Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pet Sheep detects cancer for owner

An archaeologist told today how her life was saved by a sheep - which spotted her breast cancer. Emma Turner, 41, had no idea she was suffering from a tumor when her pet sheep, Alfie, suddenly began butting her in the chest. It was completely out of character for the normally placid sheep, who has never head butted anyone since.

A deep bruise developed on Emma's chest over the next few days and she then discovered a lump in the middle of it. Emma, from Wroughton, Wiltshire, went to hospital to have the lump checked out and a biopsy revealed the early stages of breast cancer. She has now undergone chemotherapy to treat the tumor, which doctors believe could have gone un-noticed for years if Alfie hadn't butted her.

Emma said “Alfie is normally really well behaved but that particular day he went nuts and it took three of us to hold him down. He head-butted me repeatedly across the chest and I thought there must be something wrong with him. A few days later a terrific bruise came up on my chest and I noticed in the middle of the bruise there was a lump. The doctors and nurses said that if Alfie hadn't done what he did, when he did it, I wouldn't have found the lump for a few years, by which time it would have spread. Everyone at the hospital is convinced that Alfie saved my life.”

Emma rescued five-year-old Alfie when his mother died during childbirth and nursed him through a number of illnesses during the first 18 months of his life. She devoted months of love and attention to him and he became a firm favourite with visitors to Vowley Farm, in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, where she keeps him.

The archaeologist was giving some of her sheep medication at the farm last October when Alfie suddenly turned on her and began head-butting her repeatedly. His actions left a bruise on her chest and she visited the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, after noticing a lump in the centre of it. A biopsy revealed the devastating news that she was suffering the early stages of breast cancer.

Following her diagnosis, Emma endured six cycles of chemotherapy over four months, which she finished in April. She said, “Chemo was pretty horrible but it is all doable. It is tiring but you have to stay positive. It's very hard to describe what it's like having cancer to somebody who has never had it - some people say it is like a battle, but it's certainly something that means you need to keep your head down and be positive. I am feeling positive and the breast cancer nurses at the hospital don't give you false hope but they talk very positively about the prognosis and when you start asking around, you are amazed at how many people have been affected, or know someone that has been affected by breast cancer.”

Emma is set to undergo a mastectomy on Friday, which she asked her consultant to delay so she could be with Alfie at an opening day at his farm. She said, “Alfie is such a character and the open day is his favorite day of the year. I didn't want to miss it so I have delayed my mastectomy. I'm not feeling too great about it, but the thing with a mastectomy is you don't know how you are going to feel until you wake up and my consultant has said it will give me a chance of living another 40 years.”

Emma firmly believes Alfie deliberately head-butted her chest to alert her to the cancer - as he has never done it since the incident last October. She said, “Those who say sheep are stupid usually don't know anything about sheep. Alfie is clever - he saved my life.”