Man’s Best Friend
It is obvious why dogs are considered man’s best friends. They bring joy to millions of families all around the world by protecting us, making us laugh, and keeping us company.
But one young woman came to discover that they also save our lives from dangers we can’t even see.
New Puppy In The House
Keola is a three-year-old American Akita who lives in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. She was adopted in 2014 by Alhanna Butler and her fiancé Ricky Burdis.
They were excited to have a new addition to their growing family and were ready to spoil her and take lots of pictures of her. They never imagined they were adopting a guardian angel.
All Grown Up
Fast forward to a year later, and Keola was fully grown. Ricky and Alhanna couldn’t be happier with her, calling her “their bear.” She was already bigger and heavier than them, but had the gentlest and sweetest temperament.
Alhanna loved cuddling with her on the couch while watching TV. Later that year, their happy family welcomed some big news.
Baby On The Way
In April of 2015, Alhanna announced she was pregnant to the surprise and delight of their friends and relatives. Keola was always good with children and seemed excited by the prospect of a bigger family.
Alhanna had no doubt she would make a great big sister. But soon she would discover that something wasn’t right.
A few months into her pregnancy, Alhanna started experiencing severe pain in her lower back. She went to the doctor, who informed her they were probably just side effects from the pregnancy.
After all, a growing abdomen can cause a strain to the spine and back muscles, so it made sense she would feel some pain. Relieved, she returned home. But someone else in her household was not convinced.
Dog Behaving Oddly
Alhanna began to notice Keola acting odd around her, but couldn’t figure out why. “When the doctors sent me home and said there was nothing seriously wrong, she just sat staring at me so intently that it really scared me,” she explained to Mercury Press.
She tried to shrug it off, but Keola’s behavior only became stranger as time went by.
Not Acting Like Herself
Having always been a very laid-back dog, Keola was now becoming increasingly pushy. Alhanna began to worry that these changes had something to do with her pregnancy. Perhaps the dog was upset about no longer being the primary focus of attention.
If she was truly jealous of their baby, they would have to give her up. Alhanna fretted just at the thought of it.
More Warning Signs
Then, Ricky started to notice Keola getting really upset when Alhanna left for work in the morning. She would bark incessantly, something she had never done before. It was as if she was afraid something would happen to Alhanna when Keola wasn’t there to protect her.
Ricky and Alhanna couldn’t put a finger on the reason for this strange change, until they posted a picture on Facebook.
Time To Take It Seriously
Keola’s weird behavior started escalating. She would nudge Alhanna, cry, and stare at her for long periods of time. “I posted a picture of her doing this on Facebook and made the joke about the film Hachi where the dog also does this and suddenly my friends all started saying I should take it seriously.”
That’s when the couple realized maybe she was trying to tell them something.
Back To The Hospital
Alhanna decided to take Keola’s actions as a warning, and headed back to the hospital for another check-up. After the examination, she was immediately rushed into intensive care.
The couple was shocked when doctors told them she had been just moments away from certain death. Finally, Alhanna learned the truth about her backaches.
As it turned out, Alhanna had been suffering from a double kidney infection, which was responsible for the shooting pains in her lower back. On top of that, the infection was a rare, antibiotic-resistant bug that had only been known to affect one other person in the entire U.K.
Had she not sought care in time, she and her unborn baby would have likely died. Alhanna instantly knew who had saved their life.
“No one really understood how ill I was – but Keola did,” said Alhanna. Luckily, Alhanna was treated for her infection and eventually regained her health. Her pregnancy returned to normal and she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, whom they called Lincoln.
A new chapter in their family’s life began.
Instant Best Friends
As soon as Lincoln was born, Keola took up the role of big sister and babysitter, and they quickly became best friends. They love to take naps together and Keola makes him laugh like no one else can.
This dog’s loyalty to her family is extraordinary, and people rightfully noticed.
Celebrating Her Heroism
After telling her story to the Daily Mirror, Alhanna was notified that Keola had been nominated to the RSPCA’s “Animal Hero Award.” As a finalist, she and both her owners were invited to a red carpet event to celebrate.
For Keola, though, nothing is as rewarding as spending time with Alhanna, Ricky, and her best friend Lincoln. Unsurprisingly, she continues to look out for her family’s health.
A True Guardian Angel
Earlier this year, Alhanna shared a picture on Facebook of Keola comforting baby Lincoln, who was sick. “Keola woke me up this morning by running into my room and then I heard funny noises on the baby monitor so I went into Lincoln’s room and he was being sick bless him, she hadn’t left his side since,” she wrote.
