Since she was a little girl, Courtney Gessford has dreamed of being showered with puppies. But, suffering from brain cancer, the 28-year-old thought she’d never get to experience her pooch-filled fantasy.
“I love puppies and I’ve always just wanted to be surrounded by like 10 dogs,” she tells PEOPLE. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved animals. Everyone knows, ‘Courtney’s such a dog person.’ ”
So, her friend Maris Loeffler stepped in to make Gessford’s dream come true.
Loeffler reached out to Front Street Animal Shelter of Sacramento, California, to plan the puppy ambush. On Jan. 7, Loeffler, put a blindfold and headphones on Gessford and drove her to the location.
“She walked me inside … and I laid down on something that was kind of soft. Then she took the blindfold off and the headphones out and there were like 15 of my friends and family and everybody was holding a puppy! And as soon as I took the blindfold off, they just put the puppies all over me!”
She adds: “It was the best! I was ecstatic. You can see in the video [that] I’m shocked, I’m overwhelmed and I start crying. I’m so ecstatic because it’s just a dream come true.”
Gessford, of Sacramento, was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2014 when she was 24 years old. She has had three brain surgeries and more than a year of chemotherapy.
“It is the most up and down, unpredictable, roller coaster of emotions I have ever experienced. I think I have a really good attitude so I have a lot of really good days, but I have had horrible days and horrible weeks,” she tells PEOPLE. “I can’t even begin to describe the emotional journey that I’ve been on.”
While Gessford has always loved dogs, she says her experience with the illness brought her closer to her own dog: 8-year-old Clyde.
“I’ve always loved him more than I can express. After the cancer diagnosis, he became that much more important. He’s very therapeutic to me … He just makes me happy and he helps me relax. He also gives me a sense of purpose,” she tells PEOPLE.
“He’s been a key part of my healing. He’s comforting to me when I don’t feel well, when I’m tired. When I was recovering from [brain] surgery, he would just lay with me.”