole month. People came by to visit me, and asked if I was alright. For some reason, the thought of having Cancer did not bother me. I just looked forward to having it cured. (This from someone who, before the surgery, was afraid of band-aids)
    I got a call in February; it was one of the nurses who worked at the Health Science Center. She asked if I could come back to St. Johns for a MRI. She also noted that they got a response from the people who tested the tumor, and it was not cancer at all.
    When I spoke to the Doctor, he said that he, along with the many Oncologists who worked on me during the surgery, thought for sure that it was Cancer.
    Since then, my whole life has changed. I went back to school and did a program that taught me how to better help the public, and from there, I created a volunteer group that consisted of youth and other community members visiting seniors on a weekly basis. I also worked to help out victims of a flood in the town in which I lived. I met a very special woman who is now my fiancé. I became a much better person, confident and positive in everything I do. I have now attained a job that enables me to help people on a daily basis. I owe everything to God for this. I owe him or the gift of a better life, for the gift of having the best doctors, for the love in my life now, and for the gift of having my Dad and Aunt talking again.
    So go ahead and enjoy your life. If hunting is what you enjoy, then do it. Do not listen to the negative people who may comment on your wonderful letter, but go and be thankful for having a second chance at a normal life. And Thank you for writing a letter that has helped inspire my day.

  • Roxanne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us to enjoy life. I'm sure you take very good care of your beagles they are most happiest when they are hunting!

  • Coda
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Boy oh boy oh boy.
    Some of the people who left comments here are missing the boat. Go get an MRI done to see if you are missing any part of your brain.
    You didn't have the sense to get the moral of the story but had to criticize a life changing experience by posting ridiculous comments about beagles when that is not the story.
    Mr McGrath, thank you for sharing the story with us and I wish everyone could be so lucky as you and Ted. God bless and keep the faith. I guess you learn, but better late than never, that you shouldn't waste time on the unhappy things but doing what you love the best. Don't mind those other useless comments, those idiots don't know any better.

  • JK
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    You appreciate life and yet you kill furry little animals for the fun of it?

  • Lori
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Darrin, thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes it takes a huge event to realize what is truly important to us. I'm sorry people are quick to label you a senseless killer and animal abuser without knowing whether or not you are shooting for food, how much you do care for your dogs and how much beagles (for the most part) enjoy being part of the hunt :).

  • jason
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Darren gald to see you are doing better and enjoying the outdoors. To Mercedes and Animial Lover, why is everyone so quick to draw conclusions on hunters? If you truly knew beagles you would know that is cruelty to not let them hunt. The pure joy on their faces when they are getting ready for a day in the woods. If given the choice they would take -20 and a day in the woods over being home curled up infront of the wood stove. It amazes me how the general population tars everyone with the same brush.