Claire Guest tells her extraordinary story of how the dog she had trained to detect cancer ended up alerting her to her own breast cancer in, Daisy’s Gift, out in paperback on Thursday (27th July).
When Claire was working on the first ever trial to detect bladder cancer using the smelling power of a dog’s nose, she hit upon a problem. One of her dogs, Tangle, was alerting he had found cancer in a sample taken from a healthy donor.
“There’s a strange problem with Tangle,” Claire told the consultant urologist she was working with. “He keeps stopping at one of the control samples and he’s unhappy about leaving it. I’ve checked and, according to our records, it is definitely from someone who’s been cleared of having cancer.”
The consultant took a note of the sample number and rang Claire back ten days later. The patient who gave the sample had been cleared of possible bladder cancer, but because of Tangle’s behaviour, further tests had been subsequently carried out.
An ultrasound scan showed the patient had a tumour on one of his kidneys. It was at an early stage so it could be removed.
A few weeks later a letter arrived addressed to Tangle. “Dear Tangle, thank you for saving my life…” It was from the patient, whose life had potentially been saved by Tangle, a dog trained to detect cancer.
It was the heart-stopping moment Claire needed to carry on training the dogs. She set up the Milton Keynes-based charity Medical Detection Dogs and slowly changed the highly sceptical attitude of the medical world towards her research.
It was just as well she did. In the summer of 2009, it was Claire’s turn to have her life saved by her own work.
It was a hot summer’s day and after driving back from a meeting, she let her three dogs out of the car for a run around and some fresh air. Two of them jumped out and ran off happily into the fields.
Her fox-red Labrador Daisy, a star bladder cancer detection dog, did not move. She began nudging Claire hard in the chest. Claire tried to push her gently away, but she was persistent. Troubled, Claire felt a bruised patch in her chest and a small lump. She made an appointment to see a doctor. Some days later, after a core biopsy, a deep-seated breast cancer tumour was found.
“If you hadn’t come for a check-up…” her doctor remarked soberly.
“Without Daisy, it’s unlikely I would ever have noticed the small benign lump that led to the much deeper cancer being caught. Daisy saved my life,” says Claire.
Eight years on, the charity she co-founded, Medical Detection Dogs, is going from strength to strength. In addition to prostate, breast and colorectal cancer trials, the charity recently announced it would investigating whether dogs can detect Parkinson’s in a joint trial with the Manchester University.
The paperback of Claire’s book, Daisy’s Gift, is out on Thursday (July 27).