By LIZ NEPORENT
Adopting a stray dog while in the midst of battling a disease that was deemed incurable hardly seems like the best timing, yet that’s exactly what Bill Hogencamp and his wife Kathy decided to do.
They believe that decision helped save his life.
Hogencamp, an 84-year-old semi-retired architect from Phenix, Alabama, was diagnosed with incurable cancer of the gall bladder, liver, colon and the lining of his abdomen back in May. Doctors told him he wouldn’t live to see Christmas.
“I have seven children and I’ve traveled all around the world,” Hogencamp said. “I thought if this is it, then this is it.”
Hogencamp chose to undergo treatment even though his doctor told him there was no hope, he recalled. In October, he had an operation to remove three large tumors.
Eleven days after his surgery, his wife was on her way to pick him up from a rehabilitation facility when she spotted a small white dog wandering down the middle of the road, in danger of being hit by a car. Although she was in a rush, she said something compelled her to stop and rescue the pup.
“He walked past six other cars right up to the side of my car and put his paws up on the door,” she recalled.
While his wife was hooked on the cute little dog right away, Hogencamp needed some convincing.
“I hadn’t had a dog in twenty years and I had no desire to have a dog,” he said. “I kept saying we need to find his owner.”
Despite an extensive search and nearly a dozen false leads, the Hogencamps were never able to track down the dog’s owner. They learned from a vet they visited during their search that he was a Maltese, probably around 6 years old, fixed but not chipped.
Besides, the dog very quickly won Hogencamp over. They soon became inseparable.
Whenever Hogencamp sat down, the dog -- who they named Mahjong after Kathy’s favorite card game -- would jump in his lap. Whenever Hogencamp napped, Mahjong would curl up next to him. When Hogencamp returned home after being out, Mahjong would hop onto his hind legs and dance with joy.
As he and his wife settled into life with a dog, Hogencamp underwent chemotherapy. Just before the holiday he received some miraculous news: Tests showed that he was now cancer free.
The doctors are at a loss to explain this amazing turn of events, Hogencamp’s wife said. But she said the family believes that Mahjong has played a huge part in her husband’s recovery.
“The dog seemed to know right away that Bill was sick and it was his job to take care of him -- and Bill knew it was his job to take care of the dog,” she said.
Hogencamp agreed. He said their relationship gave both him and the dog a sense of purpose. Although he knows he owes much of his cure to great medical care and a lot of luck, he said that he is convinced the little white dog was sent to him to help him get better.
As they celebrate Christmas, Hogencamp said he has two final chemotherapy treatments. He said he’s spending the day with friends, family and of course, Mahjong.
“My life has been a miracle,” Hogencamp said. “And now Mahjong is part of that miracle.”