Our Cat Has Pancreatic Cancer and Three Months to Live #NaBloPoMo

Emberly came to live with us in late September 2015. He had been living on the streets near a friend’s home in Brighton Heights. My original thought was that we would take him to the shelter when it was open, but a night in our bathroom was better than another night on the streets. Then he and Ledcat made eye contact and it was all over.

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To be accurate, at the time we were told Emberly was a female about five years of age. We only learned that he was an 11 year old neutered cat the following July.

Anyway, it has been a traumatic year for Emberly. We learned that he was declawed right away and that presented an issue for his integration with our other cats. Our Siamese did not take a shine to Emberly so they have to be rotated in and out of the common areas. We thought he had cancerous tumors in his eyes which turned out not to be cancerous. He did have a thyroid condition that’s been tough to manage. He was flea ridden which took a toll on his health (and brought fleas to the other pets.) He bit us a lot because of the lack of claws and lack of trust.

But he’s a sweet baby. He’s affectionate and loving. He likes to steal food from our plates. He has mostly stopped biting. He gets along with the other critters well enough (except Coco.)

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He’s gained 2 pounds since we took him in, consistently putting on a few ounces every week. His fleas are long gone. But he’s a sickly little thing. He has a recurring UTI that puzzles all of the vets so he has to get an antibiotic injection every two weeks. He has a problem with a tooth and a potential abscess in his mouth. And the thyroid issue. He’s been to the vet at least once a month or more since he arrived. He’s actually been seen by 7 different veterinarians.

And, after all, he does have cancer. Pancreatic cancer, a tumor that has grown in the point where his pancreas meets his kidneys, liver and stomach. The tumor was discovered by imaging for something else – he’s not experiencing any active symptoms.

We’ve met with an oncologist and a surgeon, but the reality is that there is no viable treatment for him. Surgery has single digit likelihood of being able to remove the tumor because of its location. Radiation is not realistic and chemotherapy would just be a temporary way to fend it off with too many side effects to be worthwhile for his quality of life.

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We’ve been down the pet cancer road before. Our tabby cat, Tabby, had two rounds of breast cancer both of which she survived, dying of old age several years later. Our dog, Mona, had lymphoma which responded decently to chemotherapy for a year until it didn’t and we had to put her to sleep. And our dog, Xander, has a cancerous skin growth that was successfully removed without further problems until he also died from something else.

We always had something to do in the past, a procedure or treatment with a relativly good chance of success.

Emberly doesn’t have those options. The surgeons estimated he has 1-3 months to live before the tumor grows to the point of compromising his liver and pancreas functions. So we stick with our plan of visiting the vet every 2 weeks for an antibiotic shot to ward off that UTI and get a little check-up on his quality of life indicators. Is he eating? Social? Experiencing vomiting? Yellow tinge to his eyes?

We make sure he has rest and plenty of canned cat food. We let him sleep on the sofa every afternoon with access to the window so he can observe the world. We do the best that we can to ensure that his final chapter is a good one and when his time comes, he will go peacefully without fear or pain or terror.

Sometimes, cats surprise you. Our Boris is 20 years old, 21 in April, and he’s a tough little guy. His kidneys had almost shut down and we were on day to day monitoring last winter when he turned a corner and rallied. He’s now medication free and basically a tough little fossil who keeps amazing the vet by gaining weight at age 20. His life is about sleeping, eating and pooping regularly every other day in the living room litter box. And lap time upon demand.

Emberly caught us off guard. We weren’t looking for a cat. We would have chosen a younger cat to avoid just this sort of scenario. But we were fortunate enough that he disregarded our preferences and stumbled his cute little self into our lives. We can’t really afford all of this, but we make it work by giving up other things in our budget. The opportunity to take care of a poor little guy who had it rough has a lot of payoff for the caretakers.

Sometimes when I struggle with the self-talk about being disabled at 46, I think about the reality that my being home during the day has been a significant factor in keeping all of these animals alive and healthy. I can medicate, feed, scoop, comfort, monitor, transport to vet appointments and basically keep everyone company all week long.

Right now, Emberly is sacked out on top of the bathroom hamper after eating his dinner. He’s snoring softly and turned with his belly sort of up in the air as if he’s … content?

What more can you ask for?

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