When Your Furbaby is Diagnosed with Cancer
What comes next?
If you asked me what my highest priorities were on Tuesday, April 13th, I would have told you that I wanted to lean into artistic self-expression while paying down my college debt at a good clip. My dream was to write middle-grade fiction in fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genres, then illustrate the chapters. I had big plans for a witchy cat picture book, too.
On Wednesdays, I would log into a zoom-based figure painting session for three hours each week. Studying the human form not only helps me to reach my personal artistic goals, but the practice makes me faster, more accurate, efficient.
But Wednesday, March 14th, was different. On that Wednesday, my typically cheerful and food-loving kitty cat wouldn’t eat more than a single bite of food. Wednesday was an emergency. She’s just a cat; some may say, not a human child. Well, that isn’t how love works.
This tiny tabby was never anything but sweet, gentle (and a little shy). Even if she had decided to tear through her eight years on Earth as a naughty little muffin, I would have loved her. When I saw her moon-shaped eyes staring out of the kennel on the corner of Larchmont Blvd. in August of 2013, I knew she was to be my baby kitty.
True, she spent the first few nights after adoption hiding under furniture, refusing to eat or drink until the lights went out and the scary human creature appeared to be unconscious. She swung back and forth like Tarzan, clinging to my lace dress, the curtains, and anything else she could climb. Brina thought I couldn’t see her tiny kitten body laying waste to my material belongings. Until I brought home a little brother to coax her out of her shell, she barely tolerated my presence. All of this changed with time, as her (very affectionate and clingy) adopted kitten brother (and I) proved our trustworthiness.
Our tabby Brina saved my life, too. Leaving home to chase a dream is hard on anyone. Los Angeles, in particular, can be a welcoming, fruitful town and a brutal, unforgiving journey all at once. Regaling the stark ups and downs of my time in LA is another essay altogether, so let’s stick to what matters. I had tiny feline mouths to feed. I couldn’t in good conscience check out, rehome them, or give up. At the bare minimum, they were innocent creatures who didn’t ask for the hand they were dealt, and I had promised to keep them safe. But both kitties were also there for me through everything. If I began to cry, I’d soon be under a kitty cuddle pile. Nothing beats coming home to sparkling eyes, excited to see you.
About three and a half years ago, I began a relationship with a kind-hearted man possessing a similar career drive and passion for personal projects. My tabby was suspicious as always, preferring to view him from behind furniture, eyes wider than Texas until he too proved his trustworthiness.
Now that the four of us share a home, I often joke that our tabby loves my partner most. They share a bond and speak each other’s language.
It was my partner who took her increasingly common vomiting issue the most seriously. Of course, I was concerned, but she’d always had a bit of pica. Suddenly, the tabby who adored a good snack (even one made of a random spider or lord knows what else) didn’t want a single bite of food. I am telling you this little darling would wail before dinner, even if she had grazed all day. Though never quite overweight, at almost 11 lbs on a tiny frame, I was cautioned that she might need a diet plan in the future. But on Wednesday the 14th, she was barely 8 lbs and seemingly smaller by the minute. Off to urgent care we went.
We should have gone directly to the hospital. Again, I thought our tabby had eaten something she should not have. A bit of blanket fringe. A toy. Who knows. The urgent care took X-rays. They recommended an overnight stay at a pet hospital and MRI. After the MRI, I was already an entire paycheck deep. But we needed to know.
Our poor tabby had an obstruction and a tummy full of fluid. She couldn’t go on like this. She was on an IV.
The hospital recommended surgery. The surgery estimate had the potential to eclipse what I still owed for undergrad. There was no way I’d be replacing my twelve-year-old car should it break down. The whole situation seemed unreasonable. Not practical. Not smart. When does one draw the line on saving a pet? She’s just a cat, some would say.
But she is my little girl baby, too. And I have a good job, and I have a supportive partner and a loving family back home. When faced with a choice between what capitalism hails as holy (cold hard cash), and the life of a 7.89 lb ailing tabby cat, a grown woman will discover what she values in minutes.
However, I didn’t build wealth in my twenties. Due to the 2008 recession and various other life circumstances, I have never enjoyed an enormous cushion. I was barely making ends meet until I moved to California and began to turn the ship around. The economy is different here.
Would it be selfish for me to take on a financial risk like this, assuming I’d have support if I crashed and burned? Was that a tax on my loved ones? Would this surgery even save our tabby? If we remove the obstruction, but she has cancer, would she even make it another year? Would she be happy?
I have a good job. That made the difference. That is what is so unfair about American life. Not everyone gets a fair shot. Not everyone can prioritize a pet. I recognize my privilege. I thought of how frightened and hurt our sweet, shy tabby was, and I decided to go forward. Her life is precious too, and I could work extra hours on nights and weekends. Friends soon offered support, which honestly floored me.
Unfortunately, partway into surgery, we got a call regarding complications. The obstruction was dangerously close to tabby’s pancreas. Blood supply to the organ may be lost. If that should happen, her chances were slim. She may not make it through surgery, and if she did, she might not survive the recovery.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we conducted all discussions of literal life or death over the phone. Do we proceed with high risk, or do we choose to let her pass? In as kind a tone as possible, the hospital veterinarian offered to administer euthanasia. At not another time in my personal history did I cry harder than this moment. How could I possibly make a choice, while miles away from her, to end my tabby’s short life when there was a chance?
Thankful for the veterinarian’s patience but not clear-headed enough to think correctly, I had her reexplain the diagnosis to my partner — tabby’s BFF. After we were both completely aware of the circumstances, it was still up to me to choose.
There was a chance our tabby could make it. I took it.
Was that choice for her benefit or mine? Likely both. Either way, Our tabby had a better surgery than anyone could have hoped. She did not lose any blood to the pancreas or even any part of her pancreas. Forty-eight hours later, she was a bit grumpy and attempted to remove her nasogastric tube. That is her nature, so the future felt brighter.
The following 3–5 days were crucial. We were warned that Brina may not heal properly and could become septic if she jumped about and tore something internally. Two weeks of crate rest was prescribed. We are enjoying day nineteen post-surgery with her now.
Brina’s staples were removed on Thursday, the 29th. She has been able to walk around and explore with supervision. Mostly, she wants to lay on the sofa and snuggle.
But unfortunately, our worst fear was confirmed. Brina was officially diagnosed with cancer. Though she had regained much of her energy and appetite, she has thrown up three meals since Wednesday the 28th. For now, all we can do is make her feel as loved and comfy as possible until we meet with the oncology department to discuss our options.
That is what I have been up to for the last month.
Rather than writing every morning, I’ve been makin’ donuts. And sushi, some fruit, a couple of gems, tulips, game elements, and hopefully a full array of other helpful assets. My new goal is to raise enough funds to cover Brina’s treatment by offering a complete portfolio of ready-to-use 2D assets. Also, I’ll be recording and streaming the entire process on YouTube and Twitch, set up with a Ko-fi page for Brina.
One way or another, I’ll scrounge up the extra funds for chemotherapy and the surgery debt. If only money solved everything.
Brina is an affectionate, adorable creature without a mean bone in her tiny frame. She deserves the best care and all of the love we can give. We’re trying our best and appreciate the time we have with her. You never have as much time as you think. Cherish it.