Survivors Celebrated

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Lara

Lara is a golden retriever who was rescued at the age of 2 from a shelter in Bosnia and brought to the UK by a charity for her forever family.

In the summer of 2018, when she was 6 years old, Lara’s owners spotted a small lump on her head, a trip to the vets the next day suggested it was nothing of concern, but they were given the option to have it removed.

The surgery was done by their first opinion vet, the lump was infact a tumour which was connected to deeper tissue on the head than expected, as a result the surgery was more extensive than originally thought, however the vet was able to remove all the tumour together with a good margin of unaffected tissue.

Lara recovered well from the anaesthetic and returned home the same day sporting a very fetching cone of shame. The excised tumour was sent to a laboratory for analysis and the results came back as a low-grade mast cell tumour.

The whole tumour had been surgically removed and Lara remains cancer free.

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Shiloh

Shiloh was taken in by Huskies in Need approximately 8 or 9 years ago and her fosterer/owner first came across her in 2012 when she was being transported to what should have been her furever home, sadly this fell through as she did not get along with their small dog so she was taken as an emergency foster, where she was only expected to stay for a week but left 7 months later when she was adopted by a couple in Cornwall.

Sadly in April 2019 Shiloh was made homeless when the couple who had rehomed her had separated and were unable to continue caring for her.

Her fosterer from 2012 drove from Cheshire to Cornwall and back in a day to collect Shiloh, she immediately noticed something wrong with one of Shiloh’s nipples which was swollen, inflamed and sore.

The vet advised surgery to remove the nipple and affected area was the best option and this was done straight away, a procedure that had been recommended to her owners by their vet at least a year earlier.

Unfortunately, financial restraints meant that a biopsy was not performed on the excised nipple so the exact diagnosis remained unknown however a year later on a routine visit to the vet a lump was found in her groin. During the surgery to remove this lump it was decided to also remove a full strip of mammary glands on the same side.

Despite a longer and more extensive surgery than expected Shiloh has healed well and literally bounced back into life.

The lump was tested in a laboratory and the results were an intermediate grade complex mammary mass.

She needs to visit the vet for regular appointments and her fosterer, who became her official owner and true furever home, monitors her closely so that any new lumps can be treated as quickly as possible.

Her family are positive about the future and despite being 13 years old Shiloh has enough energy for everyone!

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Darcey

Darcey was diagnosed with nasal lymphoma and she was treated with chemotherapy.

In the words of Nic and Tracey, Darcey’s owners:

Darcey is our much loved, big and fluffy Maine Coon. She is very much head of the menagerie in our household and is always strolling around looking for dreamies and head rubs. At the time of Darcey’s cancer diagnosis, she was just over 3 ½ years old and apart from suffering from some mild hip issues, had no prior health concerns. Her cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock to us which left us just shattered.

Thankfully, Darcey is now in remission. For how long, we just don’t know but we are absolutely delighted that she has come through this and that we are able to spend as much time as possible with her. Throughout the diagnosis and treatment there are times that she has been a little poorly and under the weather, but nothing that would have warranted us taking a different course of action. As much as we absolutely adore her, we would not let her have a poor quality of life.

One of the main issues that we faced whilst Darcey was going through diagnosis and treatment was the lack of real information out there for owners. There are many accessible veterinary and medical articles which are complex and jargon ridden, however in terms of day to day guidance and what to expect, we struggled. Fortunately, through friends in the cat fancy we were able to hear some similar stories, but not many cases where chemotherapy has been pursued. As well as the practicalities of treatment, there is no denying that chemotherapy is expensive. In our case, we had used the vast majority of our annual insurance cover on her diagnosis, however this was a particularly tricky cancer to diagnose and in most cases, an adequate insurance plan would cover all costs.

Our “Darcey Diary” gives a bit of insight into her journey to remission………….

October 2018

On return from holiday our cat sitter advised us that Darcey seemed to have had a bit of a runny eye and nose. We take her round to our local vet who prescribes a course of antibiotics. This seems to clear the issue up and no further treatment is needed.

February / March 2019

We notice that Darcey has again got a runny nose but this time there is some blood visible in the mucus. A further course of antibiotics is prescribed and swabs were sent off, as well as a head x-ray being taken. The course of antibiotics has not cleared the discharge and the swab results / x-ray do not identify anything. After discussions with our vet, they would like to refer Darcey to the RVC for further investigation rather than try a different treatment. We agree and a referral is progressed.

March 2019

Darcey is assessed at the RVC and has a CT Scan and Biopsy Samples taken. This resulted in no confirmed diagnosis however they tell us that there is unilateral nasal discharge (from the right nostril). Advanced imaging and cytology have indicated a suspected lymphoma (a mass like lesion is visible) but tissue sample and biopsies have not proven this, and it would be quite unusual for a cat of Darcey’s age to suffer from this type of cancer. Severe inflammation is present in the nasal passage and so doxycycline has been prescribed. We agree that we will return in 4 weeks to repeat the CT scan and biopsies. At this point we feel delighted that there is no cancer diagnosis but still very nervous as to what this could be.