Clearly Keola makes the best nurse, but how does she do it?
A Nose That Saves Lives
Keola’s secret weapon is her sense of smell. Dogs have 4000% more scent receptors than humans. They can detect odors in tiny amounts, and distinguish subtle changes in scents. Some breeds are able to detect illness by picking up on minuscule changes in the human body’s chemical composition.
A small shift in hormones or the release of dangerous organic compounds can alert them of something wrong – which is what is believed happened with Keola and Alhanna. But Leola isn’t the first dog to save her owner’s life.
A Sudden Change
Her dog had snapped viciously at her belly and she knew something was very wrong. Something inside her. Something waiting to reveal itself. As the doctor casually looked her over she shuddered as another wave of nausea gripped her, and he didn’t even notice.
She was hiding behind a wall of pain, a dull ache that had become an insistent ball of agony.
The First Signs
It was 2013 when she felt the first sign, bloating up her belly like a fat frog and causing a lot of discomfort during the move from California of Wisconsin. They had just stopped for a quick snack before getting back to the task at hand. She waved it off as something they had had for lunch.
It was very unusual but, like most of us, she shrugged the warning signs away thinking that next time she would order something better–maybe a salad or something light. She wouldn’t be that lucky.
It wasn’t long before Stephanie conceded to herself that this may be more than a bout of indigestion so, in the fall of 2013, Stephanie finally set up an appointment with local GP.
She outlined all the symptoms she had been experiencing over the past few months. Trouble eating, bloating and now full-blown pain in her abdomen. She told the doctor that she was worried that this was more serious because it was only getting worse, not better.
The Dismissive Doctor
Pushed for time and having seen similar cases before the doctor dismissed her worry with a quick diagnosis even though he did no tests to confirm anything. Stephanie, not wanting to insult him, accepted his answer.
She grasped the script he had scribbled down on his pad in her hands as a wave of nausea hit her.
A Deeper Mystery
Stephanie tried to remember what the doctor had said as she filled her prescription for painkillers at the pharmacy–he thought that she just had an ovarian cyst, it was painful but they usually disappear on their own within a few months. But this pain felt…different.
She wanted to believe, but deep inside she knew that it was a lie.
Masking The Pain
After taking a couple of days off for bed rest she had to get back to work. The pain medication was helping with some of the symptoms, like the sharp shooting pain in her belly was more of a dull throb now, but even medicine couldn’t hide the fact that the pills were masking something serious.
It was only when Sierra, her Siberian Husky, did something strange that Stephanie knew she couldn’t trust that doctor.
The Adopted Dog
Sierra had been adopted by Stephanie from her son when she was nine months old. Sean Pere, her oldest son, had enlisted in the Air Force and was due to leave for duty overseas shortly.
Sierra soon became Stephanie’s best friend and loving companion. She never wanted to leave Steph’s side, so when Sierra started acting weirdly around her she couldn’t help but think that something was wrong.
Sniffing Out The Problem
One day, just as Stephanie walked in the door, Sierra walked right up to her and did something she had never done before, “She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes,” she recalls. Then, Sierra snapped in distress.
Now Siberian Huskies are quite tall dogs and her nose was right up against Stephs belly but she didn’t click until something strange happened.
Hiding And Frightened
“She did it a second and then a third time,” Stephanie explained. Then Sierra stopped sniffing Stephanie’s shirt and suddenly turned and fled, “After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!” She ran away in pure terror and Stephanie’s blood ran cold.
When she eventually found her she was curled up in a tight ball, deep inside her closet.
Stephanie was shaken at Sierra’s behavior, the sudden change was so unlike her. She was not known to become frightened easily, even taking thunderstorms that most other dogs would cower from in her stride.
It was clear that the dog had sensed something inside her owner that had deeply unnerved her, but Stephanie wasn’t ready to listen, yet.
Stephanie’s symptoms became progressively worse and she began to deteriorate in front of her family’s eyes, but she remained determined to get to the bottom of her illness.
She tried natural remedies, herbal concoctions, spoke to apparent “experts” in online chats, but nothing helped. And no one could give her an answer. Maybe it was all in her head?
A Different Doctor
Stephanie was suffering more than usual on one particular day, and she made a decision. She wasn’t going to continue hiding from the fact that something clearly was not right with her health.
She decided to get a second opinion and booked a gynecologist appointment. She trusted her dog’s reaction more than a rushed doctor. And she was right to.
