A Dogged Friendship

Twenty-nine years ago at Southern Methodist University, I moved into MacElvaney Dorm’s third floor corner room, next to the RA and across from Susan Yaksick. Over the following three decades, Susan and I roomed together twice more and this week, we shared a room once again – at MD Anderson.

Susan drove in from Austin and spent the night on my sofa the night before Tuesday’s treatment. We picked up Eliza at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, where Susan (still an aspiring dancer/singer/high school student) quipped to one actual student “See you at lunch!” and performed the climax of of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from the walkway overlooking the common area filled with more actual students. Susan also bought our family Torchy’s Tacos, shuttled Eliza to OfficeMax for printer toner and listened to Hampton describe the middle school debate system. The next day, she helped me pick out books in the MD Anderson library, sprung for my Chick-fil-A lunch and tucked me under warm blankets provided during chemo. I was too tired to talk but, after a thirty-year friendship, felt free to close my eyes and rest as Susan played TenTen on her phone. At one point, I heard her say, “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” to which I replied, “I know, it’s like Beaches.”

Despite developing a low-grade fever after returning from Tampa, I was able to get my ninth treatment of Taxol and now have only three more to go. The time has honestly passed quickly and, as odd as it sounds, I don’t dread my days in the medical center. I know my way around now, am chummy with the librarian, found a cafe with Chick-fil-A and a soda fountain serving Sonic ice and vanilla syrup, and enjoy the excuse to sit quietly and read under warm blankets beside dear friends. Adversely, I’m not looking forward to the next round of chemo nicknamed “AC,” but, as Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” The hardest part of Tuesday was realizing that two of my favorite employees were let go in MD Anderson’s second round of layoffs in an attempt to cover its $129 million budget shortfall.

Susan picked up a paintbrush two years ago and began creating energetic likenesses of dog owners’ pride and joy. Her ability to capture animals’ soulful spirit is borderline unsettling it’s so realistic. Mark called her “The Teen Whisperer” after her visit, but she’s also “The Pet Whisperer.” See for yourself…

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Susan’s gift of transferring canines onto canvasses prompted me to look at other slightly more famous artists’ relationship with their pets…

Amos and Archie joined Andy Warhol in Manhattan restaurants, art galleries and even press conferences, where the artist deferred untenable questions to the shorthaired Dachshunds. He reportedly considered Archie (lower right) his altar ego. Similar to Susan, Warhol accepted commissions to paint patron’s dogs and eventually hosted a show comprised solely of animal portraits. The Warhol Museum curated a similar exhibit called Canis Major in 2008. (Read about it here.)

Lump, another shorthaired Dachshund, was beloved by Pablo Picasso despite not being his own. American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan took Lump with him to photograph Picasso at his home in Cannes. During lunch, Picasso asked Duncan if Lump had a plate of his own; when Duncan replied “No,” Picasso painted a portrait of Lump on the white plate before him. That plate now resides in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Read more about the artist’s love for Lump in this article from The New York Times.

The Scream painter Edvard Munch took his dogs to the movies and Frida Kahlo considered her menagerie of dogs (and monkeys and cats) surrogate children. In particular, her Itzuintil dogs, a 3,000 year old Aztec breed, are known for their warm body temperature, making them comforting to those suffering pain, which Kahlo did after a near-fatal bus crash that severed her spinal column in three places and smashed her collarbone, leg, two ribs and pelvis. The dogs also might have been better company than her philandering, abusive, muralist master husband Diego Rivera.

Lastly, the most well-known modern artist whose gone to the dogs is Jeff Koons. In 1992 he created a 43 foot tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier that guards the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Puppy‘s only accidents are the result of its internal irrigation system. One of the sculptor’s most recognizable pieces, the stainless steel Balloon Dogs, sold in 2013 for $58.4 million, five years after a hot pink version became an inside dog at Versailles. Koons explained his work and art’s potential to Stephen Colbert in this video.

“Balloon animals are like us,” said Koons. “We’re balloons. You take a breath and you inhale, it’s optimism and you exhale and it’s kind of a symbol of death.” I’m grateful for all the times Susan has come alongside me when I’m a bit deflated and made me laugh until I cried, including this week. I agree with Charles Schultz, Susan’s favorite dog artist:

friendship – even chemotherapy.

Contact Susan about about a pet painting at sykemmerer@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “A Dogged Friendship

  1. Berry Ellis says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey a really interesting and uplifting take on you journey to health. You are appreciated and loved. Is t that all any of really need! Walk lightly but carry a big Thut (Susan) with you in your daily walk and you can’t go wrong!!!!!!❤️


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