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article imageOp-Ed: When kitty gets cancer: A detour of grief, a lesson for humans? Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jul 20, 2014 in Health
Sonoma - The unexpected detour or perhaps life-journey began over two months ago back in May. And, while most people know about cancer in some way, it is seldom ever anything this reporter considered on the list of common pet diseases.
Fleas, ticks, ringworms, infections and such are what mostly affect pets, like our beloved dogs and cats. But cancer? That never crossed my mind, until two veterinarians explained gently but firmly, "Lymphoma is cancer and it is common in cats."
At first I did not believe the first veterinarian I took my cat to this past Memorial Day weekend. I wanted to take my cat to my hometown vet, Especially Cats. But since it was a holiday weekend, going to the City was too far out of the way. So, I had to take the cat to a veterinarian in town. I remembered seeing a veterinarian in a pet column in the local paper here called The Sonoma Sun. So, I considered taking the cat to him.
When my cat named Midnight had what sounded like the sniffles, I thought maybe she had a bit of a head cold. Then I thought well maybe its spring time allergies? Yet when her bit of congestion began to make an unearthly sound, like something out of an old horror movie, she had to see a vet and right away, holiday weekend or not.
The sound she made when she breathed was very strange, a weird sort of wheezing, with a slight gurgling sound to it. The only veterinarian clinic open that was close by that weekend was Broadway Veterinary Hospital and wellness center on Broadway in Sonoma.
Dr. Vallard Christopher Forsythe saw Midnight immediately and did all the preliminary tests, such as blood, x-ray, urine, etc. And, he discovered the growth on the side of the cat's neck. "Especially when we are kids, we don't really think of our pets getting cancer," he said. "I know this is not easy to talk about but I suspect your kitty has lymphoma which is a from of cancer," said Forsythe. He had mentioned that it is difficult to think of our pets as being just as vulnerable to cancer as humans, but cancer in pets is a reality.
 Midnight  my cat of 13 years was diagnosed with lymphoma. A tumor was growing on her neck back in M...
"Midnight" my cat of 13 years was diagnosed with lymphoma. A tumor was growing on her neck back in May. Took her to see a veterinarian on the Memorial Day weekend, he prescribed Prednisone, a steroid.
The word "cancer" brought up all sorts of thoughts and feelings. But it also reminded me of when my mom died of cancer back in 2004 and also my grandfather many years before that. Just the mere reminder of those experiences had me in a dither. "Cancer? How can this be? She's a kitty cat, healthy and well-fed and kept safe, indoors."
Yet there was something I had forgotten in the bewilderment of the circumstance, my kitty was 13 years old. That's like being a senior citizen in human years. According to WebMD, Most feline cancers occur in middle-aged and older individuals 10 to 15 years of age. And, I realized that like cancer in humans, age does play a role in how well cancer can be fought off.
The grand Victorian-era home on Broadway in Sonoma is now home to Vallard Christopher Forsythe  DVM ...
The grand Victorian-era home on Broadway in Sonoma is now home to Vallard Christopher Forsythe, DVM and his pet clinic practice.
I told the doctor that I do not have the finances to invest in extensive treatments. He started spouting off all sorts of "approaches, like we can find out what 'stage' this cancer is in and if you want to do chemotherapy and then radiation..."
My mind was spinning, it all sounded a lot like what my mom went through. I was totally unprepared, I was all set for a holiday weekend, sunny and spring time, yet all of a sudden, a strange turn for the day. There is this unexpected detour and all this unpleasant stuff comes up about cancer. There are various forms of lymphoma in cats. Among them explained in detail by Intown Veterinary Group (IVG) of Massachusetts, are three basic forms: the multicentric form, the mediastinal form and the alimentary form. Basically, all three effect the lymph nodes and are often associated with some form of cat leukemia.
I told the vet that I accepted the fact that she is now a senior. But the talk of "putting her down or to sleep" was not easy to fathom. This cat was a mere kitten when she was given to me by friends of the family - (sort of like cousins-relatives), that I had known all of my life. They had found the little kitty in their backyard in the Sunset District not far from where I had been living in San Francisco.
Emma Goodman was the original owner-resident of the grand Victorian era home. It is said that she lo...
Emma Goodman was the original owner-resident of the grand Victorian era home. It is said that she loved animals. Dr. Forsythe, DVM has a photo of her in the lobby. "I like to think that her spirit watches over the house and that she is pleased that her home is a place for pets" said Forsythe.
The little kitty was the off-spring of strays that had made a home in the backyard and became sort of feral. All of the strays and the off-springs were reported and given over to Animal Care and Control, except Midnight. "Wouldn't you like to have this little kitty?" Alice Roy who knew my mom and dad and aunt and uncle for years and years, said, "I am saving the little black cat for you, I think it will bring you good luck." The cat was one of the best friends anyone could ever have.
