Cat Brings Comfort to Woman During Cancer Battle


Cat Brings Comfort to Woman During Cancer Battle

Could cats’ unique characteristics translate to therapeutic qualities that help alleviate stress and promote calm? Kate Benjamin says yes. Tracey L. Kelley headshot
Tracey L. Kelley headshot By Tracey L. Kelley August 28, 2020 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print Emotional support cat and his owner Kate Benjamin
Emotional support cat and his owner Kate Benjamin Credit: Kate Benjamin

"I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 during a routine mammogram at age 42," Kate Benjamin remembers. "Most of my 40s were spent dealing with cancer. The number one cat who got me through was my soulmate kitty, Ando." Benjamin, the founder of Hauspanther, is a cat style expert and also co-author of two books,  Catification and Catify to Satisfy. She says Ando, a shiny black rescue cat with a hint of Siamese ancestry, had the coolest personality and the most caring nature.

"Every human and every other cat loved him. He was about 8 when I was first diagnosed, and always stayed by me when I was recovering from whatever the latest treatment was." In 2017, after years of difficulties, Benjamin had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy in 2018. "Ando was especially concerned during this time.  I feel like he was watching over me throughout all of it." She is now cancer free.

Cats As Emotional Support Animals

Felines are often stereotyped as aloof, staunchly independent, and even unfriendly. One flick of a tail suggests they don't really care what happens to their human caregivers as long as the food dish is set out on time. But enthusiasts like Benjamin—who lives with her husband, Mark Allred, and 14 rescued cat companions in Phoenix, Ariz.—believe kitties have unique therapeutic qualities. "It's scientifically proven that the vibration of a cat's purr induces a calming sensation, which can certainly help reduce stress during a trying time," Benjamin says. 

The BBC reports the frequency of purring vibrations helps promote a cat's bone growth and density, and average 20Hz up to 150Hz. However, kitties aren't the only ones who benefit from this rumbling. The BBC references a study which indicates "purrs at a frequency of 25–100Hz correspond with established healing frequencies in therapeutic medicine for humans." Petting a cat also provides stress relief, and the same BBC report notes that having a cat could cut the risk of stroke or heart disease by as much a third.

In recent years, cats have slinked into public and private emotional support programs, often becoming registered therapy animals or "comfort cats." While they can't be trained as official service animals the way that dogs can, they provide tremendous benefits and entertainment in high-stress environments such as airports, police stations, and schools for students with special needs. More cats are also cozying up in nursing homes because they're often easier to care for than dogs but provide many of the same affectionate pet advantages for residents, including increased mental activity and reduced loneliness.  

Kate Benjamin and her emotional support cat in her home office
Kate Benjamin and her emotional support cat in her home office Credit: John Burcham Photography

A Forever Friend

Benjamin's Ando had health challenges too, including diabetes and kidney failure. "He required so many medications every single day and so did I—we both just had our routines together. I believe having another creature that you have to get up and care for gives you a reason to keep going." She says in the last year of his life, Ando curled up on her pillow every night. "No other cats ever sleep on my pillow." 

He was a faithful companion through her chemo, then passed away from heart failure shortly afterward at age 13. "I was heartbroken. I missed him so much."

About a year later, Benjamin got a call about a litter of two-week-old kittens needing rescue and fostering. One in particular—a sleek black wiggler mewling at her while trying to climb out of the box—seemed familiar. "The more I got to know his personality, I felt there was a lot of Ando's spirit in him. I just couldn't live without this cat, so he came back," Benjamin says. Jeremiah Beandip, or J.B. for short, has unique qualities of his own but behaves similarly to Ando—including sleeping on her pillow. "Cats are magical creatures," she says.

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