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Maceo Cat's Cancer Journey

Sep 21

Last night, Maceo came up from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed to snuggle with us at around 1 am, the way he likes to do.

He cuddled into the crook of my right arm and plopped down to sleep.

As he began snoring (he is a big snorer), his upper body started trembling and twitching. It was especially on the side of his amputation, where his left arm used to be.

The tremors were so strong that it actually kept me awake for some time. But, it didn’t seem to wake Maceo up at all! Nor did he seem to be in pain.

Later, I researched this and found that post-amputation tremors is a thing, and it’s maybe even a common after effect of the trauma.

I was surprised that the doctors and surgeon hadn’t mentioned it! But I guess it’s not a big deal if he clearly isn’t in pain.

Has anyone else had a similar experience with post-amputation tremors, twitching, or trembling?

Sep 19

Two weeks post-op

Posted in After Surgery           3 Comments »

Well, the days just fly by! Maceo is now two weeks and three days post-op, and could not be doing better.

He is so much happier without his tumor; it really doesn’t seem to matter if he has the arm or not. He clearly doesn’t feel “disabled” in any way, as evidenced by his territorial chasing of our neighbor’s cat (luckily for the neighbor cat, Maceo was on a leash at the time!!), professional-grade eating, and various jumps and runs throughout the house.

He is a happy, purry guy and has not been on any pain meds since he got his staples out on Tuesday 9/12/17. He had been tapering the meds sharply before that,  and we even forgot to administer them on two occasions. Didn’t seem to affect him at all.

He’s now a free cat! Well, still on his mushroom protocol, but he’s more or less used to that by now.

His fur is showing some early signs of growth, but the area still looks pretty bare right now. We’ve let him run free, even though he’s so adorable with the tripawd t-shirts!

We are SO SO happy we opted for the route of treatment. He is happy and enjoying great quality of life. That’s what counts!

The surgeon even confirmed that he believes (and the lab tests show) that he got “margins,” albeit in some places only a few millimeters around the tumor (rather than the customary 5 cm!).

So, we are happy as can be and have been able to relax for the first time in 6+ weeks (since the cancer was discovered).

Definitely keeping up with the supplements, however.

Here are some pictures of our strong guy!



Aug 31

5 Hours Post Op

Posted in After Surgery           1 Comment »

Today was Maceo’s big day! We were SO NERVOUS leading up to the surgery, and especially in those hours of the actual operation.

Our operation got delayed by about 4 or 6 hours because the clinic had a miscommunication with the surgeon, who I guess is a rockstar surgeon and was performing a surgery in Nevada in the morning! (We live in San Francisco).

Eventually, all things came to pass and Maceo went in at about 3 pm. At 5:30 pm I started to get really, really nervous because we still hadn’t received a call saying everything went ok.

Finally, after 6, the clinic called us and said Maceo was in recovery! What a relief, but we were still scared to hear how things went.

Dr. Farese, the surgeon, called us after that and shared a bunch of technical details about the surgery. I’m not an expert, but it sounds like it went relatively well — though he did confirm that it was a very long procedure due to the size and placement of the tumor.

I was so relieved, I could barely pay attention to the details!

It was one of those crazy heat wave days in San Francisco and everything was a little out of whack. Lots of ambulance sirens throughout the city, 90 plus degrees at 9 pm. We were scheduled to give our other kitty Charlie, some doxycycline for his ongoing puffy paw issue, and then to follow it with a squirt of water to wash down the medicine.

Unfortunately, the harmless squirt of water didn’t go down the right tube. Charlie started coughing and choking, and it didn’t subside after half an hour. We decided to take him to emergency — at the same clinic — because it could cause aspiration pneumonia, and anyway we have insurance for Charlie 🙂

So, that’s how we got in a visit at 5 hours post-op! We took Charlie in and then they brought out Maceo to say hello, all hooked up to his drugs on an IV.

He was high as a kite and even tried to jump off the table. He was cutely bandaged but definitely in a loopy morphine state. Still, he recognized us and that seemed to trigger a burst of activity — too much activity! So he went back to his kennel a short few minutes later.

Here are some photos, 5 hours post-op:

Jul 19

Wednesday 7/19/17

Today was Maceo’s big First Day of Radiation! Jose and I got up extra early to go to yoga at 5, back by 7:30 am, for an 8:30 departure for UC Davis.

Maceo did even better than usual in the car (maybe he knew it was his Big Day?), and set a shining example for poor kitten Charlie, who threw up viciously after getting car sick at the very beginning of the ride.

It’s only an hour and 20 minutes by car, but that can seem like forever to a little kitty!

When we arrived at Davis, we waited for a couple of hours before they took him in.

