CHESTER TOWNSHIP -- Lisa Ramage is the administrative director for MetroHealth's Cancer Center. She knows a thing or two about the disease, but she didn't recognize it when it happened to her.
But her dog did.
She rescued Halle -- a black and brown mixed breed that would grow to be about 50 pounds -- from a parking garage in 2002.
Five years later, Halle repaid the favor.
"This little, teeny, pink bubble appeared on my leg. It looked like a pencil eraser so it wasn't anything that I was worried about," Ramage remembers.
But it did worry Halle.
"She would come straight like an arrow right over to me and just zero in on that part of my leg, and then she wouldn't leave it alone, and I'd push her away and she'd come back, I'd push her away and she'd come back," Ramage says.
She got the message her dog was trying to tell her and went to a doctor. It turned out she had an aggressive kind of melanoma that had already invaded her lymph nodes.
"If it wasn't for Halle detecting it so quickly, I probably wouldn't be here today," Ramage says.
MetroHealth dermatologist Dr. David Crowe isn't surprised by Halle's olfactory talent. Dogs have a sense of smell that is thousands of times better than a human and there have been other similar cases of dogs sniffing out cancer.
Crowe thinks they may be most useful in detecting cancers that are difficult to detect, such as lung cancer.
"When they're trained appropriately, they can detect scent in the breath of people who have cancer, and they're relatively reliable," Crowe says.
There's even a non-profit organization dedicated to detecting cancer in humans called The In Situ Foundation.
It may be some time before dogs are used as cancer diagnostic tools, but research is under way.
Halle had no specialized training. She was just a stray who apparently cared deeply for her rescuer.
Meanwhile, Ramage's son Mitchell was just 3 when his mom battled deadly melanoma. She's grateful to Halle's instinct on his behalf too.
"I need to be here for him and, thanks to Halle, I will be. I guess I rescued her and she rescued me," Ramage says.
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