Somehow, calling your dog your best friend can still totally undersell just how much your beloved pooch means to you. In fact, if you asked Wisconsin’s Stephanie Herfel about her husky, she would say her dog’s her guardian angel.
When her loyal husky started acting up in 2013, Stephanie knew it was a sign something was seriously wrong. However, once she found out what exactly had led to her pooch’s strange behavior, the two of them had to embark on a painful quest to solve it — before it was too late.
Between her stints as a Marine and a mom, Stephanie Herfel was tough as nails. Still, she couldn’t help but feel sad to see her son go overseas with the Air Force. But there was one part of his departure he didn’t tell her about until the last minute.
Stephanie’s son didn’t want her to feel too lonely while he was away, so he arranged a special gift for her. He entered their California home one morning with a smile spreading ear to ear.
Facebook / Stephanie Herfel
He presented her with Sierra, a 9-month-old husky! Stephanie and Sierra became fast friends, and their bond only deepened over the years. Sierra accompanied Stephanie and her husband Jim on a cross-country move to Wisconsin in 2013 without a whimper.
In the back of her mind, Stephanie always knew that Sierra was a very special dog. However, she was about to find out exactly how unique Sierra was — and thank goodness for that…
One afternoon, Stephanie began experiencing some pain and discomfort in her stomach. She figured she’d just eaten something bad and was suffering through some bad food poisoning. When the sensation continued after several days, she visited her doctor.
Stephanie’s doctor brushed off her concerns, saying at worst she was dealing with an ovarian cyst. He sent her home with some pain medication, which would, he thought, set her right as rain.
Once Stephanie returned from the doctor, Sierra perked up. That part wasn’t unusual. At the same time, though, the husky appeared to be more energized than most days. What was up with Sierra?
Sierra joined Stephanie on the couch and immediately thrust her nose into Stephanie’s abdomen. Taken aback, she tried to slide away from the dog. Sierra refused to give up, however, and kept sniffing.
In all her years with Sierra, Stephanie had never seen the husky act like this before. Maybe she’d spilled something on her clothes and hadn’t noticed? Before she had a chance to check, Sierra bolted from the room.
Completely baffled, Stephanie followed the dog’s trail through the house. She found her huddled into a ball in the back of a closet. Clearly, Sierra was trying to express that something was wrong, but what could it be?
YouTube / Lunatic the Husky and April
By this point, Stephanie trusted her dog more than anyone else on Earth. She couldn’t help but think back to her abdominal issues. Perhaps, through some miracle, Sierra knew something that nobody else did.
So Stephanie scheduled another doctor’s visit, and there, Stephanie’s worst fears were realized: tests showed that she had ovarian cancer, which reached a pretty advanced stage! They would have to act fast to save Stephanie’s life.
In addition to chemotherapy, Stephanie underwent a hysterectomy and a spleen removal surgery in 2014. These procedures put a lot of stress on the Herfel family, but at least Stephanie had her trusty dog at her side during her recovery.
To no one’s surprise, Stephanie bounced back! The next year passed without much to write home about, which was fine by her. Stephanie was ready to move onto the next chapter of her life…until Sierra began acting strangely once again.
Just like on the day of Stephanie’s botched doctor visit, Sierra intently smelled her owner’s body and sprinted away. Stephanie ran to the doctor, and sure enough, her cancer had returned!
And so it was Stephanie went through another round of treatment. Doctors once again gave her the all clear. A year later, though, yet again, Sierra went wild and sniffed Stephanie’s abdomen!
For a third time, Sierra correctly diagnosed a tumor inside Stephanie. Treatment. Release. Recovery. Rinse and repeat. Surely, she must’ve thought, this would be the last diagnosis.
Well, as of 2018, she’s been cancer-free ever since! Leaving that dingy hospital bed behind, Stephanie wanted to return to her life and help others suffering from disease. But she couldn’t help but wonder: how did Sierra know?
Doctor David Kushner, Stephanie’s primary oncologist, had a theory. He explained that certain dog breeds can detect chemical traces given off by tumors with an accuracy of up to 98 percent.
Stephanie and Jim were lucky enough to own a canine with this special gift. They decided not to squander their good fortune. They went public about their amazing story, hoping it could help other people who went undiagnosed.
Stephanie also got involved with the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance, where she eventually rose to a seat on the board. Sierra is a pretty big local celebrity to everyone in the organization too.
Ultimately, Stephanie believes her 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.”