A chronicle of my sister's illness
I wanted to make a detailed description of the whole process of Nini getting sick, what we did to try and make her better, the choices we made and our impressions of her state. I hope that you can learn from our mistakes, knowing that everyone tries to do the best they know, and as such, the knowledge of the various possibilities is indeed power. I'll try to make a simple, time ordered short story so you'll have an idea of what happened.
It begins like this. In June, 2009, we had scheduled a full blood panel, as she was about to be 13 years old and we wanted to have an idea of how she was doing (we suspected that she might be prone to developing diabetes - she was a bit "plump" - and cats are known to have renal insufficiency set in with age). She was very apprehensive and because she had to wait a long time with a tourniquet on her arm she was very distressed when it came around to draw blood. I had to hold her by the scruff (exactly where she would later develop the tumor). She seemed to feel betrayed that I was holding her back. In hind sight, I wish she hadn't gone to the vet that day, but I'm also thankful that we learned that she didn't have diabetes but she did was indeed developing a bit of renal insufficiency. This would later be detrimental to her condition.
A couple of weeks later, my brother noticed a small lump under her skin, no bigger that a pepper seed. I thought (or rather hoped) that it was just a lipoma or cyst, but over that next few days it grew and when it was about the size of a pea, we headed to the vet. By the time we went there, we already suspected it was a fibrosarcoma and had done some reading about it. The vet was prompt in saying that he thought it was a tumor, and while it could be completely benign, we also said that if it was a fibrosarcoma, her life expectancy was severely decreased. We scheduled a surgery for August (the month she was born in), and when it was time to excise the tumor, it had grown to the size of an olive. Our vet opted for what he called a "blunt dissection" which basically means that he would shear the tumor out without extensive damage to the surrounding tissues, instead of cutting out the tumor along with a wide safety margin. This option has a much faster recovery time, but as a word to the wise, it is not the best option for a fibrosarcoma resection.
She went home and within a week we had the pathology report, and it claimed a mixed of fibrosarcoma and neurofibroma cells, thus confirming our fears. She had part of her back shaved for the operation, and that more than the stitches themselves was bothering her. Our mom modified a baby suit to put on her so that she wouldn't scratch her back, but she was better off when she managed to get it off. The injury healed well and quickly, and by Christmas, her hair had grown back. Unfortunately, we realized that the tumor also regenerated. This time, instead of a continuos tumor, it was manifesting as a fluid filled pocket. It didn't seem to bother her and she kept enjoying nights spent in front of the heater. After we were told by the vet that the only other option of treatment besides continuing excisions, was giving her the Interferon therapy using the Virbagen drug, which besides being expensive, was also ineffective, by his own opinion. He told us to make the most of her remaining time. This was my cue to think of alternatives.
I went to other vets, asked around but I realized that most of the therapies that could be of help, simply weren't available in our country. This left me with those options outside the realm of traditional medicine, but with those more homeopathic. There were two approaches I was using. Trying to undo the state she was probably in and that led her to develop the tumor, by supplementing her with Vitamin C, and secondly, trying to use natural substances that could potentially minimize or revert her condition, namely Colloidal Silver, Fucoidan, Resveratrol and Reishi Mushroom Extract. Vitamin C for the collagen, Fucoidan is suspected to prevent the invasion of fibrosarcomas in surrounding tissues, Reseveratrol is supposed to increase the expression of the p53 gene, an anti-tumor gene, and the Reishi Mushroom is an ancient East Asia traditional medicine thought to have anti-metastesizing powers. From the get go, she really liked water with Colloidal Silver. As soon as she watch me open a bottle, she got ready to drink (she had all her life a bowl with fresh water, replaced at least once a day). As far as the Vitamin C, Fucoidan, Resveratrol and the Reishi Mushroom Extract, I had to come up with a way to give it to her that she was O.K. with and I was fortunate that she loved to eat yogurt. She would dip her paw in it and lick it. It made my job easy. All I had to do was to mix the powdered vitamin and other stuff with the yogurt, and she would let me know if she liked it or not. Luckily, she appreciated all the things I tried to give her, even if they had no visible effect on her. She was very bright all the way until the final days, however.
Around the beginning of February, Nini's back had developed a huge fluid filled hump, and one day, early afternoon, while she was looking out the window, in my room, on top of the printer, as she always did, it burst open and started to ooze. I only noticed because there was a pinkish drop on the corridor floor when I was going to the kitchen, and when I found her she was on the floor trying to lick her back clean. Suffice to say, my mom lost it. I was kind of expecting this to happen, so I went with Nini back to my room (only to find she had lost fluid everywhere, including my bed) and asked my mom to bring her a towel. I held the towel to her back and stayed there until all the fluid had drained. It was coming from a bald patch, that had a pin-like, barely visible opening.(it had started to bald up and scab up a few days before, though). I knew then that this was the turning point, because it is common for infections to set when tumors ulcerate and that fighting both things was always going to be a losing battle. We took her back to the vet and he prescribed her with Prednisolone pills for the inflammation and pain she might have, and Fucidin, in case we thought the ulcer was starting to infect.
