I took this picture of Hannah Reece on September 7, 2019, one week after bringing her home as our new puppy. Little did I know, I’d be diagnosed with breast cancer one month later. This is the true story of how my dog saved my life.
Finding Hannah was healing and therapeutic for us after the sudden and traumatic loss of our 9-year-old Romeo (our first German Shorthaired Pointer). It took only one look from her eyes for me to know that I was hers and she was mine.
The morning that I took this picture, I had just been showering when I felt something suspicious in my right breast. It wasn’t a lump like we’re told to check for. It felt more like a thickened area of skin or a palpable muscle where I’d never felt one before.
When I saw the red streaks in the mirror, I knew I had mastitis. For anyone who doesn't know, mastitis is an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs when milk ducts become restricted or blocked. Most often, this happens during breastfeeding.
I did breastfeed both of my children for two years each, but that was a long time ago! How could I have mastitis?
The next time Hannah cried for me to hold her, the sudden rush in my chest answered my own question. Any mother who has nursed a baby knows the sensation I’m referring to.
Hannah’s constant crying during the night had induced lactation!
I know that sounds strange. I didn’t even know if it was biologically possible – and I couldn’t find anything about it online. But when I asked my surgeon about it, she told me that it was basic mammal biology. However, she also admitted that it was a first for her to hear of in her practice.
During Hannah’s first week home, I slept on the couch beside her so I could take her out during the night. She hated her crate. I hated crating her. In fact, I held her more than I crated her.
She cried. She wailed. For those first few nights, her cry wasn’t a whine or a bark. Instead, it was a heart-wrenching little voice that sounded more like a human infant than a puppy, and she never tired of expressing it. Many times, I gave in and held her so we both could get some sleep.
Subconsciously, my body responded to her nighttime cries in the way it was trained to respond to my own babies when they cried.
To the men out there reading, you can relax. That’s the end of the graphic story.
So, how did she save my life?
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) is considered the “sneaky cancer” because it grows in vertical lines instead of forming a lump or sphere-shaped tumor. ILC grows between layers of tissue in the breast, going undetected for a long time. A couple of ducts in my right breast had cancer growing above and below them - - thus constricting and blocking the milk flow.
I did not feel a cancerous mass or tumor. I simply felt the hardening of the area where milk was blocked. That is a miracle!
Had my puppy’s crying not induced lactation, I would not have felt anything unusual for a long time. I did NOT have the symptoms we’re told to check for: a lump, dimpled skin, inverted nipple, breast pain, change in size, discharge that is NOT milk (such as blood).
Without a constricted duct, I would have had no thickening of my skin in that area. The only pain I had was the duct itself. The actual breast cancer does not hurt.
You cannot feel ILC in its early stages. My surgeon shared that most of the time when women present with ILC in her office, it might already be in both breasts or other organs.
The only reason I had been alarmed and scheduled for diagnostic imaging is because God allowed my body to lactate almost 12 years after I weaned my youngest child. The only reason that occurred is because I had a new puppy that sounded human when she cried.
Now, here’s the story clencher.
The only reason I brought Hannah Reece home as part of our family is because Romeo had just passed away.
Selah. Pause and think about that.
Her breeder already had named her Reece, meaning “joyful enthusiasm”. It matched her personality. I decided to keep it as her middle name and prayed about her first name.
I felt that God had led us to Hannah out of His grace and mercy in a time of absolute sorrow. We loved her instantly. I chose the name Hannah because it means “favored by God; bestowed grace upon by Him”.
Romeo’s death and Hannah Reece’s life suddenly had such a sweet and personal purpose for me. Together, they were a formula that God used so that my life would be spared. I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness!
I know the story might seem odd to most people reading this. Honestly, that’s the least of my concerns. It’s my truth and no one can take it from me.
God used a donkey to speak in the Bible, and for whatever reason – He chose to allow my body to do something miraculous to reveal something hidden. And He did it in a way that let me know He has not taken His hand off of me or mine this year.
He has a perfect plan and perfect timing for every detail.
My word for 2019 is “banner”, also referred to as “standard” or “flag” in some verses.
“When the enemy comes in like a flood the Lord Himself will lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). God set a standard between me and Lobular Carcinoma when I did not know it existed. He does this for all of His children in ways we’ll never know this side of Heaven. It's a great word for 2019.
I will NOT be shaken!
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