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Cancer dogs ‘see’ firefighter’s cancer months before tumor presents


International Association of Fire Chiefs International Association of Fire Chiefs
by International Association of Fire Chiefs

By Dana Brown

After watching a documentary trailer called Walking Points: A documentary about the cure for cancer, a fire department hazmat team decided to conduct a voluntary cancer screening in May 2018 with a Canadian organization called CancerDogs. The cancer screening was easy, noninvasive and affordable. Each firefighter was mailed a surgical mask and instructed to wear it for 10 minutes, then repack the mask and send it back to the organization.

How it works: The cancer screening

Specially trained dogs smell each mask and give an indication to a handler. If your mask gets a positive indication, you are notified through your program manager. The program manager, advised by Glenn Ferguson at CancerDogs, will recommend that you:

  • Understand that this is not a cancer diagnosis and read all the documentation before seeing your doctor (understanding false positives and negatives);
  • See a dermatologist and get an annual skin check (malignant melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer);
  • For those over 40, get a colonoscopy (the dogs are sensitive enough to pick up on pre-cancer polyps);
  • For those with acid reflux, get an endoscopy (the dogs will pick up on pre-cancer cells in the esophagus); and
  • Move toward a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, moderate exercise and a healthier work environment.

The hazmat team’s cancer screening results

Some of the hazmat team members came back with positive screenings. Ferguson coached the team through the stressful process, explaining that the dogs can sense cancer before a tumor forms. He reassured those who tested positive not to panic. Because the dogs sense the cancer so early, there is a lot of time to reverse the damage through diet, detoxification, stress management and proper rest.

The dogs were right!

Shortly after receiving their results, the entire hazmat team had their annual hazmat physicals. No one came back positive for cancer, and all remained fit for duty.

About seven months after the cancer screening, one firefighter/hazmat technician – a healthy 43-year-old of ideal weight and fitness – noticed a small abrasion on the torso. After a few weeks, it formed into a mole, so the firefighter made an appointment with a dermatologist.

“The dermatologist did not seem concerned with the mole and said to ‘watch it.’ Because I still had the positive CancerDog screening at the back of my mind, I pressed her to biopsy the mole, and she agreed. The biopsy came back as malignant melanoma.”

The firefighter was immediately admitted to a cancer center, with surgery and a lymph node biopsy scheduled for the near future.

Following surgery, the firefighter learned that the cancer had advanced to Stage III because it spread to the lymph nodes, giving the firefighter a 64% five-year survival rate. More tests and scans were still needed to determine if it had metastasized throughout the body (Stage IV).

After listening to Ferguson and researching natural holistic approaches, the firefighter drastically switched from a western diet to WFPB diet, orally added frankincense essential oil to the roof of the mouth, maintained moderate exercise and consumed hibiscus tea daily.

Previous and post-annual physicals provided by the fire department, military and private doctors indicated no cancer or disease. The tumor was in an area that had no UV exposure.

Scans later revealed that the cancer had not reached Stage IV. The firefighter said the CancerDog screening is the reason the cancer was found at all. The dermatologist missed it, a near-fatal misdiagnosis.

Read the entire Near Miss report at Cancer Dogs "SEE" Cancer Seven Months Before Tumor Shows Up.

The impact of genetics and the power of prevention

In a separate interview about the diagnosis, the firefighter from this near miss shared the following: “I initially thought, ‘genetics must be the reason for my cancer.’ So, I paid for genetic testing only to discover that genetics is rarely the cause for cancer, less than a 10% chance. All tests came back negative; and, I did not have any evidence of cancer genes. Frustrated and looking for answers, I began researching cancer in the fire service and discovered malignant melanoma, along with many other cancers, were likely caused by my career as firefighter, an environmental exposure.”

Cancer survival is about getting in front of cancer and about being your own health advocate. A CancerDog screening is a non-invasive 10-minute test, and it isn’t the only cancer screening available. Find out what works best for you and your department and do it. Start with annual skin checks, a colonoscopy if you’re over 40, and thorough yearly physicals that include bloodwork.

There is a lot of evidence that suggests a WFPB diet provides an arsenal of cancer-fighting ingredients. After a few weeks of being on the diet, the firefighter/hazmat technician experienced several positive side effects:

  • The malignant melanoma tumor on the torso went away without chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy;
  • A benign liver tumor shrunk by over 60%;
  • Sinus headaches ceased;
  • Energy levels increased dramatically;
  • Sleep quality improved; and
  • Post-workout soreness and inflammation decreased by over 90%.

Doctors have decided against traditional treatments for now and are monitoring the firefighter.

Firefighter cancer prevention action plan

You can read more about this article and other cancer-related near misses on the Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System’s website. Go to “Browse Reports” and search the keyword “Cancer.”

Assign your members to read the full Near Miss report above. Then discuss the following three questions:

  1. What is your department doing to screen for cancer?
  2. CancerDog screenings work well with other programs due to the affordability and noninvasiveness. How can you make it work with your program?
  3. What are the firefighter cancer presumption laws in your state?

Following the initial discussion, engage in the following three training activities to help prepare your crew for the unique challenges posed by cancer in the fire service:

  1. Watch the documentary “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix to learn about WFPB diets.
  2. Research firefighter cancer cases in your state.
  3. Research ways to make your workplace safer (e.g., extractors, diesel exhaust systems, clean hood program).

Be your own health advocate

Fortunately, the firefighter in this near miss caught their cancer – but it was up to them to be proactive, pressing their doctor to do additional tests and then taking action to change their lifestyle. As noted, it’s up to each and every one of us to be our own health advocate, especially in an industry that poses significant cancer risks.

About the Author

Dana Brown has 20 years with the Houston Fire Department and is a captain, currently assigned to the Hazardous Materials Response Team. She holds dual MBAs and is a Ph.D. candidate. Brown is an aviator and veteran of the U.S. Army and flew the AH-64D Apache helicopter for the 1-149th Aviation Attack Battalion in Texas. Brown has a decade of experience in search and rescue and as a K9 handler. Currently, she is an International Hazmat and WMD Master Instructor for first responders. Brown also works for the IAFC’s Near Miss Program as a reviewer, sits on the IFTSTA validation committee, and serves on the committee for NFPA 472: Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents.



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