09/23/2013 08:02 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2013

How A Dog With Painted Toenails Saved The Day

It happened five years ago, but I've never forgotten the dog. I think of her whenever I see toenails painted red. This morning as I was painting mine, alone in this empty nest, the memory made me laugh.

I was back in the Breast Spy Shop where women go to detect secrets growing within. I'd stopped writing about cancer and all that goes with it years before. The line, "Not so fast, Missy," came to mind. The radiologist went over me with the sonogram wand as if she were raking stubborn leaves caught in thick grass. Though she said nothing, she had clearly found something. Over the years I learned that chatty meant okay, silence did not.

A few minutes later, with a tiny wrap around my shoulders that was supposed to cover my breasts but looked more like a toaster-oven cover, I waited to hear what she found.

My sonogram showed three lumps. One was palpable. Nothing to worry about, she said.

I left as soon as I could. Out in the hallway I spotted a guide dog with its owner. It was a cross between a standard poodle and a retriever. Gray -- except for its large curved toenails painted bright red. To all of us gathered in the hallway waiting for the elevator, the owner explained that she and the dog had "a girl's day out."

The elevator arrived. The doors opened to reveal it was nearly full. We all squeezed in. Before the doors closed someone inside pointed at the poodle's nails and said, "They're red!"

The doors closed. "The dog and her owner had a girl's day out," I said.

"Hey, at least the dog gets a girl's day out. We humans never seem to," a tiny woman with a walker said.

"And that's why," I said, "in our next lives, I think we should all come back as dogs."

Laughter filled the elevator.

"I knew a dog once," said a dapper man behind me in a tweed hat, "his name was Elvis. Had the same presence that Elvis did. His owners even dressed him like Elvis. People treated him with respect. Dogs have great lives," he said definitively.

Each of us stepped into that hospital elevator with unpleasant medical issues on our mind. We stepped out smiling.

It took all of 5 stops, a minute and a half, and a dog with painted red toenails.

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