The KnowTheGlow Team has recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rachel Strother. We first discovered Rachel from the documentary, “Pick of the Litter.” This fantastic documentary showcased the wonderful and rigorous world of training and matching guide dogs to their permanent homes through the organization, Guide Dogs for the Blind. Rachel, who at the time of the documentary was known as Ron, was one of two recipients featured in the film who received a graduated seeing-eye dog in the show!
Born in San Bernardino, CA, Rachel was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma when she was eight months old. Rachel’s father had bilateral retinoblastoma as a child and lost his own vision. As a result, her parents were careful to watch for any signs that retinoblastoma may be developing in their child, as they knew there was a genetic possibility of this to occur. They became suspicious when Rachel began to crawl as she was crawling right into walls and items in the room. They immediately brought her to her doctor to be examined
Her parents were disheartened to learn that in fact Rachel did have bilateral retinoblastoma. She quickly began therapy to fight her cancer. She received radiation treatment in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, Rachel’s cancer was far too advanced and at ten months of age, her first eye was enucleated. Doctors worked to save Rachel’s second eye but tumors present on the optic nerve prevented this from happening. By the time Rachel was 18 months old, her second eye was enucleated and she was completely blind.
At age three, a follow-up appointment confirmed that doctors had removed all areas of concern and declared Rachel cancer-free!
A life without vision has not stopped Rachel from pursuing a full and adventurous life. Rachel moved all over the United States when she was younger. She finally settled in Kansas City in 2009. It was here that she met her wife, Estelle. They soon married and began their new life together.
For a long time, although she was interested in having a guide dog, Rachel felt as though she was not at a place in her life where she was ready for such a great responsibility. Once she was happily married, she felt stable and realistically ready for a guide dog. Rachel’s wife was very supportive of the idea. Rachel soon put in an application to Guide Dogs for the Blind and expected to wait the customary two years for a dog match to be made. However, to her surprise, she was approached with the opportunity to take part in the documentary, “Pick of the Litter.” If she agreed to participate, her wait would be greatly reduced. Rachel did not hesitate to say yes!
In February of 2018, Rachel trained with her guide dog, Phil, for an extremely intense two weeks (as normally people train with guide dogs for about a month). Rachel says the chemistry between them was immediate and wonderful. She knew that their relationship would be life-changing and freeing. She was thrilled when the training and filming was over and she was able to bring Phil back to her home in Kansas City to begin their adventure together.
Rachel and Estelle had a smaller dog in the house and adjusting to a larger dog, such as Phil, was a bit of a challenge for the entire family. But with time, Phil even won his little sister over. He is calm, sweet, and intuitive about Rachel’s emotions and has performed his work with perfection. Rachel says he has even saved her life on more than one occasion!
Today, Rachel works in software testing for compliance regarding blindness and cognitive disabilities. She is living as her authentic self, feeling liberated and happy! She has not looked back once since her transition. Rachel feels very strongly that every blind person has the ability to be their own advocate and to pursue all their dreams. She believes the world is full of opportunities thanks to technology, incredible resources, and personal ingenuity… not to mention seeing eye dogs!
Rachel has a deep love and long-lasting relationship with Phil. She believes that Phil has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for her. Following the release of the documentary, Rachel is quick to call herself more of the “supporting actress” claiming Phil to be the STAR! Rachel hopes that by sharing her story she will encourage other people with visual impairment to pursue the wonderful life that comes with one of these very special dogs!