April 2019

Initial results from the doxycycline have been great. The discharge is clear and no symptoms are visible, however 2 weeks after the consultation at RVC, Darcey takes a turn for the worse. We notice that her throat is sounding quite raspy when she breathes and she is increasingly breathing through her mouth, with her nose seeming to be quite blocked up. We take her round to our local vet who places her in the oxygen tent for a few hours each day of the weekend which seems to help. Our local vet contacts the RVC for guidance and their preference is that when they repeat the CT Scan and biopsies later in the month, they would prefer to do so without any other medication in her system, which may affect the results. Obviously if her situation deteriorates further, we are to take her in. In the meantime, we buy a nebuliser and humidifier for her room to help aid her breathing comfortably. For the next week and a half, we are very worried but keep a close eye on her. Her appetite is waning a little.

Later that month, Darcey re-attends the RVC for a second CT scan and biopsy sample – our fears are confirmed. Darcey is discharged with confirmed intermediate to high grade nasopharyngeal lymphoma. The imaging on the second CT scan shows that the mass has now spread across, almost entirely blocking both nasal passages, which explains her recent issues with breathing. Steroid treatment is prescribed to address immediate inflammation and commence a baseline therapy. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy are discussed as options and we will be referred to a local clinic to discuss further. Feel utterly devastated, lost and not sure what to do for the best. Also feel very angry that life is just not fair. As long as Darcey is not suffering then we agree to do everything that we can to help her try and get better.

Our referral is classed as urgent and we have a consultation booked in with Southfields Veterinary Specialists to discuss treatment options – Radiotherapy v Chemotherapy. The conversation is a bit of a daze but my very basic understanding was that Radiotherapy can be used to treat specific areas on the body for targeted treatment. Chemotherapy will target all cancer that is detected in the body.

There would also be differences in the way the treatments are administered. For Chemotherapy, after each treatment, which would be over a course of 25 weeks, Darcey could come home. For Radiotherapy, Darcey would have to stay in the veterinary hospital for 5 days at a time until the treatment course had completed, being able to come home at weekends.

In our case, we are going to have to opt for chemotherapy. Because we started immediately with steroids following the diagnosis to assist with her breathing, it may have masked cancer in other parts of the body and so the safest option, in case it had spread, is to treat with chemo. It is explained that each cat can react differently to this treatment, although it does not normally have such an impact on the cat as there is seen in humans, due to differences in dosage. We also need to understand that this may or may not be successful and even if successful, there is no guaranteed time period for remission. The cost of a 25 week period of treatment for Darcey is estimated to be around £3000 – £4000. This is all ok with us, we just want to give it a try. Darcey will have an appointment every week for the first four weeks and will then move to appointments every three weeks..…..

Treatments

Treatment 1: Darcey is following COP protocol and on her first visit is given her treatment (Vincristine and Cyclophosphamide). She is also outside of her treatment, prescribed Prednisolone to take regularly. She has been sedated and has come home a little groggy but without any side effects.

Treatment 2: Darcey has her second treatment. Again no ill side effects, blood results normal and her sedation has gone well.

Treatment 3: Darcey has had some Gabapentin this morning which has prevented the need for sedation. She’s been very vocal this morning about being hungry and devours her breakfast when she gets home. Treatment has gone well. She has also become a film star today. Southfields have made a short film for their facebook page ‘A day in the life of a vet nurse’ (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=443839202828724) and Darcey can be seen getting her bloods done. It was very reassuring to see the clip as it was a look behind the scenes of the clinic and it has great facilitates. She seems very well looked after.

Treatment 11: Today is her last treatment we hope! Darcey will have a full body CT scan today as well as some samples taken from her lymph nodes. She will also have samples taken from her liver and spleen to check for any concerns. If all is well, she will receive her last chemo treatment. It’s going to be a long wait as we have to leave her there all day.

We get the call to go back and pick her up. The 5 minutes in the waiting room seems to go on forever. The initial results are great though! The scan is still clear with no lymphoma visible. Her liver and spleen results will be back tomorrow. There is a very small shadow showing on her lungs, however this is suspected to be due to the position she is lying in for the CT scan. Her lymph nodes are fine. Now we just wait for a call tomorrow……… which turns out to be the best news possible – no concerns with her liver and spleen. Darcey is in remission! We can’t quite believe it. We agree to re-scan her in 3 months’ time to check how everything is going and also ensure there is no change to her lung. Again following the treatment, she has a temperature but we are now more aware to look out for it and quickly get her onto antibiotics. The consultant explains that after a long course of treatment, some cats can become less tolerant to the medication, however her symptoms have been slight and she has not appeared distressed.

Looking Forward

It has now been 6 weeks since Darcey’s last appointment and she is going from strength to strength. She is back to weighing over 7.5 kgs, her fur is now coming back in, and we have been following ‘whisker watch’ very closely – new whiskers are appearing every day!

Trying to get her off the contraband food may prove more difficult. I’m not going to break it to her!

We are not naive in this process – we realise that the treatment has only given her, and us, a temporary reprieve. The total cost to date is close to £10,000 and we have had a few worrying moments along the way, however we wouldn’t change a thing and we would do it all again. We couldn’t have asked for her to be in better hands at Southfields. Her consultant has been there for us every step of the way and put up with our never-ending questions.

Darcey deserved us to fight for her, and whilst she is tolerant to the treatment and well in herself, we will always fight for her. I’m sure that she is probably fed up now of the endless hugs and cuddles she is being given every time that she walks past us, but for us, there will never be enough cuddles.