Stephen Herfel, an ovarian cancer survivor from Wisconsin, says she owes her life to her dog who detected her ovarian cancer multiple times even before the doctors could. It all started in January 2013 when Herfel began noticing unfathomable symptoms such as gaining about 60 extra pounds without changing her diet and lifestyle.
She immediately went to see doctors and they ran different types of tests but none of them suggested undergoing any type of pelvic exam.
As months passed by, Herfel felt more symptoms including sharp belly pain and bloating. She went to the doctors again and they said she had an ovarian cyst but she would feel better after about 10 days of taking pain medication.
Herfel was slowly noticing an improvement but she kept gaining weight and her abdominal pain came back eventually.
However, things changed one fateful afternoon in October when her husky Sierra placed her nose on Herfel’s stomach and started to push hard. Herfel thought the dog was just being naughty but she did it again and for the third time she did it, Sierra suddenly disappeared.
Herfel looked for her dog everywhere and was so scared when she couldn’t find her. She was surprised to see Sierra hiding in a closet curled in a little ball.
Herfel thought the dog was crying because her eyes were soaked and she looked scared. After some inspection, she thought maybe it’s all about her so she asked for a second opinion.
After a month of examinations, the doctors finally discovered she had stage 3 ovarian cancer. Herfel underwent surgery and treatment and after six months, she was declared by the doctors “cancer-free.”
In 2015, Herfel noticed Sierra behaving differently again. She was sniffing her belly and hiding like what she did before. She instantly felt something was wrong so she went to see a doctor and found out her cancer had returned.
Confused and amazed at the same time, Herfel told her oncologist Dr. David Kushner about her suspicions. The doctor said that perhaps Sierra was picking up that Herfel was in pain and something’s wrong with her.
It turned out there was science behind Dr. Kusher’s theories. A study published in Experimental Biology journal found 97% accuracy in dogs’ cancer-detecting abilities. This is because their sense of smell is 10,000 times more precise than humans.
Though Herfel was sad that her cancer returned, she was also very grateful of her dog that helped her detect it multiple times.
While Sierra kept hiding when Herfel was having her radiations, she started to cuddle her since she started her chemotherapy. This gives her hope that Sierra’s positive reaction means her condition is also improving.
“It is chillingly wonderful,” Herfel said. “I’m like, ‘OK it’s working. She was that accurate over the course of this journey.”
For six years, Herfel had the ovarian cancer on and off but she’s happy that Sierra gave her longer life. She strongly believes that her dog can smell cancer and she gave her a chance at longevity.
Herfel is currently working on a book about her experiences with Sierra. She also helps raise awareness about ovarian cancer and encourage pet owners to listen more closely to what their pets are trying to tell them. She said, “It’s about what our animals can do for this planet. We just have to look at them very closely.”
Watch this video to see how Sierra the Husky saved the life of her owner, Stephanie Herfel: