Meet Jem - the Sheffield dog with nine lives.
She and her owner, Philip Strafford, have just endured a traumatic year together - for a little over two months ago, 11-year-old Pomeranian Jem was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was shocked, I had no idea that dogs could even get breast cancer!” revealed her astounded owner Philip.
“Checking my dog’s breasts for lumps was not something I’d even heard of before this, but apparently breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in female dogs.”
Philip, director of Sheffield PR firm Pip-PR, told The Star he was stroking Jem’s belly on the couch when he felt a hard lump about the size of a golf ball on her chest.
“I immediately knew something wasn’t right,” said the 37-year-old.
To go through all that with her and then find out I might lose her was too muchPhilip Strafford
“I’d heard of dogs getting fatty deposits and cysts and hoped it was something like that, so I booked her in with the vet, but I was never expecting to hear what he had to say.”
Jem was diagnosed with low grade breast cancer, something the vet revealed was more prevalent in female dogs of a certain age that haven’t been spayed, due to the hormones released by their body during menstruation.
“Jem was six when I got her and I didn’t see the point in putting her through spaying at that point in her life,” said Philip.
“Of course, if I’d known then what I do now, I would have done it immediately.”
Jem began treatment for her cancer straight away, enduring a four-hour operation to cut out the tumour, and a large cluster of additional tumours the vet had discovered deep in her breast.
“The vet is really hopeful we got it all, and before it had time to spread to any of her other organs,” said Philip. “He can’t promise the cancer won’t recur, so I’m just focused now on really enjoying every moment I have with her.”
It is not the first time this year Philip has come close to losing his best furry friend. One year ago, Jem stumbled from a wall next to the Gardener’s Rest, in Kelham Island, while out for a walk with Philip and some friends, and fell into the River Don.
“I just felt blind panic,” Philip recalled.
“I saw her go over the top and ran over to the wall, but when I looked down I couldn’t see her anywhere.”
Concerned that Jem had been pulled under the water, Philip flung himself over the wall without a thought, and dropped 15ft into the murky river below - not realising the water was only ankle deep.
“I knew straight away I’d broken my leg,” he said.
“It was a clean break - straight through my tibia and fibia and the pain was excruciating.”
But in spite of the pain, Philip’s first thought was for Jem, who he found bobbing up and down in a deeper patch of water by some rocks. He hauled himself over and pulled her out, then just sat in the water and clung on to her until help arrived.
Philip was taken to the Northern General where he stayed for the next two days. His leg was aligned and he was put in a cast right up to his hip, which he had to wear for three months, before being downgraded to a knee-length cast for another two months.
It was Christmas before he was able to walk without the aid of crutches or an ankle boot
“Those days sitting at home, unable to move, unable to make myself lunch or go to the bathroom were really tough and I did get a little depressed,” he admitted.
“Particularly in the beginning when I was in a lot of pain and doped up on painkillers and valium, but through all that, Jem was with me, licking my toes poking out the bottom of the cast.
“She seemed to know something was wrong and she never left my side.
“One of the things I missed most in that time was taking her out walking and that’s something I’m enjoying now I have my mobility back, and one of the things I was so sad at the thought of losing again when Jem first received her cancer diagnosis.
“To go through all that with her and then find out that I might lose her anyway was nearly too much. I kept thinking ‘I can cope with her breaking my leg, but not my heart.’
“But I’m pleased to say she’s doing well now.”
A year on from his tumble into the River Don, Philip is still having physio for his leg, which he has been told will always be a little stiff and sore, particularly in cold weather.
He added: “Jem has certainly put me through the ringer this last year, but she’s my family and I love her. No matter what the future may hold, I’m so happy to have my little friend back with me now, safe and sound.”