"He saved my life": dog sniffs out owner's breast cancer

11:16 PM, Mar 22, 2011   |    comments
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Walnut Grove -- Carol Witcher and her dog Floyd Henry are practically inseparable.  It's a strong bond, one that defies explanation, she says.  And what he did for her almost defies reason.

"He nipped my nose and then pushed against my right breast.  And I said, 'what are you doing?'" Carol remembers. 

"He pushed again and stood back and looked at me right in my eyes like, 'there's a problem here.'  Then, he raised his right front foot and pawed at my breast.  And I said, 'uh oh.'"

She checked, and what doctors found launched her into a battle for her life: breast cancer in the exact spot Floyd Henry touched.

Now, three years later, Carol is living cancer free.

"He saved my life," she says.  "He truly saved my life."

And some doctors at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute say there may be some truth in that claim.

Dr. Suresh Ramalingam, Winship's director of medical oncology, is leading a study that connects cancer detection with breath odor.

"The types of gases exhaled in our breath sample can be used to detect cancer," he says.  "What the dog shows is proof that this is possible."

A similar study shows the correlation between breath patterns and breast cancer patients in a sample group of patients.  Through his study, Dr. Ramalingam is looking to do the same with lung cancer.

"The breath specimen is easy to get and it does not involve any expensive procedures," he says.  "So it's readily there.  If we can use it to detect cancer, that would be a major advance."

The studies are still in their early stages, and Dr. Ramalingam stresses breath detection would not take the place of traditional screenings, but add to them. 

As for Floyd Henry, doctors say sniffing out the specific location of cancer is possible, but highly unlikely. 

Carol, however, has all the proof she needs.

"I'm here today, I know, because of the grace of God, and that dog," she says.

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