Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tripawed Adventures: Asuka's Life Before Amputation

So I'm starting a little segment in my blog today, called "Tripawed Adventures." This began as a blog for moving to Alaska, and then morphed into a blog about my budding writing career this year. Now I want to add another part to it, as this is something that might help others going through similar problems.

I've had animals all my life. Mainly cats and dogs, but also birds, rats, and hamsters. While I love all animals, I admit cats are pretty close to my heart. I managed to turn my husband into a cat person as well. :)

I've probably mentioned this story on this blog before, but I'll repeat it here for background in case you're just joining me. Asuka is a small cat, a beautiful mixture of tabby and torti with white tummy, dainty white paws, and white chest. He eyes are the most gorgeous blue green on some days, golden green on others. She's not much of a player, and she doesn't always get along well with other animals, but I know she loves Dusty, our second cat, thought she spends most of the time smacking him away.

Asuka and Dusty both adopted us. One day my mother-in-law came up and asked me if I knew the cat sitting on the back porch railing. I looked out the window and saw this cute little kitty sitting there, facing away from me and staring off into the distance. I opened the door, expecting her to bolt. Her head snapped around and her limbs locked as though she were going to, but then she looked me in the eye and mewed.

I picked her up and carried her into the house. She sat on my lap for an hour. When we took her to the vet to be fixed, she was so small, the vet said she was probably about four months old. Now, she's around eight or nine years.

Asuka was a stand-offish kitty (at least with me) for the first few years. She'd sit in everyone else's lap but mine. but she loved being petted. When we moved out of the in-laws house and got our own apartment, she got friendlier. By the time we moved to Alaska, she took every opportunity to sit in my lap, and even started sleeping on me at night.

She's had a couple of issues. I discovered a lump in her neck at one point, I think the same year she adopted us. But it never grew, never bothered her, so we didn't worry about it.

Asuka also went through a period where she peed on the bed. Once she even peed on my husband while he was in bed. We have to keep a space blanket or tarp on the bed every day, because Dusty decided he wanted to do the same thing she was doing. It's been a while since they've done it, but you never know.

We refer to Asuka as the bulimic kitty as well. She would throw up several times a week, usually after eating. We feed them Purina One Urinary Tract Health dry cat food because of Dusty's mucus plug problem. But even when we changed foods for a while, she still threw up on a regular basis.

But she wasn't skinny, or malnourished, or listless. She's always been a healthy little girl who occasionally ran around the loft with Dusty hot on her tail.

A couple of months ago, the lump in her neck suddenly blew up. It got so big, you could see it under her fur without feeling for it. It seemed to spread out over her shoulder. So we decided it was time for the vet.

We don't take our animals to the vet unless there is a problem. I know there is much debate about this. I come from a family where our animals had jobs (like guard dog, mouse catcher) and we enjoyed their company.

My husband and I are a little different now. We've got a decent income, and no kids. I look at my pets as my four legged children. So when this lump got huge, I took her in.

After consulting with the vet, we decided instead of doing a biopsy, we would have him remove the whole lump if possible and send it in for testing. The theory was that even if it was benign, it had grown pretty quickly and hadn't stopped, so it might cause further problems later.

Asuka responded well to the surgery and came home with a trail of staples along her neck and shoulder. One thing I want to point out is that through this whole process, she never once behaved differently or like something was wrong with her. Like the vet said, "Other than this lump, she's the picture of health."

The day after Christmas, we got the news: Chondrosarcoma, cancer of the cartilage and bone. The vet told me straight up that Asuka's best chance for survival was to remove the affected leg. Because he'd removed the tumor, he was able to see how it progressed and how it seemed limited to the leg and shoulder, not the chest. He thought her chances were good with amputation, as long as we acted quickly. I went ahead and scheduled a new appointment in two days to do so.

I didn't want to just go with the Doc's opinion, of course. Having spent so many years in college, I needed to research it all myself. I read everything I could find on the subject of cats and cancer on the internet, particularly chondrosarcoma. The idea of removing Asuka's leg when she otherwise seemed so healthy felt outrageous to my mind. But as I read through the articles and research journals, I saw that this type of cancer often went without any other symptoms except some lameness (which she didn't have) and lumps (which she did.) When I asked the vet how long he thought she'd have if we didn't do anything, he sighed and said, "A few months."

The more I read, the more I understood the situation. Yes, it seemed drastic now, but if we waited until she started showing things more outwardly, it would probably be too late to stop the cancer from spreading. And while it wasn't a 100 percent guarantee that the cancer wouldn't come back, at least her chances of living a long and healthy life would be better.

I also read about a product called ES Clear, a supportive supplement for cats with cancer, recommended to me by a good friend who swears by a dog supplement of the company's. I showed it to the vet, who had not heard of it, warned me about how some products come out, get a bunch of money, and then disappear because they weren't really any good. But he also said that some are worth their salt, like one called Rescue Remedy (I think). He looked at the ingredients and said he's prescribed some types of herbs to animals for certain problems, so while he couldn't really say anything about this one, it could be worth a try.

I'll write more on ES Clear when we get it and start using it.

Anyway, that's the general background of our history with Asuka, leading up to her diagnosis of Chondrosarcoma and our foray into the world of the Tripawed. I'll continue in the next post about her first 24 hours after surgery.

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