Google Something Clever 2.0: There's No Awareness Ribbon for Mastocytoma

Apr 2, 2013

There's No Awareness Ribbon for Mastocytoma

I have two daughters. They are not my biological daughters; they are adopted. That doesn’t matter. I’ve raised them since they were six weeks old. I’m the only mother they know. They don’t care that I don’t look like them. I feed them. I snuggle them. I take them to the doctor when they’re sick. Who cares if I don’t have a tail?

Oh, did I mention that they’re cats?

Yeah. And I do have a human son. And I still stand firm and say that my cats are my daughters. I don’t love them any less, and they are no less important than my human son. Maybe they’re even better, since they came potty-trained, and I can leave them alone for two or three days if we want to take a mini-vacation.

The point is, I love my cats more than most people will ever love a companion animal (don’t call them pets). And yet I failed to notice that one of them had cancer.

Back in 2011, I was patting Molly when I noticed a lump on her left side. It felt like a keloid scar. I figured that she’d been roughhousing with Chevelle, and it would clear up soon enough.  A couple of months later, at their annual vet appointment, I casually mentioned it. The vet said he wanted to aspirate it (suck some blood out with a needle to examine under a microscope).

A few minutes later, he returned with bad news. The lump that I’d been so casual about was actually a mast cell tumor. Molly had cancer. She would need to have the tumor excised, and it would be sent to a lab to see if it had spread to any other organs. I cried like a bitch. In front of her, in front of our vet, in front of my son, who was two and a half at the time.

I went home and Googled mast cell tumors. Don’t get me wrong; we have a great doctor who had told me a lot of information (that I barely heard and promptly forgot because I was hysterical). I learned that there are three grades of mast cell tumors:
Grade I: It’s cool; just remove it.
Grade II: It’s spreading; remove that shit!
Grade III: That shit’s gonna get all up in the spleen and whatnot. You’re fucked.

I was instructed to give her half a Benadryl for three days prior to her surgery. Have you ever tried to give a cat a pill? I’ll try to be as concise as possible: imagine me, a cat, a bath towel, a bunch of scratches and pink foam. Imagine me sobbing and screaming, “I’m trying to save your damned life! Just let me do this!” So, they cut out the tumor, leaving a wide margin, and then tested it to see what grade it was. Molly’s was Grade I. All is well.

Nine months later, we had a cookout. Our friend brought his 12-year-old son. He was patting Molly and noticed a lump on her shoulder. Awesome. Here’s the thing: this one felt like a pimple. Completely different from the tumor last year. But, better safe than sorry, right? So, back to the vet we go. And we were told that mast cell tumors can present in a variety of ways. They aspirate it. They come back and tell us it’s another tumor. Oh, and by the way, they discovered another lump on her forepaw. Hooray, another surgery.

This time, I tell them that there is no way she’s swallowing a pill. I ask them to train me to give her antihistamine injections. I know, that sounds bananas. But I swear, in her eight years, she has never even flinched when she gets a vaccine. I’m confident that I can do it. They say they can just inject her prior to surgery. Okay, so why the hell did I have to wrestle pills down her throat last time?

So we do the surgery. It turns out that the tumor on her shoulder was another Grade I . And the one on her forepaw was a pimple. Super, I just paid hundreds of dollars to remove a friggin’ pimple. Thanks for that. But at least my girl is okay.

Ten months later, AKA last week, my husband is patting her and finds a bump. I don’t even entertain the thought of it being anything other than cancer at this point. How messed up is that- I’m jaded when it comes to cancer? It was a Saturday, so I sigh and say that I’ll call the vet on Monday, and do we have a few hundred dollars to spare? He says yes.

The next day, Sunday, I give her a thorough check. I run over every inch of her skin with my fingernails. I found three more. She has three that feel like BBs, and one that feels like a keloid. This is important: Any type of lump or bump could be a mast cell tumor. They manifest in myriad ways.  Remember that.

Back to the vet. At this point, she doesn’t even fight me when I put her in the carrier. How sad is that? The doctor has this look on his face like he wants to seem optimistic for me… It’s not necessary. We’ve been through a lot together, these last almost-nine years. I know, he knows, and he knows that I know. He takes her in the back to aspirate her cells. They return. We have a winner.

But this time, there is hope! He notes that while some animals get one mast cell tumor and get over it, there are others whose tumors recur… But it’s usually ever two years or so. Molly is way too crazy for cancer, and that it not cool. Guess what. Right down the street, there is a veterinary school. And he thinks we should have a consultation with the oncologist, to see if there is something we can do to prevent more tumors… Because he has every reason to believe that she’s going to keep on keepin’ on. And shit, can’t nobody afford that.

So… yeah. My cat-daughter may be getting chemo soon. And that sucks.  But here’s the point of all this: If you have a mammal friend, be it a cat, dog, ferret, horse, pig, or what have you, please pay attention to their skin. You may find a lump or bump that you write off as a zit or a boo-boo… Please don’t. Please get it checked. We all love to post stupid shit on Facebook to “raise awareness” for illnesses everybody’s heard of, but nobody’s heard of mast cell tumors. And if you live with a mammal, you really need to know about this. Please spread the word. I’m not asking you to put a ribbon-magnet on your car, or divulge your bra color, or grow a moustache. Just, tell one friend. Please. If your animal companion has a lump or bump, it’s worth looking into. In fact, their life may very well depend on it.

Here’s a link to get your education on. Try to avoid the pictures.