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Love, life and decisions (oh and cancer sucks):

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Along the way in my veterinary career, I would repeatedly think to myself “I could never take care of a diabetic”. And then Lil Fella happened. In 2012, an obese, minimally mobile, ragged looking kitty covered with mats including urine and feces came into the clinic. Without all the details, let it suffice to say that circumstances arose that left him in need of a home. That home became me. So started the journey…

Two and a half years, seven pounds of weight loss, a ton of love and care later, I discovered a small lump under Lil Fella’s jaw. The results of his initial surgery revealed that he had a more rare form of cancer in his salivary gland. And though I caught it early, I knew it would be back. Long deliberation and emotional turmoil left me with a decision to not pursue more extensive therapy. He healed like a champ and continued to enjoy his meals, love and life in the sun. Whew…

Seven months after his initial surgery, I realized there was more growth at his initial surgery site and I made the decision to absolutely go for a second surgery. Of course, Lil Fella recovered great and was begging for food in the ICU (have I mentioned this guy loves to eat!?). I again faced the decision about follow-up therapy. Yes, I said already that I made the decision not to pursue chemotherapy or radiation therapy- then the tumor reared its ugly head again. There are no great studies available on the best course of action for this cancer and ultimately the recommendation for follow-up radiation COULD give this 15 year-old cat 18+ months. Of course, that would be following a 4+ week stay away at a facility that provides radiation therapy. Now what…

What I mean to share with this story is that we all struggle with the decisions on how to best care for our amazing animal companions. Sometimes finances truly limit us, and that is a reality we often have to face. Other times, finances aside, we make decisions based on our own opinions and instinct on what is best for another being that we love (and maybe part of that decision is for ourselves too). I cannot imagine taking my dear old man away for 4 weeks, I wouldn’t know how to explain it to him and I don’t want us to miss out on those four weeks! So instead I am taking the chance on how long surgery and palliative care will prolong his life, because it could be just as long as with additional therapy. And I will continue to make each day count and live with my anticipatory grief, hopefully for years. Lil Fella will enjoy his meals, love and time in the sun and continue to have a great life….one day at a time.

We ultimately cannot control everything that happens, despite all our love and even money. We do not get the luxury of a crystal ball or a secret genie. We do, though, get the gift of love and compassion. And somewhere mixed up in the tough decision making process (along with the help of a great support team including veterinarians, friends and family), we choose what is right for that friend in that circumstance.

I am going to bed tonight knowing that I have been so very lucky to have Lil Fella in my life and I have no doubt that he has had an amazing ride along the way with us. I wish I could absolutely control this cancer and any other ailment that he has- both as his mom and veterinarian. That is not possible. Instead, I will remind myself that I am choosing what is best for this cat as I know him and I know myself. And hoping for as much great time together is possible. We can only hope for that…. So to all of you that have been down this windy road of struggle, know that you are not alone and that there is no perfect answer. Reach deep inside yourself and reach out to those who can help support you- And love those animals with all your heart.

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