Meet Bridget S., O-3, Captain, U.S. Army Veteran. She’s a Veteran who Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) had the good fortune to meet up with recently. She shared her experience with us about her previous participation in WCC’s service dog training program through its partnership with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). We are honored to share her story.
Bridget’s diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006 took her by surprise. She was only 30 years old and had no family history. She underwent two surgeries followed by 35 days of radiation treatment which held the cancer at bay for four years until it reared its ugly head for the second time in 2011. Bridget underwent a bilateral mastectomy, a surgery that removed the cancer from her body but left her with chronic physical pain and some newfound limitations, including nerve damage and chronic pain.
“It was a shock to be diagnosed at such a young age,” said Bridget. “I’ve been through so much through both battles with breast cancer but when I stop and think about it, they really pale in comparison to the mental health challenges I’ve faced over the years and that I continue to fight every day.”
Bridget, who is a former D1 athlete, says she’s always thrived in structured environments. That’s part of what led her to get involved in her college’s ROTC program, and ultimately, the Army, where she served for eight years.
“I loved the teamwork and being in the Army felt like I was on another team, where we worked together for one cause,” said Bridget. “I liked the consistency of it … there was always something to do, something to plan for, training, and I liked the structure and how fast-paced it was.”
But leaving the military and returning to civilian life presented Bridget with a host of unexpected challenges. She had a hard time adapting and found herself wrestling with mental health issues. She sought help from VA therapists and camaraderie and companionship through Wounded Warrior Project.
“I wanted to surround myself with positive people, who I didn’t have to explain myself to or who were people who just ‘get it,’” said Bridget. “It’s [Wounded Warrior Project] such a great organization with so many programs, I’m so glad I signed up. All the leaders are great people, they’re supportive, reliable, and willing to help you in any way.”
Through WWP, Bridget says she found freedom and happiness and was able to feed her competitive spirit through WWP programs including its Odyssey Program, Soldier Ride, whitewater rafting, day trips, woodworking workshops, and more. She also credits WWP’s mental health workshops with some tools that have helped her along the way.
It’s also how she learned about Warrior Canine Connection’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery program, whereby Veterans help their fellow Warriors by helping to train future service dogs. In doing so, Service Members and Veterans can also benefit from skills development in communication, confidence building, accountability, emotional regulation, and patience to promote an act of service while receiving a therapeutic benefit.
“Visiting WCC brought me so much joy … it was the only time I was free of anxiety attacks — it was nice to feel free for a couple of hours each day,” said Bridget. “The dogs would make everything go away, you pet them, you look in their eyes, you hold them, they’re listening to you, and they respond, and that’s the best part of the day. You are all they have at that moment and it’s a responsibility and it feels good to have that living being want to be with you.”
Bridget loved it so much, she completed the eight-week program twice. She says there’s truth in the saying about dogs being “man’s best friend,” and she’s currently contemplating applying for a service dog of her own.
“In all of my events and interactions with Warrior Canine Connection and Wounded Warrior Project, I never feel alone,” said Bridget. “They’re both incredible organizations providing tremendous support for Veterans, and I recommend that anyone who is wrestling with issues, whether physical or mental, or who just wants or needs a connection to others, get involved with them.”
Bridget knows there’s no “quick fix” to mental health challenges, but says surrounding herself with other Veterans, exercise, and puppies sure do help.
If you or someone you know are struggling with mental health issues, help is available. Learn more about WWP’s mental health programs and services here.