ROCHESTER, Minn. – Doctors recommend women start getting regular mammograms at 40 years old to detect breast cancer. In the fall of 2014, a student attending classes at Minnesota School of Business in Rochester learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. But how her cancer was first detected is an incredible story.
Most dog owners will tell you their dog can do some impressive tricks, but Tara Leonard’s dog, Willow might have saved her life.
“I was laying in bed studying for a test,when Willow jumped up on the bed, put her nose to my left side, I told her to get down I was busy studying,” explains Tara.
Despite the command to “get down” the Golden Retriever/St. Bernard mix was persistent and jumped back up. Tara noticed this was strange for her usually, well-behaved dog.
“She got down on the floor and was sneezing and doing whatever she could, just being weird. Jumped back up on the bed and this time, it was wet slimy and gross and I went to wipe it off and that’s when I felt the lump.”
She went to see a doctor as soon as she could, had a mammogram and biopsy and then the diagnosis; invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.
Tara had just turned 40 and was putting her mammogram off until she was finished with school in March.
“Doctors said, ‘we caught it just in time’, I had no node involvement, but they said it would have only been a matter of time until it spread to the nodes.”
So did her dog Willow really detected the tumor; as a vet tech, Tara believes it’s absolutely possible.
“They use animals to detect when a seizure is coming on for people who have epilepsy, they can detect heart attacks, whenever a diabetic is low on blood sugar,” she explains.
There’s research to back that up. According to The Insitu Foundation, dogs have evolved to detect changes in humans. Since humans provide food, water and shelter for them, dogs will notice if something could threaten that. There’s even been a study that looks at the accuracy of canine scent detection in different stages of lung cancer.
Whether you believe Willow detected Tara’s cancer or just think it’s a great coincidence, the best part of this story is, Tara is cancer free, with a new attitude on life and a companion she’ll forever be grateful to.
“She’s one of those that you just have to give her an extra hug and an extra kiss and know she’s there for a reason.”
One piece of advice Tara wants to give those turning 40 is to not put off getting your mammogram like she did.