I again have a heavy heart. For the second time since our arrival in Atlanta, one of my feline companions is facing down a major illness, and for the second time, the outlook is grim. Apparently, when I wrote a gushing post on this blog for Monty’s 15th birthday in March, I unknowingly jumped the gun on his eulogy by only a few short months.
Over the past weekend, we took a trip back to Michigan. As always with weekend holiday trips home, we packed everything possible into a few short days, making a point to meet up and spend time with as many friends and family as we possibly could. We left Michigan on Tuesday morning feeling genuinely happy with the great visits we had. Unfortunately, only a couple hours into the drive, we learned from our cat sitter that Monty had withdrawn to a back bedroom in the corner. He’s always been a meek cat around casual acquaintances, but videos of his demeanor showed him looking a bit sad and glassy-eyed. Most importantly, Monty was disinterested in food and cat treats. After 15 years, we know that if Monty doesn’t want treats, something is wrong.
Over the course of the drive we marked increasingly grim updates alongside the miles: just south of Toledo, we learned of his condition and decided to send him off to the vet with our cat sitter, figuring it was a relapse of pancreatitis he had suffered before during a longer vacation; near Dayton, we heard from the vet that he was in, but they were holding off on an exam until he was more comfortable; somewhere around Cincinnati, we learned that he had a substantial mass in his abdomen that measured at least 60 mm wide (I remember sitting behind the steering wheel, conceptualizing it in terms of the eyewear frame measurements I’d take during my years of optical work: it was scantly smaller than the distance between my own pupils, 66 mm). Somewhere in Kentucky, we made arrangements to have the mass biopsied with an ultrasound at a specialist’s office the next afternoon. By the time we reached Tennessee, we were beginning the sober, unavoidable conversations caretakers must have when they hear the words “large mass” and “biopsy.” Yesterday morning back home in Smyrna, when I picked Monty up prior to his specialist visit, we learned he was running a 104° fever.
The ultrasound/biopsy visit did not go well. While we are still waiting on results to confirm exactly what type, the radiologist vet was confident we are looking at cancer. We wait now to learn if it is lymphoma, which has the possible treatment plan of steroids and chemo to shrink the tumor to improve the odds of surgical removal, or if it’s the more likely carcinoma, for which the treatment plan is immediate surgery, but with very poor long-term survival rates and a high likelihood of relapse. Further complicating the carcinoma plan is that the mass is so big; measured at 4 x 6 centimeters, there are very poor surgical margins with several important landmarks in his intestines, like the duodenum and ducts from the pancreas and liver. On top of all of this, this thing is big enough that it’s pressing on his intestines and suppressing his desire to eat, which means that either way, we may need to go right to surgery sooner rather than later.
Jesus. Typing it all out brings the real question into focus: do we even try? Monty’s 15. We always knew with each year that passes after 9 or 10, a cat’s risk of catastrophic illness increased significantly, and of cancer especially. So we’re at a similar crossroads I faced with a 3-year-old Dexter, but with a completely different set of inputs. Before, Dex had already been through so much over the course of 3 months and pressing forward offered poor chance of success with a great chance of pain. Now, we’re barely 3 days into Monty’s ordeal and already at that same question. Even assuming we get the “better” of the two outcomes, lymphoma, I fear the path ahead is more difficult and painful than is fair to ask of Monty.
Right now, Monty’s … okay. He’s not eating still, but we’re hoping the appetite stimulant we started this morning prevents us from moving forward with the force feeding deadline the vet set for this evening. We’re standing by with his preferred cat food, treats, kitten food, tuna, and baby food in hopes that something will tempt him. We’re told the type, location, and involvement of this mass is not painful to cats, but he’s also taking buprenorphine to manage any collateral pain. He’s alert (enough) and engaged (enough) that he’s still responding positively to affection and petting, and he’s seeking Jess out for all the affection and petting he can take. So we’re in a holding pattern until we hear the results of the biopsy tomorrow. I guess we can put the question off a bit longer, but it’s out there. I fear this is going to be another dark weekend in Georgia.