One Saturday night in May 2012, we noticed that his inner ears were yellow. An emergency trip to the vet that night, doctors’ calls the next week, an ultrasound, aspiration and then removal of the spleen, all provided enough clues to solve the mystery: Cancer. There was a round cell tumor on his spleen, a hemophagocytic t cell lymphoma, if you want to get technical.
Chemo is different for cats and dogs than it is for humans. They actually don’t suffer and the treatment is designed to be palliative. Still, there are weekly visits to the vet for injections and occasional infusions, so a little bit of stress for old Pip.
Obviously this care is expensive and I’ve heard rumblings that question if it’s wise to spend this kind of money to keep him going. Often it’s between the lines of the statement, “you just don’t want to put him through all of that.”
The truth is that the chemo doesn’t cause suffering in pets, at least most of the time. There are side effects, like his whiskers might fall out, and his appetite and thirst might increase. There is a risk that one of the drugs, the steroid Prednisolone, could cause diabetes. There is a chance, not a high one, that the reaction to the chemo could cause severe problems that lead to euthanasia. But the chemo shouldn’t make him sick. As I said, the treatment is designed to be palliative above curative, though curing him is the ultimate goal.
My vet friend, Nick, (one incredible author, toot-toot,) gave me some good advice:
The burning question – is it fair to do it to Pippin? If you don’t, there’s a reasonable chance the tumour will still be present, and though he looks bright now it could be back in as little as a few months (of course, it might -never- come back). If you do, there’s a reasonable chance of stopping the tumour ever coming back, failing that a reasonable chance of greatly extending Pip’s life.
The biggest factor in the decision to try fighting his cancer, and this probably sounds a bit weird, was asking, “what is Pip telling us through his behavior? Does he want to fight or rest?”
That Saturday night in May, he must have been feeling the absolute worst. As we later learned, he had a tumor on his spleen, he was jaundice, his liver was fatty and under stress and he was weak from anemia. But when I stood at the top of the basement stairs and called him with a little squeaky noise, he made his way slowly up each step to come see me. He sat on my lap and purred like he always does.
We decided to bank on his frequently-exhibited ability to adapt to new situations, his resilience, his hard-knock life early on which certainly made him one bad-ass cat. Then, if he tells us it’s all too much, we’ll change the plan.
He’s currently doing really well, eating a lot, being social with us, doing all his normal stuff. Jen and I get a lot of joy from just having him around. We’re more aware of that now.
He knows what’s in store when we head in to the MedVet each Wednesday morning and he gives me hell. Those folks have been saintly with their help. Only 8 more weeks to go.
If I may be completely self-indulgent, some pics of our Bubba. Thanks to the awesome, thoughtful Stefanie Fillers for the glow-worm, oreo and sprinkled donut treats.
Pip’s losing too much weight, so we’re trying to kickstart his appetite with biweekly injections of vitamin b12. I confess, I’m not really sure what the thought was behind this, I didn’t do a good job of listening. Once the word “needle” came up, I was lost.
A jab for Pip is a pep talk.
I can’t believe it went this easily, and with neither a towel nor a partner. (Jen was held up and I wanted to go to bed.) For a moment I thought I just squirted liquid all over his neck, but when the syringe was empty, his fur was dry. He didn’t budge, didn’t make a sound, and probably had no idea why I was hootin’ and hollarin’ when it was all done.
We’ll do it again in two weeks.