On Thanksgiving morning, I came downstairs early before anyone else was up, as I normally do. I went into my office and on the ottoman that sits in front of the big chair on which I do most of my work, one of my 12-year-old cats, Louie, was snuggling with his mama, Chubbie. This is where I usually find the pair in the morning.

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.

14 Responses to “Louie”

  1. # Blogger Mom24

    I'm so sorry Kristi. I'm really sick, so I haven't been in touch. I will pray for Louis and you too, of course. I hope the surgery works. {{{HUGS}}}  

  2. # Anonymous Christina @ Spoonfed

    Oh, Kristi, I'm so sorry. We lost two of our three cats in the last two years, including our oldest and dearest, Murphy, and our youngest, Rundel (named after the library downtown, where I found him). And it was like losing human family. Some people don't understand that, but I do, and I know how heartbreaking it is to wonder whether you've done everything possible to save them. You're doing a good thing, for Louie and for yourself. Take care. And positive kitty vibes coming your way.


  3. # Blogger Rachel

    I am so sorry. We don't have pets, but my sister is currently a student at the Vet school you mention and the stories she tells are really heartwrenching.  

  4. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    I know exactly where you're at emotionally on this one. I had 2 cats for 17 years growing up - and can't really remember a time in my life when I didn't have a pet.

    Our beloved alaskan malamute was bitten by a cobra in our back yard about 5 years ago now - and then killed the snake (saving myself and 6month old baby in the process). We rushed him to the vet, 6 vials of anti-venom later, one hair raising car trip to the large animal hospital in town (45mins) with two vets doing CPR and breathing for him with an ambi-bag in the back of hubs pick up, we managed to get him onto a ventilator to wait out the 48hours of paralysis (due to the cobra venom) to see if we'd managed to get the anti venom in - in time, only to have him pass away 20 hours later. We paid the price of a small family sedan for all this, but given the choice again, I would have done it all over again, and then some if there was a chance of saving him. So believe me, I know where you're at. I think you've absolutely made the right decision. You're doing what you can. You can't do nothing, and I don't think that chemo and radiation will make him *feel* any better. Just love him everyday for the time he has left.  

  5. # Blogger Jesser

    Oh Kristi, I'm so sorry about all of this! I hope your kitty isn't in too much pain and I hope your husband can come to some sort of peace with the situation. I'm sure it hasn't been easy for any of you. I've been in your shoes and I know how hard it is to have to put a price tag of sorts on a dear friend's life. Enjoy your sweet kitty and try to put away the guilt.  

  6. # Anonymous Christine

    Thinking of you Kristi and sweet Louie! I forgot to mention to you that in between college and law school I spent what was A LOT of money to me as a waitress (some 1500) for surgery for a stray kitten we ended up finding who had a diaphragmatic hernia. It left me in a little debt for a while, but I never regretted it.

    Fingers crossed that Louie overcomes all odds.  

  7. # Anonymous K

    I'm so sorry to hear about Louie's illness. I hope the surgery does the trick.  

  8. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    I'm sorry. I'm glad he's not currently in pain, and hopefully the surgery will work.  

  9. # Blogger MsGraysea

    Hands down, I totally agree with your choice...cats have always been an integral part of my life and I completely understand how you feel about all your babies, and especially sweet Louie.
    Sending you hugs, positive thoughts and purrs from Ms G and me.

  10. # Blogger Veronica

    You know I have my fingers crossed and completely understand your decision. I know how much you love him and how you couldn't live with yourself without trying something!

    I'll light candles and keep him (and you and the rest of the family) in my thoughts.

    I hope he's one of the small percentage that this works on!  

  11. # Blogger Holly

    Aw, poor kitty. I will pray for Louie. And you.

    If it's any consolation, at one point a couple years into the motherhood business I realized my special kitty had a lump on the side of her face. Turned out she had an abscessed tooth. I felt so guilty for not noticing it earlier. She must have been in so much pain.

    My husband and I have spent probably thousands of dollars in vet bills for cats, even neighborhood cats that weren't ours. One cat who was probably born ill and lived only a little more than a year, we spent $1,000 to try to save him. It's not hard to part with big bucks to save a friend. Hugs....  

  12. # Anonymous Becky

    I'll keep my fingers crossed for good luck for Louie.  

  13. # Anonymous Becky

    I'll keep my fingers crossed for good luck for Louie.  

  14. # Blogger annie w.

    Hugs and prayers for you and Louie.. i'm so sorry, Kristi  

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