Cha Cha Maru



Dogs get you through things. They teach you about yourself. They’re your little buddies and a part of your family. That said, they’re not your “children”, as I hear so many people say. Your kids will invariably grow up and become their own independent-thinking human creatures. They’ll move away from you. But not dogs. Dogs are there for you, man.

When I returned to Japan after surgery and two rounds (eight months) of chemo, I was a physical and emotional wreck. As if that wasn’t bad enough, on my first day back, my Japanese in-laws immediately warned me that I should in no way tell anyone — family or friends or coworkers — about my breast cancer. The entire thing had been hush-hushed. They explained to me that it was embarrassing to the family. Also, if anyone found out they’d likely treat me as a pariah (*). I didn’t want that, did I?

Okay, I get it. I guess I can keep this secret.

Then it went and got a little worse that that: I soon discovered that my immediate family, the ones who *did* know (in-laws and husband), refused one hundred percent to talk about it. No balloons, slap on the back, must have been rough, everything’s going to be okay, wanna talk about it? Nothing. Life was business as usual. Garbage days are on Tuesdays and Fridays, and you don’t have to put so much rice in my obento, thank you.


Then came the panic attacks, the constant paranoia that any slight pain or tickle was a sign of recurrence. Then came the nerves that wouldn’t let me sit still, and the overwhelming feeling of being so utterly alone.

Then came Cha Cha Maru.

It was the only think I really had the strength to put my foot down about after I got back. I’ve always owned dogs, but never in Japan. So one day I announced that we were getting a dog, and I didn’t let up until we did. Julyan picked him out. He’s just as much Julyan’s dog as mine. Dog’s are there like that. They’re there for you and they can be there for other family members too.

It’s only now that he’s gone, that I realize how much he helped me heal. When nothing and no one seemed to be available to me here, there was Cha. He was there.

He was my walking buddy, my nap buddy. He listened to me sing thousands of songs. We played “tomato-tomato” an insane game we made where we chased each other around with a cherry tomato in our mouths. He had a blanket from the time he came to our house that he carried around with him everywhere. He listened to me read out loud every single story I’ve ever written. His paws smelled like popcorn.


Cha Cha had IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). He had it for several years. It’s been a long, long battle. Just recently, though, the disease took a turn for the worse. He was in the hospital for a week, but wasn’t getting any better, in fact he was getting much worse. The vet said he could come home for a couple days. I slept on the floor downstairs and took care of him.  Emptied his bladder and his bowels and massaged his back.

Julyan hurried home yesterday from university and spent the day with him. Cha was happy to see him. I spent the rest of the time with him, singing our favorite songs, carrying him around the house and yard so he could see and sniff things. He even got to listen to me read a rough draft of this blog post, although he wouldn’t get to hear the finished version.

Cha Cha Maru was always there for me, and I hope just a little bit, at the end, I was there for him.


(Julyan holding his head as he’s sleeping. Yesterday.)

(*) This is my in-laws I’m talking about here, not all Japanese people by any stretch.

14 responses to “Cha Cha Maru”

  1. Virginia Lee Avatar
    Virginia Lee

    I’m so glad you had each other. I’m very glad J got to be there. I love you, my dear friend.

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      You and Miss Mama were fans from the beginning. Thank you much for all the love. I’m glad J got to be here too. Thank you for all the years of affection and support. Love you.

  2. Michelle Shene Avatar
    Michelle Shene

    Beautiful and so very true. I am so very sorry for your lose. I know there are no words of comfort, just know my heart is feeling your grief. ❤

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      I know you know exactly how I feel. In spades. Thank you sweetness. Love you.

  3. RaRa Avatar

    So much time spent. My first reaction before even reading into this was tears and a yell of your name. I’m pouring tears. T I can say that I know what you are going thru. Sam was my best friend, buddy, healer, child & companion for so many years. To know when a loved “pet” leaves us all we want is to have them more. Just wanting him to be okay, but most of all not in pain.
    I’ve only seen Cha thru a computer screen (skype), but he was the best. He was the best because of the smile he put on your face every day.
    I love you. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      Oh, Ra-Ra, you really were always so kind to him and always asking after him. Thank you! I remember G telling me the story of Sam. Thank you so much for being there and rooting for him/us. Love you, too!

  4. Jennifer Hansen Avatar
    Jennifer Hansen

    So sad…and such a touching tribute to Cha. I hope doggy heaven exists. Xo Jennifer

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      Thank you, Jennifer. I haven’t re-read this. My thoughts are so ill-formed right now.

  5. Theresa Logan Avatar
    Theresa Logan

    Oh Teri. ..my heart aches for you …..
    I am so sorry. ..so sorry. …

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      Thank you, Aunt Theresa.

  6. Andrej Steinbergs Avatar
    Andrej Steinbergs

    So beautiful… he was there for you and you were there for him. We have a special relationship with our beloved pets that we can’t get anywhere else. Pure and unconditional love and paws that smell like popcorn. Well written Terrie. I’ll be praying for God’s sweet comfort to ease you in this sad time. I believe Cha Cha’s up there now looking down on you and watching over you.

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      Andrej, such sweet words and sentiment. Thank you so much.

  7. Beth Bartlett Avatar
    Beth Bartlett

    I felt like I knew Cha from your photos and posts. He had such an expressive face and wonderful personality. I’m glad he showed up at the right time in your life. I know you made his life better, too.

    1. Thersa Matsuura Avatar
      Thersa Matsuura

      Beth, thank you so much for the sweet words. They really mean a lot to me.

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