Beverly Collis looks forward to her weekly session with Paige Cushman as a brief respite from coping with the lung cancer that has invaded her body and shattered the retirement she and her husband had planned.

Cushman, a licensed massage therapist, will soothe away the aches and pains of muscles strained by stress and prolonged bed confinement…As Collis receives her massage, Gibson, her mini dachshund, sleeps contentedly in his kennel.

Customarily he is on super alert when others are with Collis, but he has accepted Cushman’s soothing touch, just like his owner…Cushman, an animal lover, believes her patients with bonded pet relationships benefit from continuing that connection through life’s ultimate challenge.

“Hospice care is about making our patients’ lives as comfortable and as stress-free as possible. We are there to be supportive to what the patient needs and wants,” she said. “By my spending five minutes or so giving their dog or cat a massage, I can reduce that animal’s stress level. I can calm them down and they usually fall asleep. This can make the entire environment more relaxing.”

Star-Banner/; Ocala, Florida; August 10, 2009