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Horse Sense
by KindMeal.my, 12 May 2015
Horse Sense

For months Helen Mason tried to ignore the sharp stab of pain that shot through her chest every time her horse Myrtle nuzzled her. It was probably just harmless horseplay, she told herself. Just Myrtle’s way of saying “hi”. And the pain might be something as simple as a bruise on her breast after she bumped herself moving house.

But it wasn’t. It was cancer.

Helen, 38, eventually went to see her GP after she spotted a dimple on her left breast. Even then she did not make the connection between the blemish and Myrtle’s behaviour until she was sent to see a specialist. “Myrtle knew I had cancer before I did,” says Helen. “We’ve such a close bond she often knows how I’m feeling before I do. She’s always been a cuddly horse. In the stable she would put her head on top of mine or nudge me when she wanted something. But looking back, there was a long period she kept nudging my left breast.

“I’d say, ‘Ouch, get off, that hurts’, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it. It was only when I looked back I thought, ‘Oh my God, this horse has been saying, come on, it hurts when I do that. Why do you think that is?’ It was a huge shock.”

Helen was referred to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, near her home, in August 2011 for a series of tests. Later that day she was given the devastating news – she had an aggressive tumour the size of a golf ball buried so deep inside her breast she could not feel the lump.

“I was terrified. There were moments in the deepest, darkest minutes of the night when I lay there wide awake and thought, I’m not going to see Christmas.” But again, her horse Myrtle sustained her. “Myrtle was my saving grace through my ordeal, she helped me to get through it,” says Helen.

“In the end I thought, this isn’t going to beat me. I had too much to live for. There was no way I wanted anyone else to have my horse.”

Myrtle didn’t just know when Helen had cancer. She also knew when her rider started chemotherapy.

She’d always been an excitable and nervous horse to ride after being treated badly by a previous owner. But when Helen started her cancer treatment, her behaviour changed overnight. Helen says: “When I felt strong enough to leave the house, the first thing I did was go and see her in the yard. As soon as I saw her I could tell she knew something was wrong. She was so gentle and quiet. She’s not normally an easy horse to ride, she’s very lively. But right through my treatment she was like a dope on a rope. When she heard a noise that would normally upset her, she didn’t even look around.”

“First time I got off Myrtle after my op, she stood stock still, because I had to dismount so I didn’t aggravate my wounds. She was very protective.” And she says the first sign she was getting better was the fact that Myrtle started to be a bit livelier. She added: “That gave me strength. She knew I was recovering – it told me I was doing better than I thought.”

The idea that a horse can spot cancer is incredible, but not impossible. Scientists in Milton Keynes have trained 15 cancer dogs to sniff out tumours and one of those, Daisy, has already found more than 550 cancers. So it is not such a huge leap to imagine horses, which have also lived alongside humans for thousands of years, are equally adept at spotting the signs that something is wrong.

Helen says: “Horses are very in tune with people, that bond is closer than a man and his dog. They can actually smell fear, the pheromones we give off when we feel afraid. And there are obviously changes that go on in our bodies that we cannot feel, but animals know they are there.” Although her op was a success she had eight weeks of radiotherapy as a precaution. Three years on there is no sign of cancer.

Myrtle is another example of animals displaying uncanny abilities to sense things we cannot, and empathy, too. How about showing empathy for animals by eating fewer of them? A plant-based diet, according to many sources, will also decrease your chances of developing cancer, so visit http://KindMeal.my today and have a win-win, meat-free meal!

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