Growing up is never easy, no matter who you are. However, although we all go through our share of trials, there are some who have an easier time than others. This is one teenager who certainly hasn’t had it easy, given that she was born with a condition that visually separated her from her peers. She constantly felt like she didn’t fit in, and the struggle was very real for her. But after the arrival of a special furry friend, it would lead to a number of changes in her life, and ultimately – the most inspiring decision of all.
Meet Rachel Dicus, a 19-year-old girl from San Bernardino County, California, who was dealt a rough curveball in her life when she was born.
She has a physical condition which makes her face look different than everyone else’s, and it’s something that she’s struggled with a lot throughout her years. But ever since the arrival of a mysterious dog named Jackal, she’s found the courage to do things she never thought she could do – and live her life in a way she never thought was possible.
Even as early as the time when Rachel was in her mother’s womb, the doctors were able to identify that she possessed a certain deficiency.
They informed her mother that she had something called Treacher Collins Syndrome – which can cause deformities in the eyes, ears, chin, and cheekbones. The level of severity in her case was enough that as she was growing up, it was definitely noticeable to her, her parents, and her peers at school.
Self esteem issues
Rachel said that when she was a child, school wasn’t very easy because she “didn’t have too many friends.” She says she had a few, but she wasn’t exactly very popular.
She dealt with a fair amount of self esteem issues, and she would often hide her ears and her jaw, which were the prominent places where her face looked different. Indeed, her chin and ears were especially small, and her cheeks were bigger than most.
No matter what age we are, we all remember somewhat what it was like to be in grade school.
And no matter how “popular” or “unpopular” we were, there was always a sense of peer pressure – or a sense of needing to fit in. Given the fact that it can be hard for most people to navigate social pressure at such a tumultuous time in their lives, one can only imagine how hard it must have been for Rachel, who stuck out a lot differently than others.
A new friend
But just when Rachel thought that her life wasn’t going to get any better, that’s when her savior came. In 2011, her family adopted a dog who looked she had been through the ringer.
Rachel said that this dog had been abused growing up, and had been chained in a small enclosure with barely enough room to eat or sleep. Her temporary name was “Grumpy,” but Rachel and her family later decided to give her another name – one that suited her a lot better.
Due to the fact that the dog had a naturally threatening look, and a combination of dark fur and white eyes, they opted to name her “Jackal” as a joke.
The name eventually stuck, and as Jackal grew older, they realized how much of a sweetheart she was on the inside. But more importantly, Jackal provided a sense of refuge for Rachel, who needed all the love and friendship she could get at that time in her life.
The feeling is mutual
Rachel reflected that when she would come home from school, it was nice to have a dog that was happy to see her, and greet her enthusiastically.
What’s more, Rachel and Jackal eventually struck up a friendship that went deeper than any of them previously imagined. Jackal developed a strong preference to be around Rachel, and she was equally happy to be around Jackal in return. In fact, Jackal would rarely let others pet her – it was mainly Rachel’s affection that she coveted.
Anyone who has a dog knows how hard it can be to get them to pose for a selfie – but Jackal will happily do it for Rachel whenever she wants.
In many ways, it’s like Jackal was encouraging Rachel to take selfies – and empowering her to smile in the process. The pair truly have a unique bond, and it’s changed Rachel’s life drastically. As we mentioned earlier, she used to be self conscious about her appearance, especially at school – but her mindset is a lot different now.
Proud of her differences
Before Jackal came along, she would only take pictures of herself from specific angles – determined to avoid certain areas of her face that she thought might look unappealing to others.
But it seems that hanging around her dog has filled her with a positive energy that let her know she doesn’t need to worry about those things. She’s now proud of her facial differences – and because of this, it’s enabled her to make a decision that surprised many people.
Due to the countless hardships Rachel had endured throughout her childhood, as well as her adolescent years, there were many discussions revolving around the idea of having surgery.
Because at the end of the day, even though Rachel had come a long way as far as accepting her appearance, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look more like everyone else. Only someone who’s been in Rachel’s shoes can understand what life must’ve been like growing up.
