by Rachel Griess
A group of "Breast Friends" met a canine cancer survivor and learned how animal cancer discoveries benefit human cancer treatment during a visit in October to Colorado State University's renowned Flint Animal Cancer Center.
“The tour was very informative,” said Debbie Martin, a breast cancer survivor and member of a northern Colorado Breast Friends support group. “It’s enlightening to know how much humans and animals are correlated in the way cancer affects us and in treatment.”
The visitors – whose tour occurred during Breast Cancer Awareness Month – included breast cancer patients, survivors, and supporters. Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, a surgical oncologist and director of the CSU Laboratory of Comparative Musculoskeletal Oncology and Traumatology, hosted the group.
The support group met Berkley, a 9-year-old Australian Shepherd-Blue Heeler mix who has been a patient at the Flint Animal Cancer Center. Berkley successfully underwent front-leg amputation surgery for treatment of bone cancer; one year after the surgery, he runs, jumps, fetches, and seems to have a great quality of life.
“I think for every horrible cancer story, there’s a successful one, and here is a successful one,” Kelly Gaffney, Berkley’s owner, said.
She and members of the Breast Friends group shared stories about their fight against cancer.
“It’s fascinating learning about dogs that have cancer, having been through cancer ourselves,” said Angela DiMichele, a breast cancer patient. “I was so surprised to learn about the correlation and similarities between humans and dogs and the fact that dogs have more treatment options here than humans do.”
The Flint Animal Cancer Center focuses on “translational” discoveries that come from research and treatment of dogs with naturally occurring tumors.
“Translational research means that the advancements we make in our animal patients apply to humans, and vice versa. It’s all one medicine,” said Ehrhart, a veterinarian working to improve limb preservation among cancer patients who undergo surgery.
“I perform surgery on animals that have cancer,” Ehrhart writes on the Flint Animal Cancer Center website. “I love helping and healing animals. But the fact that my work makes a difference for kids with cancer is really why I stay in academics. The reason academicians live, eat, and breathe is to share information and discoveries for all to use. Whether it’s a dog or a horse or a person, the biology of cancer is the same. From the level of the cancer cell, it’s one medicine.”
For this reason, the center has adopted as its motto “One Cure” – a reference to work that improves prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer in pets and people.