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My Cat Has Been Diagnosed with Cancer: Would Chemotherapy Help or Hurt?

A Whiskers Volunteer Shares Her Experiences and What She Learned When Sammy Got Sick

Cancer. It’s a word that strikes fear in just about everybody. When diagnosed in humans, we immediately think “surgery, “radiation,” and/or “chemotherapy” treatments. All those words have scary outcomes. With chemo, we think of hair loss, days of inability to function, vomiting, and other unpleasant side effects. It is nothing we’d ever wish on anyone…especially those that we love. Now hear the word “cancer” in the same sentence as a diagnosis for your cat. It’s a horrible feeling.

Our part Siamese, Sammy, was diagnosed with cancer in late October of 2012. Four spots of lymphoma were found in his small intestine and a mass-cell tumor in his liver. He’d had digestive issues for a few years. He had been experiencing problems with constipation, which were helped by twice daily doses of Miralax in his food. The Miralax finally stopped working, hence a trip to a specialty veterinary practice for an ultrasound and biopsy, where the cancer was found. It was heart wrenching to be sure. The vet there immediately started talking about chemotherapy. We, on the other hand, were immediately just thinking of how we’d live without our chatty little guy. There was no way we were going to put him through chemo, having known what some friends had been through. We thanked the doctor and went home, figuring out ways we could keep Sammy comfortable for however long he and we had.

A few nights later, our phone rang at 9PM. It was our own personal vet, who had just read the report from the veterinary specialist. She, too, mentioned chemo as a treatment option. We asked what it entailed and she said chemotherapy is actually easier on the feline system than it is on human beings. It wouldn’t produce horrific things like hair loss or vomiting. She suggested we do some research on the Internet (why hadn’t we thought of that???) and then call her back. The next words from our vet were what convinced us to consider this treatment: “If it was my cat, I’d pursue it. We’ll know within one or two treatments if it will work. If it does, we can pretty much guarantee six months to a year of him feeling better and having a good quality of life.”

In mid-November 2012, Sammy had his first treatment. It consisted of a 10mg pill of Lomustine (also known as CCNU or CeeNu) which I picked up at the local pharmacy. We also needed to make a quick trip to the vet for easy bloodwork. They did a CBC (standard blood test) to ensure his white cell and red cell blood counts were within the correct ranges. The vet tech then administered the pill and we were out of there. Sammy was also put on prednisolone (a steroid) which he thought of as “treats” since we got the chewable chicken variety. Total cost for each visit? About $75. Our vet said he should come every six weeks for a treatment. We were there like clockwork. The hardest part, always, was simply getting Sam into the carrier to go for his doctor visits.

The change in Sammy was apparent within two weeks of his first treatment. His appetite came back, and his digestive tract was in better shape, so we discontinued the Miralax. More importantly, his personality was back. We were thrilled! We gave him even more love than we had before, any treats he wanted were his, we cuddled more, and he talked our ears off – as cats of a Siamese nature usually do!

Unfortunately, and always in the back of our minds, was the word “cancer.” Sammy had very good months and quality time with us. In early July, he became constipated again. We started Miralax again, but when that didn’t work, we were switched to Lactulose. None of it really worked, and in mid-July his constipation led us to the emergency vet on a Saturday night for an enema. When they were done with that, our Sammy began to look like a cancer patient again. We knew the end was coming, as many cat parents do. We did what we could to make him comfortable, and in mid-August our boy went to the Rainbow Bridge. While it was a horrible adjustment, we knew that if we hadn’t followed our trusted veterinarian’s advice, he would have left us a lot sooner.

If you’re faced with a similar diagnosis, which is heart-wrenching and terrifying, listen to your vet. You could have a few more good months with your kitty and improve, if even in the short run, your cat’s quality of life. We are glad we did what we did for our Sammy.


***Note: Whiskers does not diagnose conditions in cats, and it is imperative that people who are concerned about the health of their kitties visit their animal health care professional to obtain a diagnosis of any conditions and appropriate treatment plans. Below, for information only, we have provided a link that may provide more insights regarding the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer in cats and dogs.