One of my favorite things about fiber work is how you can always find something to work on that fits your current circumstances. Have lots of time and mental space? You can learn a new craft or take on a complicated project like colorwork or complex lace. Just need something mindless? You can crank out some stockinette or granny stitch or plain weave scarves. On the go? You can bring along a small project that can easily be put down if needed, like socks or dishcloths.
My current purse project is crochet dishcloths. I like how easy it is to put crochet down. You don’t have to worry about dropping stitches, so you don’t need to carefully secure anything. If I’m on the monorail from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom, waiting for food at a restaurant, waiting in a doctor’s office, I can work a few stitches and when we arrive at our destination, the food comes to the table, or the doctor enters the room, I can toss the project back into my pocket or purse with no fuss.
Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in the waiting room of veterinarians’ offices. It all started back in December 2014, when my sister, in Florida for Christmas, first noticed that Tiger’s lip was red and slightly swollen on one side. I brought him to the vet in January 2015. They didn’t think it was anything terrible. “Change him from a plastic bowl to aluminum,” they said. “Sometimes cats react to plastic.”
We changed the bowls. The swelling seemed worse. In July, we brought him for his regular semi-annual appointment and pointed it out to the vet again. “He’s probably allergic to something,” they said. We went through a course of steroids, one pill a day. It didn’t seem to help. We tried two pills a day and he got very aggressive, so I stopped the pills and brought him to the vet. We tried every other day. No change.
So we did allergy testing. It turned out he’s allergic to corn, an ingredient in almost all cat foods. We found food that doesn’t contain corn and switched to that. The swelling was still there.
We tried another course of steroids, thinking that perhaps the problem was one of his other allergies (a variety of environmental things like molds and pollen). No change. By now it was December 2015. It had been a year of trying things. “Is there anything else we can do?” I asked. The vet recommended a biopsy, which would tell us what was causing his allergic reaction. So in January, a few days after getting back from Stacy’s wedding in Indiana, we brought him to our vet for the biopsy.
A week later, the results came in: Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor. Cancer. The vet was surprised; he’s practiced for many years and never seen this type of tumor present in this fashion. We’re lucky it is a low grade tumor and hasn’t grown much over the last year. Our regular vet referred us to the oncology department at the regional specialty vet, which fortunately is not far from our home.
We met with the oncologist. We weren’t sure if surgery would be an option, given the location of the tumor right on the front of his face, but one of the surgeons thought that the tumor was small enough that we did have a surgical option.
The oncologist and the surgeon both told us that after the surgery, Tiger would probably have to have radiation therapy. Radiation therapy would kill any microscopic cancer cells remaining after the surgery. When they do surgery, they take healthy tissue around the tumor, because the surgeon can’t see microscopic cancer cells. The theory is that taking tissues that appear to be healthy will make sure all the cancer is gone. The surgeon likes to get a least 1 cm of healthy tissue around the tumor. However, because of the location of this particular tumor, taking that much healthy tissue would mean Tiger would be disfigured. His gum would be exposed, which could cause it to dry out and that would be a problem. It was unlikely that the surgeon would be able to get a sufficient margin, and she might not be able to get all of the tumor.
A week after surgery, the pathology report came back. The surgeon got a minimum 5 mm margin, much better than she expected. With that much margin, waiting to see what would happen — if the tumor would grow back — was an option. So was radiation therapy. “If I’d gotten 3 more mm, I would tell you that Tiger does not need radiation therapy,” the surgeon said. “As it is, waiting is an option and so is radiation. None of us has a crystal ball; we don’t know what will happen. The cancer could be gone forever. It could come back in a month. Or in 5 years. It’s up to you what you want to do.”
We met with the oncologist again, so we could learn about the course of treatment. It’s 18-20 treatments, every weekday for 4 weeks. He must be under anesthesia for each treatment, but it’s a twilight level, not all the way under. He’ll lose the hair in the area of the radiation, but not over his whole body. His face will be shaved in the area of the treatment, even before the hair falls out. When the hair grows back in, it will grow back white. We’ll have to be careful every time he has his teeth cleaned for the rest of his life. He might lose his appetite, and might have to have appetite stimulants or even a feeding tube. He’ll probably require pain meds. He will develop the equivalent of a very bad sunburn in the area of the treatment.
We went home and agonized for several hours. It’s hard to imagine putting the cat through the treatment. But it’s also hard to swallow doing less than everything we could for him. You see, we love all of our cats and would do the best for them that we possibly could. But there’s no question that Tiger is our favorite. This is a cat just oozing in personality:
He’s the cuddliest cat I’ve ever met. If you aren’t paying attention to him, he’ll be sure to let you know when he needs some love.
He’s such a photogenic cat. Partially because he’s so pretty:
But also because he is so patient. This is why he often models my finished objects!
But most importantly, Tiger and Chris are bosom buddies. Tiger picked Chris as his person. Every day, when Chris comes home from work, Tiger runs to the door to greet him. Tiger follows Chris everywhere, even when Chris is pacing while talking on the phone. Chris might complain when the cat wants to cuddle all the time and is constantly underfoot, but there’s no doubt that he loves the cat. They are inseparable.
We decided to go ahead with Radiation Therapy. Tiger is 13 now, and in excellent health other than this tumor. If the tumor did come back at some point in the future, he might not be so healthy and able to endure surgery and radiation. And so this morning I found myself back in the veterinarian’s waiting room, dropping off Tiger for his first treatment.
I pulled out my current dishcloth and crocheted a few rows, finding solace in the familiar rhythm.
P.S. Just as I finished typing this post, the vet’s office called. He did very well with his first treatment and he’ll be ready to come home in about an hour!