If you saw Lily on a sunny day outside Smelly Cat Coffee, you wouldn’t immediately think this fluffy dog pushing her nose into a stranger’s face and barking excitedly at passing dogs had cancer.
The 7-year-old black Labrador retriever was diagnosed with lymphoma over Memorial Day weekend. She started chemotherapy treatments May 31.
“It was horrible,” said Gretchen Rohleder, Lily’s dog mom and Senior Director of Development at Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “It was shocking.”
Rohleder, 33, had just been applying to get Lily pet insurance when she felt the swollen lymph nodes on her neck. Rohleder landed at Charlotte Animal Referral & Emergency (also known as CARE) to discuss the options.
The decision: Four rounds of chemotherapy, each round involving four treatments and then a rest week, for a grand total of 20 weeks of treatment.
“Ninety percent of dogs go into remission,” Rohleder said she learned, with an average of at least two more years to live beyond remission. She is clear about the fact that she is not trying to put Lily through undue stress — she is working with the oncologist to ensure that.
“You just weigh all these things. And I’ve had her for seven-and-a-half — I wouldn’t say ‘tumultuous’ — years, but she’s been through a lot,” Rohleder said. “We’ve moved a ton of times. Boyfriends. Breakups. All kinds of stuff. She’s always been steadfast for me, and so I’m committing to this, I’m committing to her. Because I feel she deserves this shot.”
Getting that shot at life involves nine medications, fluids, vet visits, treatments — and ample medical bills. Rohleder estimates that by the time treatments end in October, she could spend $10,000 or $12,000.
“I understand that she’s my responsibility, she’s my dog,” said Rohleder, adding that she is capable of footing some of the bills.
But several friends pointed out to her that she helps people fundraise for a living, with the CF Foundation. They told her she can do this, she has a big support system.
“We just have to believe,” Rohleder said.
So, with the help of her sister, she launched a GoFundMe page, complete with Lily’s story and the $7,500 goal to help Rohleder cover medical costs that otherwise could send her into debt.
While she has built a nearly 10-year career around fundraising to further the CF Foundation’s mission with the aid of social media, events and more, this is the first time she’s tried it for herself in her personal life, out of desperation for her dog’s life.
She’s not fully comfortable with it, either. But if she’s learned anything so far, she said, it’s that “hardships are put in front of you as a tool to give you empathy for other people who are going through similar things.”
Fundraising was the only way she could take this treatment route with this hardship.
“Right now we have a lot of hope and my end goal is that two [or more] years with her,” Rohleder said. “I want my regular dog back, and our regular life back.”
Photos: Katie Toussaint, Gretchen Rohleder