As I’ve said, pet cancer is super scary, but it isn’t always a death sentence. I chose to treat my cat’s cancer and although it was stressful in lots of ways, I believe it was the right choice for him.
Don Vito’s treatment included a 2nd surgery to remove margins from the tumor, and then five sessions of chemotherapy. This is the last post in my pet cancer series, and I’ll cover what the treatment aspect was like and how we both came out of it okay in the end:-)
Vito had fibrosarcoma, and his tumor was on the back of his neck. Fibrosarcomas have tendrils which grow off of the tumor into the surrounding tissue – imagine the face suckers in Alien. Tendrils MUST be removed to prevent regrowth, because growth originates in those tendrils. If any part of the tendrils were left, the tumor would grow back, and continue to grow until Vito couldn’t lift his head.
Although the initial vet did his best to remove the tumor and its tendrils, the biopsy results predicted it was likely there was still pieces of the tumor or tendrils left.
The second surgery would not be performed by his oncologist, Dr. Christine Mullin, but instead by a vet surgeon (which I didn’t even know existed). Here was the plan:
- Remove any part of the tumor that was left
- Make sure to get those tendrils (ewwww)
- Take margins to catch any random cells
- Remove lymp nodes for testing
The surgery went really well, and the surgeon was able to get all the margins. The following day, I picked him up, and he looked like he’d come from a music festival with HUGE dilated eyes and high as a kite. The size of the incision was jaw-dropping, but one thing was for sure: That e-collar had to go.
I hate e-collars. I understand their purpose, but they are not comfortable. Some cats that pick at themselves obviously need to have them. In those cases, I always buy a soft, flexible one so they can at least lay their heads down to sleep. Vito is not a cat that will harm himself and scratch open a wound. That’s why I tossed the e-collar and put him in doggy shirts to cover the incision.
I spent the first day he was home laying in bed with him and making sure he was comfortable. He was definitely tired and confused, but I was able to manage his pain with meds. His head hung kinda funny because the surgeon had removed a layer or two of muscle, but she said he would adjust, regain strength and be fine. Within two days he could hold his head up.
Surprising Biopsy Results
Vito’s biopsy results showed NO cancerous cells were found in the removed tissue or lymph nodes. That means his 1st surgery, done by a general vet, had actually gotten all of the cancerous cells. It was amazing. Chemo was still recommended to kill any rando cells that could be hanging around and trying to party.
Within a few weeks, Vito was ready to start his five sessions of chemo spread three weeks apart. Chemo is administered in the form of an IV in the limb. To keep him calm and less stressed (always the goal), I gave him a little gabapentin (Lucy’s lifesaver) a few hours before the appointment.
How was it? Well, the vet techs and Dr. Mullin LOVED his bow tie and commented on it every time. He was also super sweet to them and really east to treat. I was proud.
After the first three sessions, I didn’t notice much difference health wise. He seemed fine. Around the 4th session, he would throw up a time or two after, but it was easily fixed with meds. He lost a little weight, but I assumed it was the chemo. After his 5th session, he graduated and they gave him a special bandana to celebrate which I made him wear for way too long.
I expected Vito to bounce back over the next few months, and put the weight back on. During his follow-up appointment, Dr. Mullin started growing concerned. Although he showed no signs of cancer, his weight continued to drop.
A malabsorption test determined Vito wasn’t absorbing nutrients as he should (he had a low B12 level); he had an overgrowth of bacteria in the GI tract (high folate level); and he was in a state of chronic pancreatitis.
The cause was likely a combo of age (he’s almost 15) and an overactive inflammatory response, which is what caused his cancer. Just like people, pets with one inflammatory disease are prone to a second.
Treatment for GI Disease
- Daily steroid pill to reduce GI inflammation. This is the most important part of treatment.
- Probiotic to assist with digestion.
- B12 shots weekly. Yes, with a needle. He takes them like the champ he is.
Applause, please: Vito is in REMISSION from cancer!
Keep clapping: Vito has gained 1 lb. in just one month of treatment for GI disease.
All things considered, he’s doing great and remains dapper in his bow tie.
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, that is his or her path in life. There is nothing you can do to undo it, but you can research, talk with experts and friends, and decide what the best course of action is for YOU and YOUR PET. If you decide not to treat, treasure every moment you have and make your goal to make them comfortable. If you decide to treat, it’s not easy. There are ups, downs, expenses, setbacks, and all sorts of other obstacles on that journey.
You are not alone and make sure you have a friend or resource at your vet hospital to talk to. A support system is important. Stay away from anyone who judges for treating or not treating your pet. You don’t need them in your space.