Feline Cancer: Thomas’s Story
When a veterinarian diagnoses your cat or dog with cancer, you can go through a myriad of emotions, and the news can be downright devastating. We reached out to pet parent Adriana whose cat Thomas was recently diagnosed, and here’s her story.
“Thomas first came into our lives when he was about 3 months old in care of the Pasadena Humane Society, a small gray tabby tripping over paws too big for the rest of his body,” begins Adriana. “He had lost his mama to a car, and we had just lost our kitty Bowie to kidney failure and were in search of a companion for our other cat Davey, who missed his brother every bit as much as we did.”
“Thomas was the only boy in a litter of little sisters,” says Adriana. “My mom and brother spotted him lying down way in the back of his kennel at the Pasadena shelter. Even though he was only 3 months old, he was big for his age!” She continues, “From the story they tell me, Thomas was immediately cheerful and unafraid – and quite the little salesman. The first thing he did was climb up on my mom, giving her a surprise kiss on the lips with his little wet nose – which of course sealed the deal!” Thomas was adopted by her mom, and Adriana would soon meet this quirky, curious gray kitten.
“I remember when he first came home and my mom handed me the small [kennel] he was in. I opened it up to find a pint-sized gray kitten with glowing emerald eyes curiously staring up at me. I reached in to bring him out, and he was already purring!” Thomas had a little runny nose (he’d caught a cold at the shelter), but soon acclimated to his new surroundings with ease. “His first few moments have pretty much defined who he was, and would be: happy-go-lucky, confident, and hungry without end.”
Visiting the Vet
“Besides gaining weight, he’s remained the same – always friendly and sweet, and amusingly clumsy for a cat,” says Adriana. “Above all, Tommy had lived for many years without a problem; he’d always been healthy. Always, that is, until right before this past Christmas.”
Thomas had been 11 years old for six months when Adriana noticed that he had been biting at his left back paw for a while, and she assumed it was a hot spot. After googling the condition, she used a bitter spray on his paw, hoping it would deter him from chewing on it, “but of course it didn’t work.” They took him to the veterinarian, as it didn’t seem to be getting better, and it was assumed that Thomas had an allergy, possibly due to a fleabite. “They sent us home with some antibacterial spray to keep putting on the wound until it healed and a Benadryl-type chew to give him for about two weeks. It seemed strange – Thomas is an indoor cat – but we figured, the vet knows best.”
Two weeks passed and the wound was still not fully healing. “My gut started telling me this was not normal and perhaps something else was going on, despite what the vet had said,” says Adriana. When the pad on his paw started to physically grow, they took him into urgent care. “Even at that point, the ER vet seemed to think it might have been some type of fungal infection, but would need to run tests.”
They took Thomas back to his regular vet and Adriana’s brother gave explicit instructions that he wished for the vet to biopsy the paw. “The results we got back from the skin sample, we never saw coming. From what felt like one day to the next, our big happy cat went from being a carefree and healthy guy with what seemed to be an itch on his paw, to having a diagnosis of mast cell cancer that had already spread to the lymph nodes – and we were told that we could consider immediately starting him on palliative care.”
“Shocked does not begin to convey how my family felt, and neither does heart-broken,” says Adriana. “We were told that, apparently, mast cell cancer on the skin is common in dogs, but not as common in cats, and I wondered if perhaps this is why more than one trained expert had missed it?” Adriana and her family had to act quickly: “We were given referrals to a few different specialists for advice on whether anything at all could be done at that point. I called immediately and took Thomas to the place with the first available opening. I knew time was of the utmost essence, and so much of it had already been lost.”
Thomas underwent a complicated recovery process as soon as he was able to: surgery to remove the growth, a complex recovery, a failed attempt at chemotherapy, unforeseen complications and ER stays, and additional specialist visits. “Needless to say, all of it was done with the best intentions and in the hope of helping Tommy to hold onto a life we knew he loved,” continues Adriana. “At one point though, it really seemed like it was time to let go, and so we prepared ourselves for that. But it was Thomas who decided, no – not yet! In another episode of the unforeseen, he slowly started to get better and better each day after a particularly difficult hospitalization. I was in disbelief – but he did.”
Cost of Treatment
The veterinary care did not come inexpensively, though. Adriana was not so much shocked, but describes the bills as astronomical, and having pet health insurance has been extremely beneficial for her finances. “The invoice for his initial diagnostics through his oncology specialist, for example, was for a total of $2,219 and Healthy Paws reimbursed $1,853. The invoice totals for his initial surgery were $7,445 and Healthy Paws reimbursed $6,700. Doing the math, overall, I’d say the bills for Thomas’s care have been roughly $21,000 including tests, surgery, ER visits, medications, specialist visits, etc. I’ve been reimbursed about $18,500 – which to me is absolutely amazing and more than I ever imagined.”
Now, seven months and many trials later, Thomas is back to his old self, chasing his brother Davey around and out of all the best napping spots in the house whenever he sees fit, and of course unashamedly demanding food. “He gets herbal supplements and medication every single day, which he’s not happy about, but he handles it well and then goes about the rest of his errands,” says Adriana. “My brother used to call him a little MMA fighter, partly because he loves to grapple and partly because he’s always been such a tough little guy. At this point, I’d have to say I think the comparison is pretty spot-on.”
Kitties can get sick or injured whether they are kept indoors or roam outside. Knowing and recognizing the symptoms of common injuries and illnesses helps to prepare a pet parent, and signing up to protect your pet with pet health insurance is one of the best things you can do (both for your pet and for your wallet!). Start by getting a free quote today.
If you are a Healthy Paws pet parent with a recovery story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Send your pet’s story along with photos of your four-legged family member to firstname.lastname@example.org