Once the little kitty became acclimated to the home I had been living in there in the Sunset District, she was part of the household.
Lots of happy memories of my life in the City are associated with my cat Midnight. It was as if I was living a charmed life, as an aspiring writer. There I was in one of the most fascinating cities in the world and I had a black cat, ate meals on blue china and had poppies, roses and sunflowers growing in my garden. I painted my room in vivid colors and had fellow writers, poets, actors, sculptors and dancers visit. It felt like I was an artist in residence, 'how Oscar Wilde' can that be?
I knew this time would come, but I always thought it would be some time way off in the distance when she reached 18 or 20 years of age.
Also, since leaving the City reluctantly and having to relocate (hopefully, be it temporarily), I looked upon the cat as a comfort in a transient home-situation. I have kept the hope that I would return to the City and kitty and I would re-situate in a new place and simply resume the city-life.
Yet, that hope and yearning dimmed as Dr. Forsythe continued on in an unpleasant and complex litany of 'cancer' related information. I had to interrupt him to ask, "how much will this cost?"
"About perhaps $1,500 to $2,000," he said. that's if you want to have the diagnosis confirmed absolutely by an oncologist." (This amount would be separate from the initial bill for a general exam). Again, my thoughts were in a dither, 'an oncologist, for a kitty cat?' All this was adding up. As determined as I was to help my cat and be as responsible as possible, I could not be oblivious to the costs. I was also mindful that going into major debt would not be feasible for me or my siblings.
Since my father's passing this past October, our lives have been very different. It is just us siblings now. Anyone who has lost both parents (as this is all part of the cycle of life) would understand the change of circumstance. It is also a significant point of reference change too. There is no parent or authority-figure relatives to go to. We are now the grown ups and in our mature years we must now be the leaders.
The loss of my cat would be more sadness to what has been a major upset and transition in my life. Now at age 50, I am and was determined in this situation with the veterinarian to be a grown up.
I did not want to act like a child and insist on some special explanation of "why me God?" And, I also was very aware of how overly emotional and unreasonable people can be with pets. A memorial plot at a pet cemetery or a memorial service with the cat's ashes, some costing as much as $3,000 to $7,000 was out of the question. No can do!. An inner wisdom prevailed saying to me in a sense, "pets are perhaps among our first loves, but they are not a replacement for human relationships."
Going into heavy debt over a cat would only make the strained situation with my siblings worse. I had to make it clear to Dr. Forsythe, "I will do what is needed but within my financial means." "What is the more affordable approach for right now?"
Dr. Vallard Christopher Forsythe  DVM specializes in offering a range of services  mostly focused on...
Dr. Vallard Christopher Forsythe, DVM specializes in offering a range of services, mostly focused on pet health and preventative care. He writes a weekly column on pet health issues for the Sonoma Sun Newspaper in Sonoma.
He prescribed Prednisone. Yes, a drug with a very hard to pronounce name. And, almost immediately Midnight's symptoms subsided. I hoped Dr. Forsythe's diagnosis was not conclusive. An acquaintance I met at the Bon Marche thrift store told me, "go to another veterinarian, get another opinion." "Your kitty might just only have an allergy or a virus."
After getting Dr. Forsythe's bill which reached almost $900.00, I was motivated to get a second opinion. His staff were very kind and supportive and told me to make sure I did not waver in administering the Prednisone.
When a long-time resident I met, told me to go to Dr. Beth Ann Palermo, I was relieved that her rates were not as astronomical as Dr. Forsythe's. She refilled the Prednisone and for a little while Midnight the cat was almost to her usual self.
Like any meds, there were side-effects. Midnight got chubby as the Prednisone made her drink more water. This called for more cat litter, more food. Dr. Beth Ann recommended wet food for now. With the growth on her neck subsided, she was able to eat better and I thought that maybe this 'cancer' occurred because she was ingesting dust from her kitty litter. Or perhaps she got bit by a spider? Or maybe still some virus had crept into the house on the heel of a shoe or in a gust of wind from the outside? My mind pondered.
I was concerned that maybe all the 'de-odorizing' agents and 'air-freshening' crystals in her clumping litter might have contributed to her condition.
Cancer in any form certainly makes anyone wonder what is the cause and if there might be something overlooked that might contribute to it. Dr. Beth Ann mentioned that there can be many factors which cause lymphoma in cats, some, perhaps genetic. Still, I was eager to do whatever I could to help alleviate her discomfort and to possibly keep this cancer away.
So, I went over to the local pet and feed store and was told about an all-natural clumping litter made from corn husks. What a difference! No smell, much lighter and almost no tracking of dust. Most importantly, if she ingested any of it, it was safe, no chemicals, dyes or perfumes.
