the diagnosis story

Cats are masters at masking their discomfort or pain. However, they can’t hide dramatic weight loss, and eventually we’re going to spot them vomiting.

Those were the two major signs that something was terribly wrong with my seven-year-old cat.

He’d had a regular checkup in July, and the bloodwork only showed that he should get his thyroid checked every 6 months instead of once a year. No big deal.

So when he started showing the aforementioned symptoms in early October, it felt like it came out of nowhere. We took him to a new vet–we’d moved to a different state–who thought he was in pretty good health aside from the weight loss. He knew we’d done bloodwork recently, but we opted for another blood panel to see if that told us anything useful.

It did. My cat’s liver values were elevated. So they put him on antibiotics. We got to learn the joy of giving a cat a pill and liquid medication. Thanks to pill pockets, the pill part wasn’t bad (the pills themselves were TINY and easy to hide).

The physical exam after the antibiotics ran out was fine, so we went back two weeks later (now early November) for follow-up bloodwork. (It was Friday the 13th. Read into that what you will.)

It was worse. This was the first time we heard the big “cancer” word dropped. Cue lots of emotions.

We got referred to a vet school for more tests that couldn’t be done at our local vet. Expensive tests. My cat ended up in the ICU for a few days as they tried different medications and IV fluids while waiting for the test results. Nothing conclusive, though the ultrasound showed a number of things we could be worried about. Of course, I worried about all of it.

The internal medicine specialist thought it could be inflammatory bowel disease–something that could be addressed with a change in diet–or it could be cancer. Only biopsies would confirm which. Since Thanksgiving approached and we had a lot to think about, we decided not to go for any biopsies until all the results came in. We put him on a new (and expensive) diet in case it was IBD and waited. In the meantime, we learned all the ways my cat wouldn’t take pills. (We opted for a two-person wrap-the-cat-in-a-towel-and-force-the-pill-down-his-throat method, followed by water. The “purrito” method for short. Except that’s wishful thinking because he so does not purr when we’re giving him medication.)

Yet again the results were inconclusive. Yet again only biopsies would give us a definitive result. (By this point I’d developed phone anxiety because every time it rang it was just more bad and/or inconclusive news.) So we opted for the surgery. Cue more bills. Cue more stress. Cue more anxiety.

Then the surgery got delayed, the teams got switched around, and a surgeon I’d never spoken to before called me and gave me the spiel of what they’d do–a spiel I’d already confirmed with my cat’s specialist AND had approved the cost estimate for–calling my cat a “she” the entire freaking conversation. And he said they might take out my cat’s spleen. WE NEVER TALKED ABOUT REMOVING HIS SPLEEN. HOW IS THIS RELEVANT. WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THIS UP NOW.

I didn’t know if they were operating on my cat. I didn’t know if the costs had changed between conversations (that surgeon heavily implied that the costs were going up, way up). I didn’t know if they’d have trouble in the operating room because apparently my cat’s clotting ability had weakened. You know, assuming the cat in question WAS IN FACT MY CAT.

I know he’s just a cat, but that afternoon was utterly wretched. The procedure was supposed to take an hour and a half, but we didn’t get a follow up call to know my cat was okay until eight hours later. Eight hours of “Hey, is my cat still alive? Did I just agree to spend all this money so you could operate on the wrong cat? Does he still have all his organs?”

Eventually we heard that he was okay and they’d gotten all the samples they’d needed and he hadn’t need a transfusion and okay I can sleep now.

We were supposed to get the results back within a few days, but it took a week. And we got the news. The bad, bad news. The news that came as a surprise to the internal medicine specialist and the students who’d been taking care of him and pretty much everyone else who’d looked at him and/or his test results thus far.

My cat has small cell lymphoma.

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