This was fine by us, as the waiting is always pretty peaceful there and they have good wifi (plus I broke the rules and gave Maceo a small snack at 4 am — they’re supposed to fast from midnight on. Long story short, it was fine.). As in previous visits, I was able to be very productive while there and even had a good team video call and sent an important email campaign!

Charlie had to wait with us too, and he seemed more traumatized than Maceo. I sure hope he never gets cancer, because he would make a terrible patient.

In the waiting area, we chatted with another kitty parent who was bringing her cat for her 11th radiation treatment (also out of 20, also for a fibrosarcoma). That kitty looked tired to the bone, and yet it was comforting to hear from another person going through a similar situation. Her kitty had totally clean scans, though, whereas Maceo has not just one by two little nodules in his lungs. Call us crazy, but we aren’t condemning him yet for those two nodules. No one knows for sure what they are, and many animals (and humans!) have all sorts of random growths inside them.

At 12:30, the radiation oncologist took him away to get started. At 2:30, a mere two hours later, we got the call that he did great and was ready to be picked up. Fast! We were told he could be there all day on his first day, so we were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t even get to have lunch before it was time to go get him again.

When we picked him up, he was one mad cat. The nurse told us that he was pretty angry at them, for whatever reason, but they had been able to give him about half of his food that I packed for his “wakeup” moments (apparently, they are hungry right after anesthesia because the drugs whet their appetite).

He has a wrapped catheter in his right wrist so that they don’t have to poke him every day (they can just unwrap his catheter to administer anesthetic drugs), and he has to wear an e-collar to prevent him from fiddling with the catheter. It’s so interesting that animals have to go to so much trouble for something like radiation treatment — which doesn’t hurt at all — simply because they don’t understand what’s happening and they can’t / won’t sit still enough for the treatment. Anyway, anesthesia, catheter, e-collar… it’s all just to get him to stay still!

During the 10 minute car ride back to our hotel, he wasn’t quite as calm as during our morning ride in to Davis. This time, he meowed angrily the whole way. Pretty stressful, and made the 10 minutes feel like half an hour.

Once we arrived in the hotel room, though, he became a different cat. His tail perked up, and he immediately went about investigating the entire room — every nook, cranny, and door. This was a complete 180 from the kitten Charlie’s reaction; upon entering the room, Charlie immediately ran under the bed and stayed there, so upset was he.

Maceo explored the room thoroughly, and then decided he wanted to explore the rest of the hotel. He told me this by standing by the door (which he knew led to something more) and looking at me expectantly. So we harnessed up, and took him on a brisk leash walk up and down the hallway of the hotel, and even outside by the walkway to the pool.

When he came back in, he was ready to eat! He ate well today, and it was a full supplement bonanza. Much better mood and appetite than at home.

We kept remarking that he seems much more cheerful, alert and engaged when he’s in these strange new situations — even clinical ones! This is completely opposite of what most cats are “supposed” to act like in new situations. At first, I thought it was maybe his way of showing stress. But… he does not seem stressed. He simply seems bossy, interested, and very curious. Good for him.

In the evening, he got lots of special treats, including a fresh catnip plant that he promptly proceeded to gobble down, a catnip worm, and some new baby food (for his daily supplement fest).

It’s almost 9 pm and he’s still not sleeping! If this were a regular day at home, he’d be pretty disengaged by now. But here, he is still poking around the room, eyes big and bright.

Well, that was Day 1 of 20… we are staying positive, but realistic that not all days will be this easy. Still, we’re hoping for the best and doing all we can to keep him strong.

With that, here’s his intake for the day.

Total supplement intake:

  • 2000/2000 mg Turkey Tail mushroom, 4 total pills
  • 2/2 pills Stamets 7 mushroom blend
  • 0/600 mg IP6 with Inositol (0 total pills) — didn’t bring this with us
  • 2/2.5 scoops Transfer Factor Feline
  • 1 pill (200 mg) Transfer Factor for humans
  • 0/2 tea pills of Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (bupleurum)
  • 7 drops of CBD oil

Total food intake:

  • 1/2 blocks of Primal Chicken & Salmon (46 cals per block) — 46 cal
  • .5 blocks of Primal Venison (40 cals per block) — 20 cal
  • 0 cup Origen kibble — 0 cal
  • 0 cup homemade chicken bone broth — 0 cal
  • 0 tablespoon of raw pureed chicken liver — 0 cal
  • 1 jar Gerber turkey baby food — 80 cal
  • 3/4 can Wellness grain free cat food in turkey and salmon flavor (166 cal per 5.5 oz can) — 125 cal
  • Some treats

Total Calories: 271

Jul 10

Monday 7/10/17

Today was Maceo’s big day at UC Davis… his long-awaited consultation with their oncology department! We were fortunate to be able to pull in Dr. Michael Kent, who’s the radiation oncologist there, as well thanks to some string-pulling on the part of the kind surgical oncologist we spoke to last week here in San Francisco (normally that might be a separate appointment).

