A friend is there for you during a time of need. Whether that companion is a biped or quadruped really shouldn’t matter, should it?
In fact, ask participants in the fourth annual American Cancer Society Bark for Life event scheduled for Nov. 2 at Tyrell Park in Beaumont how their dogs helped them endure battles with a disease the CDC says kills 7.6 million people each year worldwide, and they might tell you they couldn’t have done it without “man’s best friend.”
Recent studies have shown that dogs can help improve owners’ mood during times of depression; warn of epileptic seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks; and even detect lung and breast cancer.
According to a June 2013 article in the Journal of International Medical Research, “In a matter of weeks, ordinary household dogs with only basic behavioral ‘puppy training’ were trained to accurately distinguish breath samples of lung and breast cancer patients from those of controls. This pilot work using canine scent detection demonstrates the validity of using a biological system to examine exhaled breath in the diagnostic identification of lung and breast cancers.”
While Josh Davis, 24, might not be able to credit his dog Mia with discovering his skin cancer in 2009, he did say that his boxer was there for him when it mattered the most.
“She helped keep my mind off of it,” said Davis of Beaumont, who was diagnosed with level-four melanoma at the age of 19. “Dogs have that innate sense. … They can sense when you aren’t feeling well or something’s wrong. They’re that extra caregiver — the ones that go unnoticed sometimes. They’ll come up and nudge you when you need to be nudged or give you that extra attention just to let you know that they’re there.”
Ironically, Davis said his cancer was discovered after accepting a dare during another American Cancer Society event, Relay for Life, when the committee treasurer, Robert Dickenson, dared him to shave his head if the event raised a certain amount of money. Davis accepted, and with the goal being reached, received a new ‘do. The next day, Josh’s mother, Nicole, discovered some strange looking spots on the back of his scalp during a second haircut to even out the shave from the event.
“My initial response was that she was being overprotective and too worrisome,” he said.
Davis made an appointment with a dermatologist and two weeks after having his head shaved, he was faced with a positive biopsy for level-four melanoma. Despite the grief Davis felt from being diagnosed with skin cancer, he said he knew he had to move on and figure out how to get rid of the disease. At the same time, Davis knew that if it weren’t for his participation with the American Cancer Society event and accepting the dare from his fellow committee member, the outcome could have been much grimmer.
“The doctors at M.D. Anderson (Cancer Center in Houston) basically said that I would have found it in six months, and it would have metastasized into the lymph nodes and the body,” Davis said. “It was in the stages where it could have started draining into the lymph nodes. If I would have waited until it started draining into those lymph nodes, it would have been a lot more aggressive.”
On July, 10, 2009, surgeons removed the cancer from Josh’s scalp along with some lymph nodes to ensure the margins of the cancerous section were clear, he said.
An ACS volunteer since he was 11 years old, Davis said he never thought he would be a victim of cancer himself, but he was glad he was able to utilize ACS support services.
“I called the 1-800 number that the American Cancer Society has for patients … to talk to a patient navigator and used those services,” he said. “That is when it hit home … these services really are out there. It really hit home that this is what we raise money for.”
Despite a couple of scars from the procedure, Josh said he is cancer-free, but still goes for follow-ups to make sure the cancer does not recur. His grandmother adopted his dog Mia, now 4 years old, when Josh moved into the dorms at Lamar University, but he said he still gets an opportunity to visit the dog that was there to comfort him when he was sick. He is currently working on his MBA at Lamar and has two new dogs — a pug named Harlie and a schnauzer named Jagger.
Davis, who worked at a pet store and as a dog trainer while working on his bachelor’s degree, said he was instrumental in bringing Bark for Life to Beaumont and is helping out with this year’s event, working registration for the website and helping with the silent auction.
“Bark for Life honors survivors and caregivers,” said Davis, who thanks in part to his dedication to the event, is now a cancer survivor himself.
Bark For Life details
The fourth annual American Cancer Society Bark for Life is set for Saturday, Nov. 2, at Tyrell Park, 5305 Tyrell Park Road in Beaumont.
The non-competitive walk for dogs and owners raises funds and awareness for the fight against cancer and starts with registration at 9 a.m. followed by an opening ceremony. The event, which will run until 1 p.m., includes demonstrations, contests and games.
People are welcome to attend with or without a canine companion, and do not need to take part in the walk to participate and enjoy the fun. Children younger than 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Registration may be done online at www.relayforlife.org  and costs $25. For more information about this event or the American Cancer Society, call (409) 835-2138.