"In my darkest times, these dogs have been amazing"
Sarah Jessiman’s home is a reflection of her warm and cheerful personality. Surrounded by colour and the beautiful things she and husband Eddie have collected together, it’s hard to believe this lovely couple, along with Sarah’s hearing dog Primrose (2) and retired dog Kai (13) are facing an insurmountable challenge.
At just 52, Sarah has stage-four breast cancer. She is also profoundly deaf and, never one to dwell on things she can’t change, says: “My dogs have given me more joy than I can ever express, even as I face my worst nightmare. And that’s why I feel so passionately about sharing my story...
“My deafness is hereditary and deteriorated over the years. I’m now profoundly deaf. Being deaf can be isolating and exhausting. It dented my confidence and I found myself withdrawing from company.
“I’m blessed with a default setting that’s naturally very upbeat but if I was in a group of more than three people, I’d lose the thread of the conversation. Unable to join in I’d then become very quiet, which isn’t like me at all. I also realised, having missed several friends at the door, that I was becoming increasingly isolated at home. That’s when I decided to apply for a hearing dog.
Becoming part of the community
“Eddie and I had moved to Rugby for work and neither of us had friends or family in the area. It wasn’t until I got Kai, and we got to know a fantastic bunch of local dog walkers, that I started to feel part of the community. It was having a hearing dog that helped us make friends locally. The support we have from these friendships – particularly now – is wonderful.
“It’s funny really, you know a hearing dog is going to tell you about the timer and the smoke alarm, but it’s only since having one that I realise how important their ambassador role is. You become visible. People see the Hearing Dogs jacket and know you’re deaf. I’d never wanted to tell people before. Now I was owning up to my deafness for the first time, but through the conduit of Kai. He takes away what I call low-level stress. It’s fantastic. You don’t realise it’s there until it’s gone, and then you wonder how you ever managed with that underlying feeling of anxiety.
Fighting this together
“In 2011 when I was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer it was a massive shock. My amazing husband Eddie was my rock, and Kai was with me every step of the way. Having him there made me feel like things would be okay. His presence let the oncology teams know that I was deaf – I didn’t have to explain all the time, and this took away so much stress. Kai kept my spirits up – we were fighting this together. For almost five years I was in remission.
“In 2016 my deafness had become so bad that I began the process to get a cochlear implant. Then, just two weeks before my 50th birthday, I found that cancer had returned; this time as stage-four breast cancer and a large tumour in my spine. While it can be managed with treatments, ultimately it will be terminal. It meant I had to leave my job of 27 years.
“Last year Kai was retired after 12 years as my hearing dog and I was matched with Primrose. Kai, so gentle, so tuned in to me, had been exactly what I needed then. Now, when I need sunshine and perkiness in my life, Primrose is here! Primrose is cheerfulness on four legs: happy, such good fun and very confident in herself. We’re the most perfect match. Kai continues to share our lives, enjoying his well-deserved retirement and keeping Eddie company on walks.
“I can’t express how much joy, support and laughter my two dogs have given me through all this. And not just to me. Primrose comes to hospital with me and gives everyone else in the chemo suite a reason to smile. It’s touching to see people’s stress and worry being lifted for a while.
“They are a tremendous emotional support when I need it most. In my darkest times my hearing dogs are always there. Not only does Primrose alert me to everyday sounds, she will alert me to the timer that tells me when my next tablets are due.
“Living with terminal cancer I have my moments, very much so, when the pain is indescribable. But I’ve got my lovely husband and my two dogs who make me feel everything is okay. I’ll always be grateful to the people who donate to Hearing Dogs for making this possible.”
Update: We are sad to announce that Sarah Jessiman passed away in May 2020. Sarah’s husband Eddie has told us that she was at peace with the world, and with herself, and was ready to move on. Sarah and her happy, positive nature will always be remembered fondly, and she is greatly missed by everyone at Hearing Dogs.
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Our hearing dogs help deaf people overcome feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and isolation. They also become a deaf person's best friend.