Cancer, Big Rapids Hospital, Reed City Hospital
Cancer survivors Keith Jewett and dog Winna share joy with patients.
Therapy dog and volunteer give back at Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center.
“Would you like a doggie visit?” asks hospital volunteer Keith Jewett as his therapy dog, Winna, stands at the ready, tail a wagging.
Few can resist.
After saying yes, Winna and Keith approach, and Winna gently places her head on a patient or visitor’s lap and gladly accepts petting.
And for a few precious moments, the thoughts of cancer subside as Winna’s soft eyes and soft fur bring joy to those she encounters.
If conversation follows, as it often does, Keith shares that Winna is a cancer survivor too and shows the scar where a mast cell tumor was removed from Winna’s side in the fall of 2020 when she was only a puppy.
Despite removing the tumor, Winna’s prognosis wasn’t good. But with Winna in good health a year later, Jewett made the decision to have her serve others.
“When she outlived her expiration date, that was a sign – she beat her cancer,” Jewett said. “I thought, ‘she needs to be a cancer therapy dog.’”
Winna, a Spaniel mix, was trained and is certified with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. She and Jewett have been volunteering at Corewell Health Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals and at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center since May of 2022.
A cancer survivor himself, Jewett also takes Winna with him when he visits the cancer center for his own treatment.
After spending time with patients and visitors, Jewett and Winna stop by to see team members, making the rounds and bringing smiles. Winna and patient services representative Shannon Carmichael are always happy to see each other.
“For patients and us team members alike, Winna is just a ray of sunshine who often seems to know just when to make her rounds,” Carmichael said. “Her affection – their affection – can brighten even the darkest of days.”
Jewett’s cancer journey started in the late 90s when he was diagnosed with two types of blood cancer. He began receiving treatment from visiting physicians in a trailer behind Reed City Hospital before the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center was built.
“I was here, before here was here,” he joked.
He was also diagnosed with choroidal melanoma, cancer of the eye, in 2015 and prostate cancer in 2016. Jewett has a prosthetic right eye after having his eye removed in 2018.
Jewett is a retired professor at Ferris State University where he taught computer programming, networking and electronics for 18 years.
He joined FSU after retiring from the Navy, where he served 20 years, in part on a nuclear submarine.
Jewett’s wife of 49 years, Mary, talked him into getting a dog in 2020. The couple lives in Hawkins, near Reed City.
“She was supposed to be my therapy dog,” he said of Winna.
Jewett gets emotional in describing the affect Winna has when interacting with patients.
“She has a wonderful temperament,” he said. “I love watching how people respond to her. It really impacts some people.”
Winna spent time with cancer patient Wendy Montague, from Big Rapids, on January 23 at the cancer center. Montague stroked Winna’s head and ears and chatted briefly with Jewett.
It was a short, but sweet, exchange. Sadly, three weeks later, Montague passed away.
Winna, now over 3 years old, shows no signs of slowing down. She and Jewett volunteer at the hospitals and cancer center two to three hours each week.
“Patients and staff alike love spending time with Keith and Winna,” said volunteer services coordinator Suzie Hicks. “Therapy dogs are always popular and Winna is such a sweetie – and of course Keith has a very interesting story.”
When asked why he decided to volunteer, Jewett is quick to credit Winna.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her,” he said. “We’re both cancer survivors.”
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