Well, it was a hot day out in Davis — about 100 degrees and we didn’t realize our A/C was on the Prius’ “eco” setting, thus rendering it totally useless against the blazing sun. Poor Maceo started meowing as soon as we got out of the cool foggy Bay Area and the car started heating up. His little paws were sweating, and they were hot just like him. Poor guy! He meowed not just because of the car ride, but also (or mainly?) because of the heat. When we finally fixed the A/C, he seemed to do better, but by then he was already at the end of a long day and pretty exhausted and fed up.

We left for the appointment at 11 am to arrive by 1 pm, since Davis isn’t terribly close to San Francisco. So, we were still able to have a pretty normal morning, with a morning walk, a supplement snack, and a full breakfast.

As soon as we got home, Maceo headed straight for the first food bowl he could see (Charlie’s, that we had to leave out in the morning as we were hurrying out of the house). So, it’s great that he was hungry, but after eating, he limped quite a bit and had no desire to go out for a walk. He’s typically always up for a walk, so this was concerning to me.

Tomorrow, the holistic vet is coming and promised to bring some pain meds (she’s a regular vet too!), so hopefully that will help tide him over till further treatment on the tumor.

The UC Davis Appointment

Totally contrary to the horror stories we read online, our experience at UC Davis was positive — aside from the long wait times. The staff were professional and nice, and clearly loved animals very, very much. Maybe more than any other veterinary staff we’ve encountered in our dozens of visits so far!

The oncologists at Davis seemed more empowered with knowledge and tools than any other oncologists we’ve seen so far (that’s four total besides the two we saw at Davis), and that’s probably because they’re at a world-class facility where they can actually do stuff, instead of just refer people to Davis.

They were pessimistic, or realistic, depending on how you look at things. They emphasized their concern about the nodule that was found on Maceo’s lung, and said that if it represented metastasis, then treating the primary fibrosarcoma via radiation and surgery could delay (palliative) treatment of the lung nodule using chemotherapy, with disastrous consequences for Maceo.

After much talking, and much more waiting (we waited about two hours total, separate from our actual appointment time), I basically bulldozed my way to a definitive radiation treatment for Maceo. When you are someone’s mom, you must be the last person to lose hope, and you have to be so strong in that.

I understand the doctors have a duty to tell me the median outcome, and to make sure I fully understand the risks of what we’re getting into. They don’t want another nasty Yelp review saying they don’t care and are just after the money, or that they “promised” a cure, but the animal died anyway. I understand them needing to be protective and conservative — even pessimistic — after the intense negative attention that’s come their way over the past couple of years. So that’s fine… but that doesn’t lessen my conviction or my belief in my strong Maceo.

(In the same conversation, the radiation oncologist told us about his own dog who had two nodules in the lung that they were sure were metastatic cancerous growths after another tumor appeared in the spleen. They operated on the spleen, found it to be benign, and did nothing about the lung nodules. When he died 5 years later, they autopsied him and the nodules were nowhere to be found. So, as that doctor said, we don’t want to “condemn him for the results of one test.”)

Anyway, there’s so much more to say, but in short we decided on the following action plan (again, bulldozing!):

  • CT scan on Wednesday July 12 to prepare for IMRT radiation treatment
  • They will also try to needle aspirate the lung nodule one more time from a different angle to see if they can get some of its cells and see if it is indeed metastasis)
  • If not, they’ll begin radiation on Monday July 17.
  • Radiation is 20 treatments, 5 times a week for 4 total weeks. My husband and I would temporarily move up to Davis so we could be with him daily.
  • If it IS metastasis…. well, I don’t know right now. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
  • They probably can’t do chemo and radiation at the same time (the medical oncologist’s chemo drug of choice, doxyrubicin, doesn’t play well with radiation), so we really have to pick just one route at a time.

Long car ride home through traffic and 5 o clock heat, then home to rest. I took the day off work today, so tomorrow will be busy.

I’m extremely nervous about Wednesday and what tests will show. I have a lot of faith and show strength for my baby, but I also feel worried inside.

Here’s his intake today.

Total supplement intake:

  • 1500 mg Turkey Tail mushroom
  • 700 mg IP6 with Inositol
  • 4 scoops Transfer Factor
  • 2 tea pills of Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (bupleurum)

Total food intake:

  • 3 blocks of Primal Chicken & Salmon (46 cals per block) — 138 cal
  • 1/8 cup Origen kibble — 50 cal
  • 1/4 cup homemade chicken bone broth — 20 cal
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of raw pureed chicken liver — 10 cal
  • 1 jar Gerber all chicken baby food — 100 cal
  • Some treats

Total Calories: 318