It took a week for the fluid cavity to fill up again, and it again oozed. She only seemed disturbed that there was some liquid running down her back, and would try to lick herself clean, which we tried to stop, so that her tongue wouldn't open the wound further. It then developed on a ever faster cycle of oozing and rest, where we would barely sleep, as the ulcer often started to ooze during the night. I would have gladly kept that up forever, if it meant she was happy. In the last week before she passed away she started to eat less and move less. About three days before her death, she barely moved all day, staying curled up. I was very concerned by all I thought of doing was staying by her side, and at least she was feeling better the next day, I guess. She didn't really eat anything anymore after that, though. The night of the following day, she was having trouble going to the toilet and jumping. Well, moving in general. She was on the corridor, just looking at us, and I realized it was because she could no longer jump up to the bed (it is a fairly tall bed). I picked her up and she moaned as if she was feeling a bit tender, so we just tried to make her as comfortable as possible.
The last day before the day she passed away, she was barely moving but she was hovering around the living room (which accesses the balcony where her litter was), so she wouldn't have to exert her self too much. We tried to give her something to eat and drink but she wasn't able to stomach anything. I stayed up all night by her side on the couch with her, knowing she was too tired to go on. The following morning, she tried to go to the toilet, but after she surprisingly jumped out of the couch (refusing our help to do so), she just stayed on the ground, crouched and immobile. After a while, I tried to get her on her litter but she didn't do anything. After a few minutes, I decided she was better off on the couch, but after I placed her there she was upset and than she did something I had never seen her do. She urinated in the couch, a clear sign that she had to go to the toilet but she was too weak to make the travel. After things got a bit crazy, we decided to take her to our room and placed her on our bed. We also took an old bed she never liked, lined it and put some litter on it so she didn't have to go anywhere. At first she was very upset to leave the living room, but after me and my brother placed her on the litter, she got it and finished up her needs. Then she laid on the bed and we stayed by her side all day and all night. That night, after having been awake for the past two days, she finally got some sleep, resting her head on my brother's arm.
The final day, she was very weak and shaking. She would try to drink some water, but then she would have seizures and ended up belching back up any water she managed to get down. Even her eyes would tremble, and she seemed like she was having hallucinations, and it was the we decided that we had to euthanize her. We basically thought that while in our hearts we would want to stay by her side until her dying breath, we had no idea for how long she would be in that state of nausea and seizures, so we made a final trip to the vet. That day, she was weirdly awake and alert, as we made our way to the vet. I assume the stress perked her up but it would probably short lived. It did make us feel guilty because if there was any chance she wouldn't suffer so much we wouldn't euthanize her. The vet claimed he would have already euthanized her if it was his pet, but I'm glad we didn't rob her of her time unnecessarily. She was first sedated with an injection, that unfortunately made her convulse and nauseate further, but it was apparently the best choice. When she was completely unconscious she had an irreversible fibrillation induced through an injection of ether to her heart. This caused a complete heart arrest. She spaced briefly and then she didn't move anymore. She was gone.
I have to say that, to my knowledge, there is no good way of euthanizing anyone, but there are several better ways to do so. I know for a fact that the most painless way of doing so is by Nitrogen induced hypoxia. If you are made to breathe pure Nitrogen gas, you can't tell it has no oxygen, so you fall, rather quickly into an hypoxic, dissociative state, that if persisted for more that 5 minutes, will cause the destruction of the medulla oblongata (the brain stem), causing brain death. It is painless, and quick. It should be the method of choice for vets and if you'll be lucky if you find one that uses this. My mother often says the she believes that Nini felt we betrayed her by euthanizing her. Maybe that is true, and I'll always blame myself for not having been able to do more and better, but I love her more that I thought was possible, and in my heart, while it might have been my weakness that I couldn't handle her condition as she was in her dying throws, I believed that this was the better option. I hope you don't have to face this choice, or if you do, you have better option.
In summation, if you detect a lump on your pet, immediately (like, get on the car and go to the vet, right away) go to your vet. Try and get a diagnosis (biopsy or other) as soon as possible, and make sure you know what are the best options of treatment. Make sure you give that dear friend all the TLC you can, ill or healthy. If you need help on deciding what to do just do what you would honestly want to have done to you. Treat others like would want to be treated, and you can't really go wrong (unless you're a masochist...). Believe you can make the story of your pet have a happy ending.
I'm going to make sure that this story does not have to be repeated, and I hope that the first step towards that objective is with this website. Thank you.