For a long time, it seemed as though the surgeries were going to happen. In fact, the surgery discussions had solidified to a point that the doctors had a whole plan mapped out of how they were going to operate on Rachel.
It was a two year plan, and it would involve her having to go through four separate surgeries. Although their strategy seemed complex, the doctors were pretty confident that it would work, and it was just down to Rachel to make a choice.
What it would mean
Before Rachel could choose, she had to know as much as she could about what the doctors’ plan was. The idea was to use muscle from her thigh, and apply it to her ear tissue.
This, they said, would help tremendously with her overbite. According to Rachel, it wouldn’t help her hear any better – but it would make her ears appear more “normal.” Even though her condition affected her hearing, the surgery was designed for the improvement of her outward appearance, and nothing else.
Choices to make
In addition to adding tissue to her ear, the plan was to also move her jaw forward – because in the words of Rachel, she doesn’t have “much of a chin.”
As you can see, Rachel is acutely aware of all aspects of her facial appearance that make her look different. And even though she had come to proudly accept who she is and how she looks, she was still grappling with the idea of getting a surgery done. What was the right decision to make?
Of course, she had a ton of people around her with opinions of their own. Rachel said that many people encouraged her to do it.
Although the prospect of having her ears and jaw cosmetically altered seemed scary, she had a support group of people giving her the nod to get it done. However, there was one thing that would be the deciding factor. And it wasn’t the fear of getting surgery. It was the feeling inside her that it just wasn’t right.
Saying no to surgery
At the end of the day, she made the conscious choice to reject plastic surgery. In fact, she made this decision a number of times.
Apparently, the idea has been brought up on a number of occasions over the years, and she’s always refrained from doing it. She didn’t want to have to deal with the process or change herself in any way – and this is pretty crazy when you consider how hard it was for her growing up.
Strong support system
Rachel is well aware that the surgery would’ve made her look more “normal” in the eyes of other people – but it seems that she’s made monumental strides in her life, loving who she is in every way.
As we mentioned previously, this big change is no less thanks to her loving dog Jackal. The big difference was that she knew that Jackal wouldn’t care how she looks, and neither would her true friends. She knew that this surgery would only be to appease everyone else.
But while it seems like the decision she made was easy, she further opened up and expressed that this wasn’t the case at all. “It took a lot to like how I look,” she said.
Rachel spoke about feeling the need to wear her hair down long so that she could cover her ears fully. In addition, she would never take a picture unless the angle made her jaw appear more prominent. When you consider her previous mindset, the change she’s made is truly incredible and inspiring.
Beautiful no matter what
But Rachel also wants to give us some distinguishment about her past. She says that she “never thought” of herself as ugly or unlovable.
She simply didn’t like the way her ears and her face looked. Eventually, she came to realize that she is beautiful no matter what. She also acknowledged that it’s something that she cannot control, and therefore she has absolutely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. On the contrary, she has something a lot better.
If there’s something that Jackal has taught her, it’s that she’s more than just tolerable – she’s an exceptional human being.
She finally started to see this beauty within herself because Jackal picked her above all others. Rachel happily gushes that Jackal could have chosen anyone else, but went to her above all others. Clearly Jackal saw something special there, and once Jackal saw it – Rachel deeply understood that her value and beauty was so incredibly real.
Her number one
When Rachel comes home after being away a long time, such as working at a summer job, it is Jackal she looks most forward to seeing – even more than her family!
“I love this dog to death,” she says, adding that Jackal is definitely her dog. Thanks to Jackal’s willingness to cuddle with her no matter what she looks like, her life has been changed. Whether Rachel’s hair is up or down, it doesn’t matter – she is always there to care for her.
They need each other
In many ways, Jackal needs Rachel just as much as Rachel needs Jackal. Due to the fact that the dog was abused when she was younger, it seems as if they understand each other on a very deep level.
In fact, Rachel claims that there are some pictures where she and Jackal have the same facial expressions! She also says that she believes Jackal can tell when she’s upset – and it’s in those moments where her love and care means the most to her.