A Wisconsin woman has her dog to thank for saving her life after the pooch amazingly detected her ovarian cancer multiple times, long before the disease could even be noticed on a scan.
Stephanie Herfel still gets emotional while talking about her husky Sierra and the unbelievable way she has managed to notify her that something is seriously wrong, time and time again.
“I believe she saved my life, and she continues to do so,” she told ABC 7 affiliate WKOW in a recent interview. “I’m very grateful to her … Sierra is a gift. [Without her], I don’t think I’d be here having this conversation.”
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Herfel said Sierra’s amazing feats began in 2013, shortly after the Madison native was diagnosed with a benign ovarian cyst. At the time, Herfel was given pain medication and sent home — but Sierra knew something wasn’t right and made it her mission to alert her owner.
“She came up and put her nose on my belly, which I dismissed,” Herfel recalled to the outlet, adding that her dog kept repeating her actions, but she never thought anything of it.
It wasn’t until one day when Herfel found Sierra hiding in a back closet that she became worried about her dog’s behaviors — and her own health.
“She was curled in a little ball with her nose under her tail and her little face was completely wet and her eyebrows scrunched,” Herfel explained before sharing that she decided to take “a leap of faith” and get a second opinion from another doctor.
That doctor eventually told Herfel that she had stage 3 ovarian cancer.
“I just was scared,” she told WKOW, adding that after undergoing surgery and six months of treatment, she had entered remission and was cancer-free.
But things changed in 2015 when Sierra started acting oddly again, repeating the same sniffing and hiding behaviors she had done right before Herfel’s cancer diagnosis.
“I knew in my gut that something was wrong,” the woman shared with the outlet.
Doctors soon delivered the devastating news that her cancer had returned and spread to her liver, but Herfel was even more shocked to realize that Sierra had successfully detected the disease again.
“Just going in my head, ‘Sierra was telling me,'” she recalled, noting how she even brought up the husky’s amazing ability to her UW Carbone Cancer Center oncologist Dr. David Kushner, who confirmed that her suspicions may be correct.
“I didn’t think she was crazy at all. I said, ‘Probably your dog was picking up that you weren’t feeling okay,'” Kushner told the outlet.
As it turns out, there is scientific data behind Herfel and Kushner’s theories. A recent study by Experimental Biology concluded that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more accurate than humans, which allows them to identify scents that humans cannot detect.
To prove this, four trained beagles were tested to see if they could distinguish between a normal blood sample and a blood sample from a cancer patient. The results showed that the dogs were 97 percent accurate with differentiating the samples.
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Since that moment in 2015, Sierra has detected her owner’s cancer two more times — even before doctors are able to make the diagnosis.
“She is detecting [the cancer] so early that they can’t even see it on a scan yet,” Herfel shared.
“We have heard people say this sort of story before, but I think she is most unique,” Kusher explained. “Because of the fact that Sierra will truly focus on the part of the body where there’s a problem, which is really interesting.”
“Even though [Herfel] is feeling perfectly fine, Sierra knows,” the doctor added.
Now, as she continues to battle her fourth cancer diagnosis, Herfel is sharing her incredible story and urging pet owners to be more aware of how their animals are communicating.
“Pay attention to your pet and see if they’re communicating with you in a different way,” she told the outlet. “You might notice some incredible things.”