Monday, August 3, 2009

For Cat Lovers Only: The Bunny Report

I wrote a little over a week ago to report that our beloved cat, Bunny, has cancer. After an evening of panic, worry, and shock, we settled down and started learning from our vet how to treat it. According to her, low-grade intestinal feline lymphoma is about the best cancer diagnosis a cat can have. (For what that's worth.) When cats get chemo every other day, there's a good chance they'll go into remission and feel fine. At the cat hospital, they have a few elderly patients with this type of lymphoma who have been doing well for years. One just came out of remission at age 22. I would have no complaints if Bunny lived that long; she's about 16. Another year or two of her happy, attention-demanding company would be an amazing gift.

We are all getting used to our new routine. Twice a day, Bunny gets a thyroid pill (a tuna-flavored treat she licks from my hand) and two injections (a steroid and an anti-nausea drug). We were both so nervous when we had our shot-giving lesson, which was of the no-nonsense, "See one, do one, teach one" variety that medical students know well. Bunny wasn't thrilled with the lesson, either. But here at home, it's turning out to be easy, a million times better than trying to give her pills. We began by giving her the shots while she was busy eating. She barely flinched and didn't stop chewing. It's quick because we only need to get the tiny needles into her fur, not into her body. So it's kind of like giving an old fur coat an injection. It's apparently painless, or Bunny would complain loudly, calico diva that she is.

The steroids increase her appetite; she eats continuously through the day. Feeding her and our other fragile cat, Snicky, is a steady part-time job. Bunny eats all-meat baby food, "people tuna," Fancy Feast, Friskies packets, Whisker Lickins' treats, and 9-Lives tuna — sometimes all in one day, in small amounts, in about 10 feedings. She also eats whole slices of deli turkey (nitrate free) and lots of American cheese, which I feed to her by hand, one tiny bit at a time. I can't help imagining her as a little, furry shredder because of how quickly all those little bits disappear down her throat. I love spending this time with her, watching het enjoy her food. She's already gained back one of the three pounds she lost. The vet thinks this is a very hopeful sign, especially since it usually takes a long time for cats to regain weight. I hope she starts looking rotund, like she swallowed a volleyball again.

During the week of shot-giving, I managed to stab my thumb deeply one morning, as I was trying to put a used syringe back in its safety packaging. I probably got a minuscule dose of steroid medication; I also bled all over the floor. I should not be allowed to handle dangerous equipment before 9 am. The only lingering effect of the needle stick is that I have a near-constant urge to kill and eat a mouse.

The hard part of our new routine is the chemo, an oily liquid she must swallow every other evening. The stuff is dangerous if it gets on our skin. (It depresses bone marrow and white cell production.) We put on gloves, fill a syringe, wrap her in a towel, pry open her snapping jaws, and point the stuff down her gullet.

We've done it three times, and so far, we get most of it down her throat. But each time, she's given us a startled look afterward, as if to say, "Why are you poisoning me with that nasty goop?" She continues to eat after the chemo, but she also lies around for hours, for whole days and nights, awake and restless, shifting from one spot on the floor to another every few minutes. She's responsive, and purrs if I talk to her, but she must be uncomfortable. I hope this stage passes and her body adapts to the routine. It's still too early to tell. The antinausea shots are supposed to help, but if this keeps up, we'll need to try different kinds. I won't have her spending half her life in discomfort.

She had a bad bout of diarrhea after her second dose. It could have been from the chemo, but it could also have been one of the seven different kinds of food she gobbled down that day. I mix powdered fiber into her food now, and pray it helps. Diarrhea and a longhaired cat make a wicked combination.

As our vet suggested, I am carefully avoiding reading up on lymphoma online, where I might learn things I don't want to know. There's a lot of outdated or wrong info out there, too. When I have a question, I call the cat hospital. I call them often, and they are always patient and helpful. Okay — I caved the night she had diarrhea because I had to know what else to expect. But I'm working daily to stay positive and avoid morbid or depressing thoughts. It's not that I believe this will change matters. But cats pick up on their people's moods, so I can't mope or act upset — and risk upsetting her, too.

Next week, Bunny will have a blood test to see how her body is handling the chemo. It will take time to know if she'll go into remission. Naturally I can't bear to leave her for more than a few hours — nor can we find a friend or a professional cat sitter who can handle her drug regimen. So it looks like we'll cancel our vacation plans for mid August in Maine and postpone a weekend drive to my relatives. We'll see what develops.

Tonight, Bunny jumped up on my lap as she used to do, and settled in for a little while, purring. That's all I can ask for, these days. It's grand.

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