(K, I hope you don’t mind me talking about you here- if so please let me know and I will remove this right away.)
My heart is breaking for my friend today. She has a wonderful cat Bailey, whom she adores and spoils and overall just loves to pieces. Bailey has been having a rough go of it lately- what started as an upper respiratory infection turned into a frightening series of seizures. After a myriad of vet visits, referrals, clueless receptionists and a neurologist visit, K and her husband were told it was likely a dental issue. Great, right?
So today Bailey was getting a dental examination and a CT scan. When the phone rang with what she thought was a perfunctory “All is well” call, the voice on the other end said the words that no one ever wants to hear. “I’m sorry. We found a mass.”
After listening to the options and mulling over radiation therapy, invasive biopsies and the like, they chose what I think most people in the same position would: to take him home, give him some medications to help his symptoms, and love the heck out of him.
I’ve been thinking about her all day, sending her good thoughts and knowing what a rough day she is probably having. It’s so hard to have these choices in front of you and wonder if you are making the right decision for your pet. Sometimes you don’t have a choice- treatment either isn’t medically possible, or financially possible. Sometimes you don’t want to put your pet through treatment as bad as the disease. Sometimes you do. Cancer, in particular, is so very tricky in veterinary medicine because most of the time, we don’t cure it. We just delay it a little.
I’m 3 for 3 on cancer with my dogs now. Nuke had a hemangiosarcoma that had metastasized by the time we diagnosed it. I am so, so very grateful for the internist who gently but firmly told me as I was asking about surgery and chemo and this and that, you know, sometimes it’s better not to do anything. In that case for sure, he was right.
Mulan had melanoma. It wasn’t doing much when I diagnosed it, so I went ahead and got radiation therapy in an attempt to slow its inevitable spread. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t. Of course everyone’s experience will be different, but she had a pretty rough time of it. She had difficulty swallowing due to the radiation. The pred I used to treat the swelling meant she couldn’t be on arthritis meds. Watching her hurt was awful, made worse by the wondering how much of it I caused. I don’t know it was worth the extra month or two- well, I’m sure it wasn’t. It is my one biggest regrets in life, putting her through that radiation.
And now Emmett, with his lymphoma, the most responsive of cancers to chemotherapy, though a lot of times the frickin cancer doesn’t read the journals and runs around and does all sorts of terrible things it’s not supposed to. There is no good cancer to get, really. It all sucks.
We pursue these treatments in the face of the inevitable for lots of reasons-
1. Hoping for a miracle
2. Wanting to enjoy that extra week/month/year
3. We feel like we have to. And in our society, that is the expectation, right? Paying for medical care for ill geriatric people is a given in the States, and hospice is seen as throwing in the towel. It’s such a weird way to look at life.
There is a special kind of strength needed to look at all the things you could do, and say, it’s not what I should do. To be able to move past that, and say: I’m taking him home and letting him do what pets do best- live in the moment, love you with every fiber, and experience the give and take of unadulterated love for the all too short time we have them with us.
Not that you need my approval, of course, but I think you did the right thing. Ear scratches to Bailey from me.
My friend also was recently in this same situation….her poor dog just one day took a snap at her, which had never happened before in the dogs life. The next day, the dog was in terrible shape, and they took her to the vet, where the results came back as cancer. It was not a happy time in my friends life. I feel for your friend and Bailey the cat…hugs and happy thoughts to you friend!
My thoughts are with K. I can understand and empathize with what she is going through.
My only saving grace is Blade made the decision for me. It didn’t remove the heartache or the pain I feel 21 months later. It’s a difficult road and I hope your friend knows that Bailey loves them just as much and realizes that she has a wonderful home.
Jenny Chun says
It is never easy hearing that your beloved pet has cancer. My dog, Lucy, had mast cell cancer about two years ago. We removed a grade 1 and a grade 2 tumor. Since then, we have found various lumps and bumps that either turned out to be nothing or were to small to biopsy. Actually, this evening we will be going to the vet to take a look at the latest.
This blog entry gave me a different perspective. I always thought that if I had to, I would do everything I could to treat Lucy’s illness. I’m not so sure now if that would be the best for her.
Dr. V says
Hoping for the best for you and Lucy!
Sorry I didn’t respond earlier – I’m subscribe to email updates and just got it today (*cough Brian cough*).
Thank you Dr. V. With tears in my eyes and a hurting heart, I thank you. I guess I’m thankful that the decision was basically made for us. We were told surgery was not an option. Radiation would have taken his sight, his hearing and his ability to function as a normal cat. After seeing a glimpse of the potential reaction when we put him on the phenobarbital (which was beyond horrible), there’s no way we’d put him through that again. I guess I’m thankful that the decision was basically made for us – but it still hurts.
For now, we’ll follow his lead. For now he seems content. There are things we miss – his purring for one (we think the drugs have had an impact on that). But I don’t think he misses his own purring – that is something we enjoyed. As long as he reaches out for pets, we’ll pet him. As long as he tumbles around and stretches out to be brushed, we’ll brush him. As long as he wants food, he’ll get turkey and as I smiled when I heard him purr, I’ll now smile as I hear him smacking delightfully as if to say “nom nom nom.” And we’ll take it one day at a time.
And know that as my heart aches for my own situation, it aches for yours as well…
What a lovely, lovely post… I mean, it’s a terrible subject, but your thoughts on it are so helpful and comforting. Thank you Dr. V- I hope Emmett and Bailey both have a lot of good, loving time with their families yet.
I keep telling myself that someday I’ll be able to read stories like this and not cry for Miles, but today is not that day. I know how hard it is to look at a pet and think, “can s/he be saved?” It’s even worse when the answer is “yes” and then you find out, “no.” But I have to say, those extra two weeks I had with Miles – while heartbreaking – allowed me to say goodbye to him in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I wish K and her family wonderful memories with Bailey and a lot of loving for her special cat.
Alana G says
Thank you for sharing Bailey’s story.
We have a beautiful, wonderful cat/friend/brother named Munchkin who was reccently diagnosed with a cancer rarely found in cats. We removed his spleen where the mass was found, but found out soon after that it was not nearly enough. The cancer travels in the bloodstream and can reappear anywhere at anytime.
As such we have been told with chemo we could have another 6 months with him, without we may have 2 or 3.
It has been one month since that prognosis.
We opted to not run with chemo, because as you said, sometimes true love for your pet and true strength is weighing out all the options and deciding that the best option is just to live the same as the day before you knew cancer was in your lives.
He still purrs valiantly. He loooooooves being on the balcony and squints in the sun. He still greets us at the door when we come home. He still jumps up on laps and comes running at the shake of a treat bag.
Even though I know we are creeping closer everyday to the ominous time frame set by the doctors, I know all I can do is love every cancer stricken part of our furry little guy, because he surely loves me.
Although it hurts, I am glad our family is not alone in this kind of grief and courage.