By Adriene Hughes
Updated July 22, 2015

Adriene HughesAnimals know. They know when you are happy, and they know when you are sad. They know when you are ill and when you are well. While I was going through my experience with breast cancer, my dog Lucy stayed at my side. When I went to bed, she came with me. She laid in bed next to me like a human and would stare at me as if she were communicating a deep understanding and empathy through her eyes. She even huffed through her jowls and touched me with her paw, as if to say, I know and I understand. It nearly brought me to tears.

Even my boyfriend's dog, Peso, would lay with me when I took naps. I always called him my little "sleep assistant," because he would lay in the crook of my waist and stay with me, without budging. Certain days of chemotherapy were be hard. Just the sheer presence of having an animal at your side, not requiring anything of you, not asking for attention, was enough to make you feel as if you were not alone. And that was the gift I received: unconditional love.

San Diego photographer Adriene Hughes, now 48, created a series of self-portraits chronicling her 2004 diagnosis with stage II estrogen-positive breast cancer and the treatment ordeal that followed. Here, she is pictured with her boyfriend's dog, Peso. To see more of her photographs, view the slideshow.

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