When Your Cat Has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 3

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Remember the no make-up selfie on Facebook for Cancer Research?  This was mine and Phoebe’s, and despite having chemo and losing her whiskers she looks fab!

After the good news that Phoebe was in remission,  we continued our visits to the Liverpool Small Animal Teaching Hospital every 3 weeks for the rest of 2013.  We have got quite used to the routine now, as did Phoebe.  Unlike Bart who rarely goes to the vet (touch wood!) and resists going into the cat carrier, Phoebe is quite compliant going in.  She may verbally protest a little when we put her in the car but otherwise she is quite relaxed about the journey which is only about 50 mins away.  I don’t like witholding her breakfast though, and regardless of whether she goes under anaesthetic for a scan, we have to starve her from the night before as a blood test is required to see if her white blood cells and platelets are low.  As her treatment progressed, they regularly showed up low, so her chemo doses were reduced accordingly.

We are quite lucky that Phoebe has a reasonably calm temperament.  No cat enjoys going to the vet, and at the start of her treatment when she had her stomach surgery she was quite scared, having never stayed away overnight before.  I wish I didn’t have to put her through that, but there were a few things to consider before we opted for the chemotherapy route.  It wasn’t just a case of finance to pay for treatment, but also if it would be kind to her to put her through all the vet visits and procedures.  If she had been an elderly nervous cat, probably not.  Although having to go for regular treatment may make them less nervous.  I have definitely seen an improvement with Phoebe regarding going into the cat carrier, and as she did a fair amount of travelling, we treated her to a new fancy new one!

"Is this for me?"
“Is this for me?”

There is also a lot of commitment involved in nursing cancer patient pets.  It can be difficult finding the time off work to attend chemo and scan appointments which could take most of the day.  We were quite fortunate that the hospital was not that far from us, but some owners travel quite a distance.  Medication is also a big hurdle if, like Phoebe, your pet will not take tablets.  Originally, her meds were 3 times a day, which dropped to twice a day but we needed to be regular and work them around everyday life.  I don’t think pet owners have a problem with commitment – one vet told us a story of some owners who took giving medicines literally and would set an alarm to go off during the small hours so their dog would get his medication at regular intervals.  He told them that 3 times a day, spread over waking hours was sufficient – but he felt bad that he didn’t make that clear earlier!

So we continued with our visits every 3 weeks where Phoebe would have her chemo, and a scan ever now and again.  Each time, she was still in remission.  2013 came and went and by June 2014, it was decided to lower her oral medications over a week, and then stop altogether.  Plus she wouldn’t have to come back to the hospital till September!

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Bart and Phoebe love to lounge!

Phew!  My purse can also have a rest!  To this day I haven’t dared add up how much the treatment has cost in total but I should imagine it’ll be in excess of £5000.  I wonder what the cost would have been if Phoebe was an Irish Wolfhound…ouch!  How I wished that I could go back to those nice days of just visiting the vet for vaccinations and paying a bill of less than 3 figures, knowing my pet has nothing wrong!

The majority of the patients who we see at the hospital waiting room are dogs, but there are a handful of cats too.  As it is a dedicated oncology department, all the patients have cancer in common.  A lot of them, like Phoebe, would be sporting a shaved belly, or ather area, and a bandage on one paw when they come out of treatment.  Others would have an external tumour.  It is interesting to note that most of the four legged patients will attend with more than one human in tow.  Its a worrying situation when you go to a referral hospital as like other patients, it was our only hope.  You need all the support you can get and someone to help with a second opinion, as there are still questions to be asked and decisions to be made.  So thank you Steve for being there at every appointment, and for the times I had to work xx

I asked the question “What if the cancer comes back?” The vets are keen to remind us of that possibility.  Some cats relapse sooner than others, some never.  Fortunately, they have dealt with recurrent cancer cases, and there were other drugs to use should the previous ones be ineffective.  Cancer is such a variable disease with different treatments and unpredictable outcomes.  Although radiotherapy was not offered to us, it is an option for some patients and the department has facilities with thick concrete walls to protect staff, public and other patients from the radiation.  We still have to remind ourselves that in the interests of animal welfare, the object is not to cure cancer using the large doses given to humans, but to manage it.  For the lucky ones, like us, we got remission as a result.  For others, to be able to slow the cancer and maintain a quality of life (palliative care) would be the next best thing.

Not taking anything for granted, I spent as much time I could spare with Phoebe.  During the early days when her future looked uncertain, the stress left me tired and drained.  I would go for a lie down on the bed and would wake with Phoebe snuggled up to me!  She quite liked this and now regularly snuggles with me in the morning, where previously she always stayed by my legs.  And of course, she doesn’t get told off anymore! As she was no longer receiving chemotherapy, her coat thickened and the whiskers made a comeback.  Check out the photo below, our updated selfie, thankfully me with make up this time!

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The September scan was clear.  We booked in again for another scan before Christmas 2014 which was also clear.  However one of her lymph nodes was slightly enlarged and there was sediment in her bladder, so she was tested for this.  I had been quietly optimistic about her recovery, but once more I could feel the anxiety setting in again.  Luckily, the enlarged lymph node was not related to the lymphoma.  The bladder sediment was nothing remarkable, but to watch out for any urinary problems and encourage drinking.

Now that Phoebe was no longer receiving chemo, she was able to have vaccinations again although we had to start again with a new course.  Chemo suppresses immunity, which is why vaccination isn’t advised during treatment.  This is something to bear in mind if you normally leave your pet at a kennels or cattery when you are away, and cancer treatment has delayed immunisation.  With the rise of pet sitting services available, you can get round this problem but check your sitter is happy to give medicines.  While Phoebe had medication, holidays took a back seat, as I didn’t want to give anyone the job of giving her meds!  While she was having her vaccination,  Shaun did a check up on her and palpated her stomach.  He also showed me how to do this, to feel for any lumps and if Phoebe reacts to any sensitivity.  The good news is that he felt nothing (neither did I but I’ll go by Shaun’s expertise!)

3 months later and we’re in 2015.  Phoebe’s March scan was clear, plus the lymph node that was raised last time was back to normal.  The plan was to book another scan in 4 months and then 6 months after that.  July came back clear.  The last scan was January 2016, which included some extra tests to check for any traces of cancer that may potentially spread.  I’m relieved to say, all is clear and she has been signed off by the hospital unless we have any concerns, in which case we can request to be referred again!!

I don’t like to go round saying that we’ve beaten cancer, or that we’ve kicked it up the butt, as I’ve been reminded all too often that there is that chance it may return.  I have learned a lot from this awful experience and it has changed me and my family on our outlook.  We spend quality time together and take nothing for granted now.  We also learnt to cut back on things we didn’t need to pay for her treatment.  We didn’t feel hard done by either, but I guess many pet owners would do exactly the same.  Phoebe still doesn’t know what all the fuss was about – all she knows is that since that stomach operation,  she’s been able to get whatever she wants 🙂

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Phoebe – worth every penny, and more