Usually, Louie runs away as soon as I enter the room. He is, to put it mildly, a very shy and anxious kitty and always has been. That day, though, he didn't, so I seized the opportunity to pet him.
And that's when I discovered the lump on his collarbone area, just behind his neck.
Louie is a long-haired cat. His fur is very soft and dark gray. To look at him, you would not see the lump. But under my hand, it felt huge.
Our vet's office was closed for the holiday until Monday. The hubs and I made an appointment for Louie on Monday morning and saw our vet's partner that evening. Louie had not been in our vet's office for over seven years. He so loathed his visits that after a horrible episode during his yearly checkup in which he was literally screaming and jumping up the walls to try and escape, I vowed to never again put him through that. Our vet has made annual house calls for all my cats' yearly checkups from that point on.
The vet did not sugar-coat things for us. After an exam and an attempt to extract cells to look at under the microscope, she said she suspected vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma (VAS). The prognosis she gave us was not good. She referred us to a specialist, following bloodwork, which Louie's regular vet would come to our house to draw later in the week.
After we received the results of the bloodwork, which showed healthy liver function and nothing else out of the ordinary, Louie and I visited the surgeon at the veterinary specialist's office. She suspected VAS as well, but would not know for sure until Louie had a biopsy performed. I agreed to have it done that day, and left him with her while I sobbed my way out of the building. I picked him up later that night. They had shaved the fur around the mass.
It is about the size of a tennis ball. I must have missed it for months, and the guilt I feel for this is immeasurable.
The results came back in five days. It was as everyone suspected: vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma.
I immediately started Googling the disease. I joined a Yahoo support group for parents of cats with this awful cancer. The most awful thing about it is that as a responsible cat parent, I had my cats vaccinated every year. I did the right thing. And doing the right thing gave my cat this mass. This horrible, terminal disease. Either the act of the injection itself or the vaccine gave Louie cancer.
It is very aggressive. The surgeon recommended surgery, followed by radiation and possibly chemotherapy. With just surgery, the cancer returns in most cats within a year. With surgery plus radiation, the odds are a little better. With surgery plus radiation plus chemotherapy, the odds of a cure are the strongest.
As you might imagine, all of this comes with a gigantic price tag.
I have spent a part of every single day since that initial vet. visit in tears. We have had Louie, his sister Claudia, and their mama, Chubbie, since Louie and Claudia were 8-week-old kittens in the spring of 1998. The hubs and I had just moved into our first apartment together. My childhood cat had passed away at the age of 21 the summer before, and I wanted another one. A co-worker posted about finding a pregnant stray cat who was about to give birth. She took her to her own pets' vet office, where the cat subsequently had a litter of 5 kittens. This co-worker was going to keep the mama; the kittens needed homes.
A friend of mine and I went to check out the kitties. There were 3 that were not spoken for. She adopted one, and the other two were huddled together in the back of the cage, their paws around eachother. I couldn't bear to separate them, so of course, after a quick phone call to the hubs, who expected me to bring home 1 kitten, I ended up taking them both. And when the woman who found the pregnant mama cat decided not to adopt her several weeks later, I volunteered to take her too.
And our family of three cats, Annie (whom we have always called Chubbie, because, well, she is), Claudia, and Louie (a trio my sister named after the author and characters of Interview with a Vampire) have been with us ever since. That was over 12.5 years ago.Louie and Chubbie are especially bonded. While our cats mainly stay away from the mayhem and insanity of the ground floor of our house during the day while the kids are up, preferring to sleep upstairs in our bedroom or downstairs in the basement, all three come up (or down) to spend time with me once the kids are in bed. Chubbie and Louie cuddle together on the ottoman in my office and keep me company while I work late into the night. They still give eachother baths, their paws wrapped around eachother.
They are a bonded family unit who have never been separated a single night, other than Claudia's spaying procedure when she spent one overnight at the vet's office as a kitten. They are my first babies. I have had them for over a third of my life.
So, for these reasons, I am spending money I do not have to try and save Louie's life. He's having an MRI followed by surgery on Friday, New Year's Eve. It is not a cure. I am not putting him through the recommended radiation and chemo for a number of reasons. The closest place for this treatment is two hours away, at Cornell. He would need three weeks of 4x a week radiation. I would have to drive him there on a Monday, leave him for a week, pick him up on Friday, and repeat this process two more times.
This is too much for a cat who has left our house twice in the last seven years, both of which were vet trips in the last 4 weeks. He is a highly stressed, anxious, cripplingly shy kitty on his best day.
This cancer is so aggressive that it returns in most cats who have the surgery with no radiation.
But I cannot do nothing. I can't take this terminal diagnosis and not do something. I want to give him a chance to beat cancer.
And I say "I" and not "we" because the hubs does not agree with my decision. He does not want Louie to have this very expensive surgery because of the low success rate. He has always thought of the cats as my cats, and not our cats. The dissent has not been good for us.
Right now, Louie is the same cat he has always been. He's eating and drinking, playing and snuggling. You would never know how sick he is. Here he is enjoying his Christmas catnip toys with Claudia.
But if I do nothing, he won't stay like this for long. And I cannot look at him, this sweet cat who has trusted me to take care of him and keep him safe for 12 years, without knowing that I tried to help him.
It's not an option.
I realize how ludicrous this might sound to people without pets, and even to some with them. To spend a large amount of money on surgery for a cat, a surgery with a very low success rate, has probably left some of you thinking I am insane.
I get that.
But I don't surrender easily. I've fought many a medical battle in my life, and I've beaten the odds, when many doctors didn't think I would.
I want, no, I need, to give Louie the same chance.
If you're the praying type, the lighting candle type, the positive thoughts type, or the sending good vibes type, please think of Louie on Friday.
And thank you for slogging through this post, and all my misery-ridden posts of late. Someday, I hope to turn the corner.