Pets and Cancer… A Tough Two Years.

We’ve lost two dogs to cancer in less than two years. And now we’re about to lose our cat to the same terrible disease.

It started in 2014 with our 9-year-old dachshund, Andy, who was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. By the time he started showing symptoms, the tumor on his spleen had swollen up a huge size and had begun to bleed. Our vet advised us to put him to sleep as soon as possible. We got a second opinion from an oncologist who advised us to remove his spleen—but that we were only buying a month or so, as the cancer had spread to his liver.

We did the surgery and bought two wonderful months with Andy. He’d have short bouts of pain (which we’d treat with heavy painkillers) and would bounce back after a few hours, vibrant, happy, and ready to eat, snuggle and play. When he finally passed, he went into one of his usual rounds of pain, we dosed him up on large amounts of medication, and he simply went into shock and left us.

Three weeks after Andy died, Gypsy—our beautiful 11-year-old Great Pyrenees, started limping. What we thought was a simple sprain ended up being a fracture caused by osteosarcoma. We opted for surgery—having the doctor put a brace and pins in the bone to keep it stable (as it was only a hairline fracture—and starting her on a regimen of pain medications to keep her happy.

And she was. She recovered from the surgery and was as good as new. We watched her carefully for any signs of pain or discomfort, continuing to keep her on a maintenance level of pain meds. We found a small, slow-growing cancer on her tongue, but it didn’t bother her or hinder her in any way. For nine glorious months, Gypsy was able to eat, play (gently, though, so as not to disturb the pinned bone!), get love, and be happy. When things did go downhill, they did it suddenly—with the growth on her tongue suddenly enlarging and bleeding and her limp returning all at once. She went from bright-eyed and happy to not feeling well within a matter of a couple of days and we knew it was time to let her go.

One year later…

I take our Beyonce cat in because she’s lost weight. I chalk it up to a recent food change (one of our other cats gets urinary crystals, so we had put all four of them on a urinary diet). I also notice a tiny nodule on her neck. Surely it can’t be cancer, I think; she’s a trim, happy, healthy 15-year-old kitty.

And it’s cancer.

Two days after her cytology, she had a brief seizure. It could have been a blood clot. It also could be cancer that has spread to her brain.

We can’t possibly know unless you take her and have more tests, the vet told us.

More tests.

Which brings me to the crux of this post.

We got Beyonce’s cancer diagnosis roughly three weeks ago. The vet X-rayed her lungs and saw what she thought was likely cancer that had spread (we found that out about a week and a half ago). Then we were given options, all of which involved specialists and dragging Beyonce to multiple appointments. We could have tests run to be sure the shadows in her lungs were cancer. We could have the neck tumor surgically removed. Have it radiated. Have it biopsied so we could try chemo. We could have her brain scanned to see if there was cancer there.

We opted to do none of the above.

Obviously, we’re not against trying lifesaving (or even life-extending) efforts on pets with cancer, as we’ve done it twice before. But there’s a difference between doing what you CAN do (just because you can do it) and knowing your pet…knowing in your heart what you SHOULD do.

Weight loss. A cancerous tumor on her throat. Shadows on her lung X-rays. A seizure that wasn’t consistent with a blood clot.

We didn’t need more tests to know that her cancer had spread.

We were heading out on an RV trip from Florida to Colorado and Beyonce was still feeling good. We took our two dogs and four cats and set out on what we knew would be a bucket list trip for Beyonce. (Our cats travel well in our RV and enjoy it.) One day from reaching Colorado (about ten days after the “you could do any of the above” discussion with the vet), Beyonce started going downhill. Breathing hard. Urinating outside of the litter box.

We had steroids and painkillers with us from our other cats (who had historically been the unhealthy ones), so—being in the middle of nowhere—we started her on those. Hoped that when we got to Colorado, she might rest, the meds might help her a bit, things might…

Our first day here, I called and made an appointment to take her in and discuss palliative care and what additional medications we could give her to make her comfortable. That was yesterday. Today, it’s apparent that the appointment will be a different kind of appointment. She’s no longer eating. Doesn’t want to drink very much. Despite the pain meds, she’s sitting hunched up under a bed or on a towel in the bathroom floor.

It all happened so fast.

We’re glad that her last couple of weeks weren’t spent dragging her from appointment to appointment.

While I’m dreading today’s appointment, it can’t come fast enough. I can’t quite get my head around it. I know she’s in pain and I know that this is the best thing we can do for her, but it goes against human nature to take the life of someone we love. We’re wired to save lives. We discover new ways to fight illnesses. We overcome major obstacles in order to survive. In emergencies, we are capable of superhuman efforts in order to save ourselves or others.

So it’s counter to everything inside of us to take the life of a loved one. It feels wrong, even when we know it’s the right thing to do. It’s strange to look at the clock and thing, “These are her last five hours on earth…her last four hours on earth…her last three hours…”

All the while, keeping her very doped up. We’d take her in sooner, but there were no available appointments and we don’t want to keep her waiting there, hurting and afraid in her carrier. We’d rather her wait here where she can hide where she feels more safe.

I’ll be so glad when this day is over.

 

beyonce and phoebe
Beyonce (on top of cat house)