A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Now, the Bad News

My three-week hiatus from blogging was mainly due to a tight deadline with a big client of mine. The good news is that we met the deadline and the client was very happy with the results.

During this heavy workload, almost three weeks ago, I took Axel to the vet for a much-needed teeth cleaning. Before I dropped him off for the surgery, I wanted the vet to check him out because I was sure that he had lost more weight since his last visit in December. At that time, his blood work and vitals checked out okay even though he was thinner than usual. He has always been a very lean cat, unlike his littermate, Günter.

Now, a few months later, he was down another half pound to a very skinny 6.5 pounds, and this time the vet palpated a mass in his abdomen. I knew instantly that this was very bad news.

The test results after aspirating the tumor revealed that he has lymphoma.

I have been an emotional wreck since then. Like many people, I consider my cats to be an integral part of our family. They are my constant companions and give me great joy. I will do whatever I reasonably can for them. It’s time like these when I wish I didn’t have to decide what we can afford to do for them, but unfortunately it has to be a factor.

Although lymphoma in cats is treatable with chemotherapy — and many cats respond well to treatment — it’s not curable. Chemotherapy in cats is administered to improve their quality of life; they don’t receive doses high enough to make them nauseous or lose their fur, and they often experience no other side effects. On the down side, there’s no guarantee they will go into remission, or if they do, there’s no telling how long it will last: could be one month; could be a year or longer.

Axel was slightly anemic (likely because of the lymphoma) but otherwise in good health. Our vet had just seen a cat the day before who had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004 and was still doing well. I knew that cat was an exception, and even if Axel’s chances looked slim, I couldn’t rule out treatment of some kind because he, too, could be that exception.

After talking it over with a vet friend of ours, she recommended taking Axel to an internist she personally knew: Dr. Mimi Noonan at Animal Emergency and Treatment Center (AETC) in Grayslake.

I was very impressed with the facility as well as the caring doctors and staff there. He has been a very good patient and everyone there dotes on him and remarks on how handsome he is.

Dr. Noonan has a lot of experience in oncology and offered several options for Axel based on his current health. Unfortunately, the location of his tumor is not optimal, but it wasn’t causing any obstructions and there would be no surgery. We could have treated him with prednisone alone, which would have reduced inflammation and helped him feel better, but it also would not give him a chance to go into remission. We decided that a short course of chemo was within reason (for his quality of life as well as our budget).

A few days after his first chemo treatment, he had a setback and experienced several seizures which brought us back to AETC a week ago Sunday.

The good thing about having him treated there is they are a critical care center as well as a specialty clinic, so they already had his history and could diagnose him appropriately. They determined that the anemia was likely causing the seizures. They kept him overnight for observation and treatment, and the slightly good news was his tumor had already reduced in size.

I took him in again last Thursday for a reevaluation. Now only a week after his first treatment, the vet couldn’t palpate the tumor at all! He’s still anemic, but better than he had been, and he hasn’t had a seizure since. He’s already considered to be in remission, has had no side effects from the chemo, and has rarely vomited (which was a frequent occurrence prior to this).

For such a little guy, he’s a good eater, and I give him whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Sometimes this means I’m tossing out perfectly good cat food, but when he looks at me with that ‘Okay, I’ve licked all the gravy, now what else have you got?’ look, what am I going to do? He needs to gain weight, so if he’s not crazy about the food I can’t force him to eat it — he IS a cat, after all, and they have a mind of their own.

He’ll go through a couple more rounds of chemo, and will hopefully live out the rest of his life — however long that may be — content and pain-free. I’m still devastated, but at least a little more hopeful than I have been when this all began.

10 Comments

  1. Kathy on April 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Oh, Denise, I’m so sorry. I hope Axel continues to do better and beats all odds. XOX K

  2. Jennifer on April 7, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Poor guy! Give him lots of tummy rubs and ear scratches and warm things to lie on. Maybe even a heated bed or such!

  3. Nicole on April 7, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I’m sorry to hear this – but at least it seems to be going well. Believe me when I say I know what it’s like to have one of these guys fall ill, and how helpless
    we really are sometimes when it comes to doing anything for them. Big hugs to both you and Axel.

  4. Karen Anne on April 7, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I am so sorry about Alex. He looks like a wonderful kitty.

    I had a cat with lymphoma, slightly different than Alex’s sound like, since it was diffuse in his stomach and small intestine. He lived a mostly comfortable life for two years and five months after diagnosis. He probably would have lived longer than that, but the cancer changed and attacked his liver about a month before I had to put him to sleep.

    There are appetite stimulant meds, like Periactin. My cat took about 1/4 the normal dose, because the full dose made him hyper.

    You might ask the vet about giving Alex fluids (Ringers) which you can do at home, if he is not eating enough to stay hydrated.

  5. denise on April 8, 2009 at 10:02 am

    thanks so much for the good thoughts. I’m giving him lots of attention (making the other cat extremely jealous) and firing up the heating pad for him under his blanket.

    Nicole: I know exactly how you feel, having just lost your Tigger. 🙁

    Karen Anne: yes, it doesn’t sound exactly like yours, however his is also gastrointestinal-related, so I’m encouraged that your kitty survived as long as he did. Luckily mine still has a really good appetite; he’s just super-skinny (I always say he has my husband’s metabolism while the other one has mine). 🙂
    I think he may have gained a little weight, but it’s hard to tell. We’ll see this week.

  6. bungalowbliss on April 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

    It’s so, so hard when our critters aren’t doing well. I’m sorry you’ve had a rough couple of weeks…but so thankful that Mr. Axel has made some improvement lately. Keep on laying the love and attention on that handsome boy of yours.

  7. Rene on April 8, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    What a difficult few weeks. I’m so glad to hear that he’s already responding to the treatment and that you can relax a little bit. Sending you good wishes.

  8. Joanne on April 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Oh goodness, I’m sorry to hear Axel is sick. What a sweet little face; here’s scritches for his head and good wishes.

  9. Mom on April 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    What nice thoughts and well wishes from your “bungalow” friends. Got a lump in my throat reading them. Hope Axel does well today. XO Mom

  10. casacaudill on April 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Having lost my bestest buddy dude back in October to an illness that is considered treatable, I was reading your post with such sadness in my heart … hoping that when I got to the end your Axel wouldn’t have met the same fate as my Miles. I’m so happy for you and him that he responded well to the treatment and is in remission!! Our pets really are integral parts of our lives and I’m happy that you did what you could to make sure that Axel would be around as long as he can be.

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