If you happen to be at Marshfield Children’s Hospital in Marshfield, you may have seen Craig Lefebvre and his four-legged partner, Finley. Each week, typically on Tuesdays, the duo share smiles and joy with pediatric patients through pet therapy.
“Let’s be honest, Finley is the star of this team but Finley wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for my past experiences with the Power of Positivity and Pawsitivity,” said Lefebvre.
Finley and his brother, Cooper, are Lefebvre’s seventh and eighth Labrador Retrievers over the past 37 years. These retrievers and their predecessors have been a huge part of Lefebvre’s life, and they have helped him through his own battles as a three-time cancer survivor.
Never give up
During the week of Christmas 2006, Lefebvre was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“My world was rocked as so many of your patients’ worlds are turned upside down when they get news like this,” he said. “Fearing the worst, I quickly took a leave of absence from my job to put all my energy into whatever was next.”
Lefebvre said January 2007 was a blur as he was in and out of the hospital and doctor’s offices every couple of days. In February, he began treatments, receiving an infusion chemotherapy treatments every three weeks for 18 weeks.
“I had a horrible reaction to the one of the drugs that day and ended up spending the night in the hospital,” Lefebvre said. “Upon returning home the next day, I started to wonder what I was going to do for three weeks until my next treatment. That’s when my attitude and outlook on my disease and life changed forever.”
Lefebvre drove to Florida with his 14-year-old black lab, Shilton, and spent two weeks sitting on the beach, reading, going to the dog park – enjoying his life. What came out of the vacation was a set of “rules” to get him through his battles with cancer over the next 15 years, Lefebvre said.
- Stay positive.
- You will win/you do not lose/you can’t be beat.
- Never, ever give up/keep fighting.
- Stay active.
- The most important thing to believe in is yourself.
A constant in Lefebvre’s rules with his dogs was staying active. He said no matter how bad he felt after treatment, he would come home and go for a walk with Shilton.
“I had an incredible support network in Indianapolis during this first fight, but the biggest constant was that Shilton was there for me after every hospital or doctor visit, every test, every treatment and no matter how bad I felt, no matter how sick I was, he was by my side sharing his loyalty and love,” Lefebvre said.
Living in Indianapolis, Lefebvre made trips to Wisconsin to look for a new job. On July 15, he had a positron emission tomography (PETScan) that showed he was in remission. A week prior to his scan, Shilton, a month before his 15th birthday, had passed away.
“Shilton knew that his job was done, I was going to be OK and he could now leave me,” Lefebvre said, “and he let me know.”
In summer 2010, Lefebvre had made the move to central Wisconsin and was managing a department for Footlocker, Inc. Unfortunately, his cancer returned. He said he took the news hard, but dialed back to when he was in Fort Lauderdale Beach, remembering his “rules”. He began another fight.
“I had two new partners to help me through the battle this time,” he said. “George, a half black lab and half elephant, and Milly, a half yellow lab and half wild banshee. George’s loyalty and love and Milly’s energy would get me through this one more time.”
Life Is Good
Lefebvre cannot stress enough how important his dogs and staying active helped him through his treatments. He also took his No. 1 rule – stay positive – to another level during his second fight with cancer.
“Beginning in 2010 and for every infusion (over 50) and every visit to the cancer center since, I have worn a ‘Life Is Good’ shirt,” Lefebvre said. “A positive message, not just as a reminder to me, but to my care team and to all the other patients.”
His “better half,” Yvonne, also would wear “Life Is Good” shirts on days he had treatments. After six months, he defeated cancer once again while also being Buyer of the Year for Footlocker. Both, he says, can be attested to his ‘power of pawsitivity’.
Believe in yourself
In summer 2018, Lefebvre started to lose his voice. He had an enlarged lymph node in his throat. Cancer had returned, again. At the time, he still had George, but Milly passed away from cancer a year prior.
The treatments helped remove the cancer for a third time, but it took a toll on his immune system. In October 2019 and January 2020, he had pneumonia, and for two years, he was constantly sick, but his dog and rules kept him pushing through.
“I was constantly sick as my body had all but lost its ability to fight,” he said. “Mind you, this is going on while COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the county and around the world.”
After his dog, George, passed away, he added Cooper and Finley to his family in summer 2020.
Giving back through volunteering
Feeling better in early spring 2022, Lefebvre decided to retire and share his pawsitivity with others through pet therapy.
“Finley has something extra special in him,” he said. “My plan for retirement is to give back while continuing to live life to its fullest and by my rules.”
Finley became a Certified Therapy Dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in January 2022. Finley regularly visits several assisted living homes, but most recently, Lefebvre knew he wanted to share Finley’s magic of pet therapy with kids at Marshfield Children’s Hospital.
“My (our) hope is that we can help and touch the lives of others going through life’s challenges,” Lefebvre said. “If you see Finley and me around your facility, please stop and say hello.”