I lost a friend, and if you have a dog or a cat you also lost a friend. Certified animal behavior consultant and author of many pet books and thousands of newspaper and magazine stories, Darlene Arden succumbed to her long fight against ovarian cancer.
Darlene set up a fund called the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness (OCSA) Darlene Arden Veterinary Outreach Program Fund.
Contributions will further transformational research as dogs are now being successfully trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center to successful sniff for this cancer with 99 percent accuracy, and on the early stages of the disease! This is huge, and far, far better than current diagnostics.
While Darlene, who served on the OCSA Advisory Board, told me she thought it would be “cool” for trained dogs to be in exam rooms across America, obviously that’s not practical.
However, OCSA executive director Vallie Szymanski suggests that the next step is to identify the chemicals the dogs are picking up on to detect ovarian cancer. From there, creating an accurate blood test to detect ovarian cancer early will soon be a life-saving reality.
Szymanski says that diagnosing ovarian cancer early is the secret to triumph over the cancer, but is difficult to currently do since many patients early on have no symptoms or mild symptoms which may be mistaken for other problems.
And Darlene was keenly aware that her fund will lead the way to advancement which will one day help countless women around the world.
“A dog’s nose is God’s greatest miracle,” Arden once told me. “It’s no coincidence that God is dog spelled backwards.”
Darlene was always an animal lover but her early career had little to do with animals. She was a ballet dancer, though her love of the arts continued throughout her lifetime.
When she first worked in the media it was an entertainment and travel reporter. Her voice was also heard on commercials. She had a knack of interviewing celebrities and remaining friends, often for a lifetime. Betty White, Jerry Seinfeld, Janet Leigh, Garry Marshall and Leslie Neilson are among the many entertainers she’s interviewed.
However, when she began to cover the pet world, the real celebrities in her life were veterinarians. “She so looked up to veterinarians,” Szymanski says.
Her dear friend – who she dubbed her younger sister, Sue Janson says, “She would always say, ‘I wish my own doctors were as caring as veterinarians.”
She pushed for One Health talks at veterinary conferences, that’s where human and animal health intersect – and this was years before she got sick. Darlene all but begged medical doctors to attend veterinary conferences. “If banging my head against the wall burned calories, I would look like a supermodel,” Darlene said.
Aside from her knowledge of pet behavior, her sardonic, sarcastic and sometimes scathing sense of humor always made me laugh. We were friends for over 20 years.
I’ve likely done a few dozen radio interviews with Darlene, and I quoted her in dozens of my columns and articles, as she also quoted me. I wrote cover lines or ‘blurbs’ for many of her books.
Among her many books, Darlene’s most noteworthy include two of the most definite books on Toy Breed dogs: “The Irrepressible Toy Dog,” forward by Betty White and “Small Dogs, Big Hearts: A Guide to Caring for Your Little Dog”
At one time Darlene hosted her own radio show, as a well as local cable TV show in Boston
About 15 years ago, Janson and Darlene met online, and later Darlene wrote her a private email to help her with a rescue dog.
They became instant best friends. “She’s the sister I had always wanted,” Darlene said. “A shiksa sister but still a sister.”
Janson told me, “We were from different parts of the country, but with similar sensibilities. We were both so profoundly influenced by our mothers. We’d go to her synagogue together or my church – even then she made me laugh. Funny, always funny. And always finding ways to promote pet health, and her books. We went to Norman Rockwell’s Home and Studio, and she explained to the management that she could talk about the dogs and other pets in the paintings. She learned all about them – and was soon invited back to give talks at the home and studio about the dogs and pets in the paintings.”
“I never met anyone quite like her,” says Szymanski. Her friendship with Darlene happened because of the Ovarian Symptom Awareness cancer non-profit’s mission to help support better understanding cancers using dogs, and also how dogs and cats can help people going through the struggle of treatment.
Darlene understood the mission fully. She was diagnosed in 2010, and all along her cat Aimee was at her side. Darlene once said, “Aimee is my angel. She knows what I seem to need, to relax by petting her, she cuddles with me. If it’s a good laugh that I need, Aimee can make me laugh. “
When Aimee passed away, Paris came into her life. Janson will take over care of Paris.
Darlene says the best moments came in her career – not with her many awards – but with notes from pet owners saying, you helped me to save me dog or my cat.
It’s ironic that one of Darlene’s final posts on Facebook was about how dogs are helping us to better understand cancer in people.
Darlene supported the OSCA mission, and in her memory Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Darlene Arden Veterinary Outreach Program Fund is now poised for a transformational break in the research. Janson says, “She won’t be here to witness this – and how she would have so loved to report on the role dogs are playing in saving human lives.”