The retired primary school teacher says she might not be alive today if it wasn’t for her faithful pet, who persuaded her to get checked out before it was too late.Joanne first noticed something was wrong when Menios started ‘frantically sniffing’ at her whenever they cuddled up on the sofa together. She told Metro.co.uk: ‘He was getting more and more agitated, I could tell. First of all I kept thinking was it my antiperspirant he didn’t like?’
Menios kept on burring his head into Joanne’s armpit, which eventually prompted her to visit her doctor.
She him she felt the lump herself rather than through her pet so as not to come across as ‘a bit odd’The doctor told her he couldn’t see anything but referring Joanne for a screening anyway due to her surviving breast cancer 20 years ago. An ultrasound and subsequent biopsy at Medway Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, found the mum-of-three had invasive lobular cancer, which begins in the milk producing glands.
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Most of the time it cannot spread outside but once it breaks out onto the breast tissue it can occasionally spread to other parts of the body.
She later told her consultant about Menios picking up on her illness and was told: ‘I’ve heard of it before, I’m not surprised.’After undergoing surgery to remove the tumour at KIMS Hospital in Maidstone, results showed no spread to the lymph nodes.
But they still had no clear margins, meaning there was a chance the cancer was left behind on the breast or had travelled elsewhere.
Joanne, 60, would only know for sure in a few weeks time after tissue was tested, but during the wait Menios would not stop hounding her.
She said: ‘In between that he still kept doing it, I said to my husband “he’s freaking me out”.’
After a second operation in June 2019 she says Menios suddenly stopped doing it, before results came back confirming all of the cancer was gone.
Joanne added: ‘He has pretty much saved my life hasn’t he? I think you have to have a sort of bond with the dog as well, as soon as he came over he followed me everywhere.’The loyal creature was in a terrible state when he was taken under the wing of Healing Paws, a UK based charity which mainly operates in the Greek island of Zante. Its founder Sue Deeth agreed to take him on after friends on the mainland found him on the streets looking like he had ‘just given up on life’.
Tests showed he had no diseases and he was given a special diet to raise his red blood count and gain weight before Joanne initially agreed to foster him temporarily just before Christmas 2018.A vet in Greece said all Menios needed was to build up some muscle mass, but months later he still couldn’t walk or run.
Joanne said: His back legs were really weak. He had lots of scars on him and it looked like his ribs had been broken at some point, because they were a bit distorted looking.’
Medics were not totally sure what happened but they suggested he had been badly beaten and tortured. They said if he was the victim of a car accident it is unlikely both of his hind legs would have been broken.
Joanne added: ‘The vets said he must have been in excruciating pain. His legs were very weak, kept falling over, he had no muscles there. Every time he moved his knees were popping out.’
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After a course of painkillers and an operation, Menios is now recovering and is undergoing specialist dog-hydrotherapy.Joanne’s connection with the dog was so strong, she eventually decided to take him on permanently to join her other Greek rescue dogs Hector and Spiros.
She said: ‘I think he’s had a really awful time but he’s just the sweetest dog, we’ve never had any sort of aggression from him.’
While there are still a lot of sceptics out there, a number of scientific studies across the world suggest dogs can be trained to detect certain types of cancer very reliably.Charity Medical Detection Dogs is now approaching the end of a five year NHS approved clinical trial with Milton Keynes University Hospital Trust.
Hundreds of patients had their urine samples tested by the dogs trained to detect patterns of certain smell compounds associated with cancer.Dr Claire Guest, co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said this method produces false positives around 10% of the time – a massive improvement on the 75% for PSA blood tests.
She told Metro.co.uk the two tests ‘go well together’ and that it has never been the aim that ‘every doctors surgery is going to have a row of dogs sniffing for cancer’.
But having a less invasive examination method could encourage people to seek help earlier and save countless of lives.Together with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the charity is also working on a project in which dogs are being trained to teach machines how to detect cancer smells – using pressure pads to input information.
Medical Detection Dogs has also started a study with Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust investigating the potential of dogs to sniff urine and faecal samples to detect bowel cancer. Dr Guest said it ‘all started with anecdotes in the 1990s’ before she went on to be part of one of the first peer-reviewed studies in the field in 2004. Since then promising findings have been made by scientists across the world, including researchers from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Pennsylvania, who trained three beagles to smell lung cancer in blood samples.
Dr Guest added: ‘The dog’s biosensor is considered to be the most accurate biosensor, that’s why it’s used to find explosives in Westminster and Canary Wharf.
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‘I think the scepticism comes from not understanding the message that dogs have biosensors that have an incredible level of sensitivity and accuracy.’
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