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'Celebration of Life' honors animals who have had cancer

For many years, veterinary oncologist Dr. Luminita Sarbu has kept a very special plaque above her desk. Dr. Sarbu, who runs Veterinary Oncology Center in Renton, Washington, has touched the lives of thousands of animals and their people, treating them during the most devastating diagnoses. But she keeps coming back to that plaque.

Theodore and a friend
Tracy Campion
Celebration of life honors animals who have had cancer
Tracy Campion

"I've been keeping a plaque of a patient above my desk – a beautiful three-legged white dog called Tasha," Dr. Sarbu explained. "She's rolling in the grass, all smiles, eyes closed in enjoyment, not worrying that she only had three legs or that she was fighting cancer.

"Tasha was about living life in the moment and sharing her joy with her owner. The plaque reads: 'Some gifts you hold in your hand, some you hold in your heart.' Tasha passed away many years ago, but her picture reminds me every day that it's the little moments like this that make life big. The roll in the grass, the chase of the squirrel, the lazy stretch on a sunny window sill, the cuddle in the morning. These are the gifts each of us hold in our hearts, forever proof of how our pets enrich our lives, make us smile and bring out the best in us."

Every year, Dr. Sarbu and her staff celebrate the special moments in the lives of animals and their families. The Celebration of Life Picnic, which occurred yesterday at Kelsey Creek Farm, is dedicated to past and present patients who are pet parents, honoring living life to the fullest - despite a cancer diagnosis.

"We're humbled to have been part of your pet's journey, having witnessed their tenacious spirits while battling cancer, and your commitment and unending love," Dr. Sarbu stated.

The Celebration of Life featured a raffle, food and beverages, stories and photographs, and plenty of smiles and wagging tails. Some of the guests came with animal family members who were in remission from their cancer - one dog, fourteen-year-old Labrador retriever Sam, had been in remission for an amazing four years. And some of the guests brought along new additions to their family - dogs who had joined their home since the passing of an animal who had had cancer.

But the thread that tied them all together was the tireless dedication of Dr. Sarbu and her staff. "It's important to have an event like this," Dr. Sarbu explained. "I love it when our patients come back one, two, three years later - with cancer survivors and with new animal family members."

A happy dog nudged Dr. Sarbu's leg as he walked by and she smiled down at him. Other dogs greeted one another with smiles, laughs, and wagging tails.

Each dog had a story that resonated with Dr. Sarbu and with the other special guests - they were either cancer survivors or they were the younger family members of an animal who had passed away from cancer. Beautiful Carmella came came with her people, Gay and Alicia. The little dog had had part of her jaw removed because of her cancer. Carmella's tail wagged happily as her tongue hung out of her smiling mouth.

Two black Labradors, Emmie and Teddy, came with their people, Greg and Bonnie. Diesel the English Bulldog came with his person, Stephanie. Theodore the Maltese came with his person, Cynthia. Wanda the shepherd/sharpei mix came with her person, Halina. Sam the chocolate Labrador retriever - who, at fourteen, had been in remission from his cancer for four years - came with his person, Judy.

Charlie the Vizsla came with his person, Obie. Seven-month-old Tifa, the family member of Veterinary Oncology vet tech Melanie, was happy to meet and greet everyone. Henry the German shorthair pointer came with his person, Lynn. Briards Coco and Ellie came with their people, John and Debbie. "I can't recommend Dr. Sarbu highly enough," John enthused as he patted his gentle giants.

Joule the Rottweiler came with her person, Sharon. Rosie the black Labrador retriever came with her person, Kate. (And coaxed some cheese from Seattle Pets Examiner, too). Wilson and Mia the yellow Labrador retrievers came with their person, Jim. Jim's previous dog, Champion, had been a patient at Veterinary Oncology Center.

Nina came with her person, Marcus. Marcus' previous dog, Ginger, had been a patient at Veterinary Oncology Center. "Dr. Sarbu helped Ginger have an additional year of life," Marcus said, "...and with good quality of life."

Charles the mini pin came with his people, Bonnie and Tamara. Jax the black Labrador retriever came with his person, Sheila, and Joey the black Lab came with his person, Judy.

The park was filled with smiles, happy barks, laughter, and wagging tails. One Celebration of Life - and so many lives touched.

That plaque still sits above Dr. Sarbu's desk, but its message resonates with everyone who has ever loved an animal. Some gifts you hold in your hand and some you hold in your heart. The small gestures, the snuggles, the joyous romps in the grass - these are the gifts that each of us hold in our hearts, forever proof of how our pets enrich our lives, make us smile, and bring out the best in us.

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