This story was originally published on my vet school blog, “Wet Cleanup on Aisle 5.”
In March, Mr. Tabby decided to start eating less and start puking more. This is never a good thing, but I wasn’t really anticipating how much of a not good thing it was.
The vet discovered a mass in his abdomen, and gave the tentative diagnosis of GI lymphoma, a disease about which I knew nothing at the time. My options were to give him prednisone to keep him comfy until died, or to get a firm diagnosis and possibly initiate chemotherapy.
I chose the latter, partially because, with vet student perks, the treatment would almost be affordable for me, and partially because, if you’ll recall, Mr. Tabby only came out his closet 5 months before. FIVE MONTHS! This was not fair, and I wanted to give the little guy a fighting chance.
I took him to school, where they confirmed the diagnosis of GI lymphoma, and then determined that said lymphoma was a T cell lymphoma, which is to say the worse of two evil types of lymphoma. Even with treatment, most cats don’t live longer than a year. Well, I reasoned, that must mean a few lucky cats do live longer than a year, and you never know until you try… Also, unlike in humans, chemo often makes animals feel better. How could I withhold feeling better from him?
They kept him overnight and gave him his first treatments, and my crash course in feline oncology began. I also got a crash course in how-things-are-done-at-the-teaching-hospital. One thing that was lovely about the experience is that, as a student, I got to be with him through much of the process, even being the one to restrain him during his ultrasound. One of the less lovely parts of the experience was realizing how crappy that kind of experience must be for the average person, who wouldn’t get to stay with their pet and instead would be forced to trust a bunch of strangers.
An interjection, made years later: it’s okay to trust that bunch of strangers. We love your pets. This is the rule, and not the exception in veterinary clinics.
Mr. Tabby did remarkably well with his first dose of chemo, and was sent home the next day with instructions to return in a week for his next treatment. Yeaaaaahhhhhh, about that.
I live an hour away from school, and I wasn’t about to force Mr. Tabby to make a two hour drive every week to get chemo that we could easily give in the clinic in town. (Despite the obvious emotional benefit to the patient with this approach, the oncology resident still tried to guilt me into dragging him there. “What if he needs a transfusion?” she said, incredulous.)
But in order to treat him ourselves, I’d have to figure out what we needed to do. Sure, I could have relied on my vet to do that, but seeing as how 1) I am supposed to be learning, and 2) my vet essentially sees my pets for free, it would probably be bad form not to be intimately involved in the planning process.
So, I read every study I could get my hands on about treatment protocols. I scoured the Veterinary Information Network for every possible posting related to chemotherapy and lymphoma. I ordered up the drugs we’d need, and figured out the dose and schedule. I rearranged my schedule so I could get him there, and I drew up his drugs and held him through the process. As much as Mr. Tabby hated being put in the cat carrier, he always behaved like a perfect little gentleman for his treatments. How can you not love a cat like that?
The treatment worked, too. His appetite came back, and he became his chipper little self again. I was gaga in love with this cat, and I’m pretty sure he felt the same way. Every time he’d hop in my lap and bury his little head in the crook of my arm, I’d melt. Yes, this treatment was definitely worth it.