Courage Lives On: Thursdays with Teddy

By Contributing Writer - May 22, 2020

Phil Scheidt spends each Thursday visiting clinic waiting rooms throughout the Muriel Rothman Building on Moffitt’s Magnolia campus, dispensing smiles and the reassuring words only a fellow cancer patient can sincerely deliver. Phil has been a patient at Moffitt for two different types of cancer. But it’s his companion that gets the most attention: Teddy, the dancing toy Maltese poodle mix in the Moffitt Pet Therapy vest. The pair has clocked nearly 400 hours since they started volunteering at Moffitt in October of 2017.

“We often joke that they have their own fan club,” says Pet Therapy Volunteer Coordinator Debbie Emory.

Their biggest fan was also the reason they began volunteering at Moffitt. Phil’s wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2011, a change that prompted her to retire from a busy career with a long commute. That meant more time for something she’d long wanted – a dog. Specifically, a toy poodle.

“Nancy and I had both had German Shepherds in the past and I assumed she would want a larger dog, not a froufrou dog,” Phil recalls. “I told her to get what she wanted but I would not bond with a toy poodle.”

Debbie and Val Brenner with Teddy
Debbie and Val Brenner share a happy moment with Teddy.

The 9-week old bundle of fur that Nancy brought home had other plans. Teddy soon wormed his way into both Nancy and Phil’s hearts. He also brought a lot of joy to Nancy through all she endured to keep her cancer under control, including multiple chemotherapy protocols and three clinical trials. It was a tough, eight-year battle for Nancy. Yet for seven of those years, she tirelessly volunteered in Moffitt’s Infusion Clinic. Phil recalls one time when Nancy was receiving a 12-hour infusion of chemo and adamantly insisted that she needed to begin her volunteer shift still hooked up to the IV. Not long afterward, Nancy was honored with Moffitt’s Volunteer of the Year Award for 2017.

That’s when Nancy suggested that Phil and Teddy ought to volunteer at Moffitt as well. Phil thought it might be something he’d like to do. Along the way to getting Teddy certified as a therapy dog, Phil saw the effect he had on people, like the senior citizens at a local nursing home where Teddy was put through his final exam for certification. Holding this little ball of fur brought tears to one resident’s eyes. “As we left, I told Nancy this isn’t something I might like to do, it is something I have to do,” recalls Phil.

Teddy, pet volunteer
Teddy, the pet volunteer, makes his rounds.

Making their rounds at Moffitt, Teddy has a routine that’s sure to bring smiles to patients and staff - and special treat for him. He’ll walk up to a patient and rub his head against their leg. Then he’ll back up and stand on his hind legs, staring at Phil until he gets his reward: a tiny piece of cheese. Teddy’s been known to stand up for quite a while. “I once timed him at 45 seconds,” says Phil, quickly reassuring that Teddy is never forced to do anything.

Clearly, most people who meet Teddy are delighted by his antics. “I had a man come up to me one day and he told me how his father had met Teddy three weeks before and had not stopped talking about him,” recalls Phil. “He said his dad had just had surgery and asked if I could bring him up to the fourth floor. That turned out to be an hour and a half visit as other patients came out of their rooms to see Teddy. “I see their faces light up. They’re not thinking about why they’re here, what they have to do. Teddy had that effect on Nancy too. He calmed her. She loved him from day one.” Except for those rare occasions when Phil is traveling, there’s only been one Thursday when the duo didn’t make it to Moffitt for their volunteer shift: the Thursday that Nancy passed away. The coincidence isn’t lost on Phil, but he says it strengthens his commitment to be at Moffitt each Thursday with Teddy.

“I actually went to grief counselling,” says Phil. “My counselor said, ‘You know, I’ve had a lot of people that won’t go within five miles of Moffitt after losing a loved one to cancer; they’ll go out of their way to stay away from it.’ For me, it’s just the opposite.

“Nancy truly loved this place. And so do I.”

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