One of the most difficult things we may ever have to deal with in life is a diagnosis of cancer. It’s a frightening disease that can hide under the radar for quite some time before it is diagnosed.
Stephanie Herfel is well aware of that problem. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 but she found out in a most unusual way. The reason why she found out was all because of the efforts of a Siberian Husky, named Sierra.
Sierra was given to Stephanie two years before that fateful event. Her son provided the gift and she quickly bonded with a dog. In 2013, however, Sierra started to exhibit some strange behaviors when she was around Herfel.
Mommy I'm happy 😊 your home with my daddy. I love my name – Sierra Belle Herfel!!
“She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes,” Herfel revealed. “She did it a second and then a third time. After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!”
About the same time, Herfel started to experience some abdominal pain. The doctor at the emergency room at first thought it was an ovarian cyst and he provided her with pain medication and sent her on her way. No follow-up visit was scheduled.
Sierra knew that it was something more and would hide in Herfel’s closet when she sniffed her owner’s abdomen. It was then that she decided a second opinion was in order.
“To see her become so afraid was spooky in its own right. So I made an appointment with a gynecologist and in a matter of weeks and some blood work with an ultrasound, on 11-11-13 I was sitting in the gynecology oncologist room in shock that I had cancer,” Herfel revealed.
The diagnosis was initially stage III ovarian cancer. After having a full hysterectomy and undergoing chemotherapy, along with a spleen removal, she thought that she would be out of danger.
Sierra recognized that there was still a problem. One time in 2015 and again in 2016, Sierra sniffed her abdomen and hid. When Herfel went to the doctor, she received the diagnosis of liver cancer in 2015. The cancer had spread to her pelvic area by 2016.
David Kushner was her oncologist and he revealed that Sierra wasn’t doing something out of character. Dogs have an inborn ability to sniff cancer and the accuracy rate is as high as 98%.
“I owe my life to that dog. She’s unequivocally been a godsend to me. She has never been wrong,” Herfel said.
Sierra begins to get fearful anytime that she recognizes something may be wrong with Herfel. The thought of her owner getting sick stresses her out.
Herfel is now on a mission to share her story with as many people as possible and to raise awareness of what she found out through experience. She is currently cancer free but she knows that if something should go wrong again, she can always trust Sierra to let her know.
“I just feel like my story can let people think about their animals and think, ‘Wow, my animal did this when I got diagnosed.’ Just to give the animals credit that they are pretty smart,” Herfel said.