When faced with a difficult decision with a pet, many of you have asked me what would I do?
I have always had mixed feelings about that question, because it kind of depends on many different factors. On the other hand, I am honored that you would ask.
Our cat Crystal is having a bit of a crisis, and I thought I would share my process as we go through it, uncertainty and all. Many of you are very self critical after you suffer the loss of a pet because you should have made another decision. The fact is, by that time, you know the outcome…its much easier to make a good decision in the retrospectoscope.
Believe me, looking back on the last few decades, knowing what I do now, I would have made some very different decisions…like that time I bought the 20 year old cabin cruiser.
But we do the best with what we have, and we make decisions based on the best information we can get, as well as our gut feeling.
So about 5 weeks ago, our 16 year old cat Crystal starting having mucousy diarrhea. I had just changed her food, so I encouraged Mary to ignore it and it would probably go away. When it didn’t after awhile, I added an antibiotic and did a fecal exam. No response.
I added another antibiotic and had a hard time getting that one into her. We ordered it in a pill form, but by the time it came in, she wasn’t eating well and had lost some weight. I did bloodwork and X-rays, they were pretty normal.
Still, she wasn’t doing well.
Our first response was that at 16, if it was something bad, we weren’t going to put her through major surgery or chemotherapy. I got Crystal as a kitten from the Bangor Humane Society because they called me to do a surgery to try to save her eye after a very bad viral infection. I took one look and told them there was no saving the eye, that I would have to remove it. When she was recovering in a cage, I walked by and she reached out, with one eye buttoned shut and gently grabbed my hand with her paw.
So, I took home my first one eyed cat.
Her immune system was never right. She had a splenic abscess when she was about 6. She had a big abscess on her leg, and one next to her kidney that almost killed her. She got a resistant staph infection on her back that took a year to clear up. She hated going to the clinic and was nasty to the team…until this last year when she became much more affectionate to everyone.
So after watching her eat less this past month, and have no control over her bowel movements, I decided to do an exploratory surgery to find out what was going on. I knew that I probably couldn’t fix it, but the more time went on, the more important it was for me to know why she was failing. Mary agreed reluctantly, because she knew that there was a chance I would call her that day and tell her that I would not be waking Crystal up from anesthesia.
As it worked out, the exploratory showed a large tumor on the colon. It was on the outside of the bowel, and I had little chance of removing it. It infiltrated the blood vessels, and therefore had access to the entire body. I took a sample and Dr Pooler looked at it under the microscope to see what it was. She told me it was Lymphoma, a malignant lymph node cancer.
My first thought was this is it. My second thought was that lymphoma is the only tumor that responds reasonably well to chemo.
But she is 16.
She isn’t eating.
Should I put in a tube?
But am I ready to let her go?
What can we try?
So, two things can improve survival in cats with intestinal lymphoma….prednisone and Leukeran. Prednisone is a steroid, Leukeran an oral chemo agent.
As much as I have talked about the decision on whether to do chemo, I had never really been faced with it in my own pets. The chemo was oral and every 4 days. The prednisone was a shot. Mary was on board. We did it. 3 days after the exploratory Crystal ate like a pig. Last night she slept on Mary’s stomach while they both watched HGTV. Today, the decision seems like a good one. But I don’t know how long it will help.
We do the best with what we have. That is true no matter who you are. I predicted before that if I had a cat and it had cancer and it was old, I wouldn’t do anything except give him/her the quality time left. But when faced with a failing cat, I changed my mind.
It might be a mistake, it might be a good story.
I don’t know.
It seems important to share that moment with you all.
I’ll let you know how it works out. No matter what, she has had a great life, is a sassy cat, and has been loved.