According to a story from USA Today, the day that Stephanie Herfel first picked up her Siberian husky Sierra was easily one of the most important of her life. This was not only because Sierra is a good companion, but also because the dog was able to use her sharp sense of smell to detect Stephanie’s ovarian cancer; she was also able to detect it two additional times when the disease began to relapse.
About Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer can appear on or within the ovary. Ovarian cancer rarely causes distinctive symptoms in its early stages, so many patients are often diagnosed with advanced disease. The risk of getting ovarian cancer is connected to how long a woman has ovulated during her life; women who ovulate for longer periods are at greater risk. Late menopause or early puberty are risk factors, as are not having children, fertility medication, certain genetic variants and mutations (such as BRCA mutations), and exposure to talc, herbicides, and pesticides. Some symptoms of ovarian cancer include fatigue, bloating, a feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, indigestion, abdominal swelling, and pelvic pain. Treatment can include chemo, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. There are many different kinds of ovarian cancer. Five year survival rate is 45 percent in the US. To learn more about ovarian cancer, click here.
Sierra The Cancer Detector
Sierra was originally her son’s dog, but Stephanie agreed to take the nine month old pup in 2011 after son had to travel out of the country to serve in the Air Force. About a year later, Sierra began to exhibit strange behavior: she intently sniffed Stephanie’s lower abdomen. Stephanie at first wondered if she had spilled something on her clothes, but after a third sniff, Sierra fled and hid in another room.
A few weeks later, at a doctor’s appointment, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after complaining of abdominal pain. Stephanie underwent surgical operations and chemotherapy to treat the cancer. In 2015 and 2016, Sierra displayed similar behaviors to when she first discovered the cancer, and the husky’s suspicion was once again correct. In both instances, the cancer had relapsed, appearing in Stephanie’s pelvis and liver.
As it turns out, there are a number of dog breeds who can use their sharp senses of smell to detect health problems like cancer before doctors or patients can.
Today Stephanie is free of cancer, at least for now. She plans to write a book about her experiences with Sierra, who played no small part in saving her life.