We often say things like “my dog rescued me,” but Stephanie Herfel’s dog, Sierra, really did – and not just once – three different times!
Stephanie Herfel took in her son’s Siberian Husky when he was deployed with the Air Force in 2011. Sierra was only 9-months-old and at the time Stephanie had no idea she’d be a life saver. They became fast friends and together the two moved from California to Wisconsin in 2013. Soon after the move was the first time Sierra tipped Stephanie off that something wasn’t right. Stephanie had been feeling a pain in her lower abdomen but hadn’t given it much thought. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes. She did it a second and then a third time. After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!”
Sierra’s strange behavior was enough to get Stephanie to drive to the ER. A doctor there diagnosed her with an ovarian cyst, gave her some medicine for the pain, and sent her on her way. Sierra was still behaving strangely, though, so Stephanie went for a second opinion.
“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.”
Sierra had been able to smell the cancer in Stephanie’s body and had been trying to warn her. The cancer required a full hysterectomy and the removal of her spleen, but she recovered with Sierra by her side.
But it wasn’t over. Sierra’s strange behavior picked back up twice – in 2015 and in 2016. Upon seeing a doctor she found that the cancer had returned both times, first in her liver and then again in her pelvis. She and her doctor both credit Sierra for catching it all three times. She told Pickler & Ben:
“I was informed that there had been studies done, and it’s not breed specific, but if they do maintain a scent then they’re 98% accurate.”
Stephanie is now a member on the board of the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance. She hopes to spread awareness and educate others on ovarian cancer. She has also shared the story of how Sierra saved her life, and will be appearing in a documentary about dogs who can sniff out cancer.
Our dogs can do all kinds of amazing things. Sierra may not have been the first dog to have alerted her human to cancer, but she could be the reason that Stephanie is still here today.