“To see (Sierra) become so afraid was spooky in its own right,” Stephanie recalled later. This time she had 2 tests done (in addition to a complete pelvic exam) an ultrasound and the CA-125 blood test. Soon she would have all the answers she so desperately needed.
But nothing could have prepared her for the moment she got her results.
It took a few weeks for Stephanie to get her results from the blood test back, and then the phone call came that rocked her world.
The doctor told her that she needed to come in urgently–she would prefer to speak with her in person about her test results.
The Results Were In
“So I made an appointment with a gynecologist,” Stephanie said, her voice choking up, “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.”
She will never forget that day the fight began.
On November 11, 2013, Stephanie’s doctor sat her down and told her that she had stage 3C ovarian cancer, a far cry from the ovarian cyst she had originally been diagnosed with by the first doctor. How could they have missed something so big?
Finally, it all made sense–her strange symptoms and even her dog’s behavior. She was relieved to finally have an answer, but where did she go from there?
In stage 3 ovarian cancer, the cancer is found in one or both ovaries, as well as in the lining of the abdomen, or it has spread to lymph nodes in the abdomen.
Former US Marine Corps, Stephanie underwent a full hysterectomy and had her spleen removed. She was a strong woman, but how strong?
In April 2014, Stephanie received amazing news and all the chemotherapy, worry and sickness had actually paid off. Her doctor declared her free of disease – cancer-free!
But they warned her that cancer has a nasty reputation of returning. Feeling lighter than she had felt in months she rushed home to tell her family the great news. She was a survivor! But she should have known better.
The Hard Truth
Stephanie resolved to live each day to its fullest, she knew the statistics and she knew she was lucky to still be here, surrounded by family and not lying in a hospital bed.
70% of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are at risk of the disease returning, especially for women who are diagnosed with the late stages of cancer. Would she become a statistic?
A Late Catch
Stephanie had caught it fairly late, out of four possible stages she was diagnosed at stage 4. Her doctors warned her that it was more than likely that the disease would return.
She tried not to dwell on the past or fret over the future and just live one day at a time. But the doctors were right with their prognosis and in 2015 Steph was back in the doctor’s rooms.
It Was Back
Steph didn’t need to be told twice when Sierra did the exact same thing she had done the last time. She sniffed Stephanie’s belly and sped away to hide deep in the closet again. A sinking feeling filled her because she knew exactly what was wrong.
Stephanie immediately made an appointment with her doctor only to find out the terrible news – the cancer had returned. Sierra had caught it a second time, and now it was in Steph’s liver.
This time the dread disease was caught earlier and Stephanie was able to undergo treatment again. She did the unthinkable.
She beat cancer a second time with some cutting-edge technology, Dr. Kushner suggested that she enroll in a clinical trial that included a new type of targeted cancer-fighting drug called a PARP inhibitor. She only hoped it was the last time she’d need it.
Third Catch For Sierra
It wasn’t to be. Sierra once again started acting strangely and Stephanie knew it was back. She went to the doctors again to confirm what she already knew…
What her dog had told her! And for the third time, Stephanie began treatment. This time the cancer had spread to her pelvic area. How much more could she take?
The Best Medicine
“It’s almost like the dog knows something is going on and is scared. The dog didn’t want to be near her,” Ashley Wagner, the executive director of the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance said.
“That made all the difference in the world to her,’’ says Dr. Kushner regarding the high-tech science behind her recovery. “It’s amazing that one of the first targeted therapy for ovarian cancer became available just as she needed it.”
“I Owe My Life To That Dog”
Stephanie, for the third and final time, managed to fight the disease and the 52-year-old is now cancer-free. “I owe my life to that dog. She’s really been a godsend to me. She has never been wrong,” Stephanie said. Her oncologist, David Kushner, has even said that some breeds of dogs have an incredible ability to accurately smell cancer.
Dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared with just 5 million for humans, and the part of their brains devoted to smell is also much larger.
An Incredible Nose
Studies have confirmed that dogs can effectively detect cancerous cells in the human body. Cancerous cells release different metabolic waste products to healthy cells.
A dog’s sense of smell is so powerful that they can detect these cancerous cells even in the very early stages of cancer. Studies show that dogs can be trained to detect cancer in 93% of cases.
A Positive Outlook
Stephanie knows that there is still a chance that she will have to battle cancer again but she is positive and an inspiration to those battling alongside her.
“There are things that are coming out new every day. That’s how I live my life.
“I’m going to do the best thing I can do at the time until the next best thing comes along,” she said.
“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.”