A cancer survivor has hailed her hero ‘best friend’ Labrador for saving her life after he sniffed out her stage three breast cancer.
Mother-of-two Anna Neary, 46, from Wakefield, Yorkshire, said she would ‘get cross’ when eight-year-old Harvey persistently pawed at her right breast and refused to leave her side for six weeks, until she discovered two lumps in the same spot.
Anna was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes in November 2018, one month after Harvey appeared to have begun to sense something was wrong.
The mother-of-two has since undergone three years of treatments, including chemotherapy and a mastectomy, during which medics discovered an aggressive 5.5cm tumour which advanced the diagnosis to stage three.
She now believes it was Harvey who saved her life, explaining: ‘I dread to think where I would be if it wasn’t for him. Without him, it could have been a different story.’
Anna Neary, from Yorkshire, with her Labrador, Harvey, eight, who persistently pawed at her right breast for six weeks before doctors diagnosed her with stage three breast cancer
After Harvey sniffed out the disease in November 2018, she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to remove the breast after medics discovered an aggressive 5.5cm tumour
The specialist support worker admitted she doesn’t regularly check her breasts and probably would have never found the lumps if it wasn’t for Harvey.
Anna said: ‘Harvey has seen me at my best and worst. He’s my best friend.
‘We have such a good bond which I think is why he could sense it. He thinks he’s a lapdog but he’s massive.’
She explained how he ‘sensed’ something was wrong, explaining: ‘He’d sit on my knee anyway but he was pawing at my right breast and I’d get cross with him so he’d just lay his head there.
Anna insists that Harvey saved her life as medics said that if the tumour had been discovered any later, it’s likely she wouldn’t have survived
Anna is now back to work after taking three years off to recover, thanks to the early diagnosis
HOW DO DOGS ‘SNIFF OUT CANCER’?
Dogs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and can pick up on ‘volatile organic compounds’, which are released from the early stages of many cancers, including ovarian, lung and colorectal.
Scientific studies have shown pooches can separate between blood and tissue samples donated from ovarian cancer patients and healthy people by picking up on minute quantities of VOCs.
Studies have also shown dogs can sniff out prostate cancer in a man’s urine, as well as breast and lung forms of the disease from compounds in a patient’s breath.
If a dog detects this on their owner, they may try to alert them by paying them more attention, sniffing them, or ‘comforting’ them by gently licking their hands or feet, or laying beside them for no reason.
If a person notices their dog is regularly acting differently around them, it may be worth looking out for other cancer symptoms, such as pain, fatigue and weight loss.
Experts have said specially-trained dogs could particularly help women with ovarian cancer, which has no screening programme and is usually only diagnosed when advanced.
‘He wouldn’t leave me alone. If I went to the bathroom, he’d come and then when I got back, he’d put his head straight back on my breast.
‘He wouldn’t stop doing it for six weeks. He was really persistent.
‘I felt like he was trying to tell me there was something wrong so I decided to check my breasts and found two lumps.
‘I just thought “what the hell is that” and went to the doctor.
‘They said if I didn’t go in when I did, I might not have made it. I owe Harvey my life.’
Anna underwent a mastectomy followed by 12 grueling rounds of chemotherapy and 16 rounds of radiotherapy.
Harvey and Anna’s bond grew stronger as the pet supported her through treatment.
Anna said: ‘I was in shock. I didn’t know what was going to happen.
‘The chemo was awful and Harvey was there for me the whole way.
‘I had to take three years off work so we’ve spent a lot of time together just me and him.’
In January 2020, following the mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Anna received the good news that the cancer was gone.
However she insisted that Harvey saved her life as medics said that if the tumour had been discovered any later, it’s likely she wouldn’t have survived..
Thanks to the early diagnosis, Anna is back at work after she was forced to take three years off to recover.
She explained: ‘Going back to work was hard because he’s so used to me.
‘I’m still not fully myself but I don’t have cancer anymore so I’m grateful for that.’
She’ll need hormone therapy for ten years before she’s given the all clear.
The specialist support worker admits she doesn’t regularly check her breasts and probably would have never found the lumps if it wasn’t for Harvey. Anna pictured following her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment
Anna said: ‘I felt like he was trying to tell me there was something wrong so I decided to check my breasts and found two lumps’
The mother-of-two says her daughters, Emily, 25, and Morgan, 19, spoil Harvey to show their gratitude for saving their mum’s life
She said her daughters, Emily, 25, and Morgan, 19, spoil Harvey to show their gratitude for saving their mum’s life.
Anna said: ‘My daughters love him so much. They’re so grateful.
‘I’ve always been nice to him but we’re so thankful.
‘He’s such an amazing and clever dog. We feel very lucky.’
Anna said Harvey would sit on her knee and paw at her right breast and even when she got cross with him, he would still lay his head there
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and affects more than two MILLION women a year
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.
When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.
Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men though this is rare.
Staging means how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Stage 1 is the earliest stage and stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.
The cancerous cells are graded from low, which means a slow growth, to high, which is fast growing. High grade cancers are more likely to come back after they have first been treated.
What causes breast cancer?
A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.
Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign.
The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
- Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.
If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest x-ray.
How is breast cancer treated?
Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.
- Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
- Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focussed on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
- Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying
- Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.
How successful is treatment?
The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.
The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 mean more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
For more information visit breastcancercare.org.uk, breastcancernow.org or www.cancerhelp.org.uk