A new routine emerged from the usual. Midnight who always ate and did her litter box business on her own without any attention, now required to be fed morning and evening. And, her litter box had to be attended to twice a day. She would come to me and meow to say she wanted to eat or was thirsty. The Prednisone tablets she took with the help of little 'pill pockets' also purchased at the local pet and farm animal feed barn. Trying to administer other meds by tincture or in pill form to a cat is not easy. Using cat treats is better. Taking the Prednisone she did with no problems, Midnight liked the "pill-pocket" cat treats.
The cloud of despair and sadness lifted for a while and time with Midnight the cat was precious. But as with any remission of cancer, just like in humans, the tumor returned. "Not one but now there is two," said Dr. Beth Ann, when I took Midnight in for a check up.
I prayed that the cat would just go off to sleep on her own as now that odd unearthly wheezing had returned as well as that strange gurgle. Her ability to meow was taken away by the growing tumors. "The cat is struggling to breath, that is what those sounds are about." "That is why she has no voice," said Dr. Palermo. The growths or tumors were constricting her trachea. "This is not good and I am sorry but Midnight is in pain and you must decide what to do next," said Palermo.
An increase in dose of Prednisone did nothing. And while going the distance with chemotherapy and radiation could remove the tumors, it would be devastating for the cat. And, just as Dr. Forsythe had explained, Dr. Palermo said much the same. "There is no certain probability the lymphoma would be entirely gone from the body."
Equipped with the latest  Broadway Veterinary Hospital in Sonoma has individual exam rooms to help c...
Equipped with the latest, Broadway Veterinary Hospital in Sonoma has individual exam rooms to help calm pets when making a visit. Dr. Vallard Christopher Forsythe takes time with each pet patient to ensure each pet gets full and undivided attention.
When Midnight's nose had a discharge and she whined and pulled away when gently rubbing her ears, these signs indicated something was not right. Then her right eye was partially closed.
Dr. Palermo explained, these are all indicators something is wrong. Before Midnight was carefree, healthy, happy and always at ease. Now, she seemed tense, uneasy, always stayed near the door or hid in the closet. She would jump on the couch, bed or chair but only for a short time. She no longer reclined regally and gleefully. "She is in lots of pain and I have seen this type of cancer before in cats," said Palermo. "The cancer is spreading."
That frightening word that accompanies cancer popped in my mind, "metastasized." It is a dreaded word and one that I can recall my mom sobbing about when she learned that the time of remission was over. And, that cancer had returned with a vengeance.
Feelings of hopelessness and mortality of both animal and human filled my heart. All I could do was to let go. Dr. Palermo reassured me that the putting the cat to sleep would be painless for the cat.
Then an eerie feeling followed, sort of something out of a futuristic type of movie where death and illness is "put away." Mortality and grief, somehow pushed aside in a clinical setting as injections and pills are administered. "Will this be how life will end for such a loyal and sweet little creature?"
And what about when my death approaches? Will there be caring loving people there who know me and care for me as I grow old and decline? Or will it be a clinical setting were euthanasia is employed to offset a healthcare system not able to manage so many people?
I could not help but think of this as my feline friend was drifting off from the heavy dose of sedatives given awaiting the final injection. I was upset, I was angry, I was sad and even a bit resentful. Sorting through lots of feelings I was also worried what the final bill would be. Based upon the prices of the procedures for euthanasia, cremation, etc. it seemed to me that it costs more to die than it does to stay alive. Yet, keeping her alive with the medication that now did not help much would be inhumane. I did not want the cat to suffer and be in pain anymore.
I was able to say my goodbye in a private moment as the veterinarian and staff left the room. Yet, this is something that is sad and for me soul-searchingly wrenching. It brings up so many questions and so many deep pondering thoughts.
Is there an afterlife? Will our loved ones be there? And, what about the pets we have known and loved? In ancient Egypt there is evidence that people buried their beloved animals. Obviously each pet loved us humans, even if in a feline or canine way. I am not a scientist, but it is easy to see dogs and cats have a very strong attachment to those they have bonded to. As my mind was swirling with questions, I could not help but ask, is what we do for them remembered?
And, what of our human loves? Can anyone or even myself, be there with a loved one to the very, very end, especially during a terminal condition like cancer? It was very difficult for me to say goodbye and to know that a gentle little creature was being "put down" as they call it when an animal is given a lethal injection.
What had started out as a sunny day on a Memorial Day weekend at the start of summer, turned into a detour, one that had me confronting difficult decisions and pondering deep subjects.
I do believe that we are here on this planet for a reason and the loves we experience, even for pets, have a purpose. That purpose I think is to help us to grow and mature and to better comprehend the mysteries of life.
To learn more about pet care and pet health, especially concerning cancer, contact your local veterinarian. And, if considering welcoming a pet into your home visit your local animal shelter and or pet adoption center.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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