We’ve all had those cases that hit us a bit harder than others. The client you’ve known forever; the patient you’ve been handling since day one. They get under your skin a little bit. Somehow, though, the disconnect is still there. It stays at work; you MAKE it stay at work because otherwise, nothing stays at work. You can shrug it off with your scrubs and head on home.
The question, though… what if that pet is yours? What if you’re the client?
Very recently, this was my reality. About a year and a half ago, my three-year-old black kitten, I had found in a barn, Jade, was diagnosed with IBD. We were handling it pretty well, we thought, between diet changes and prednisolone; rechecking blood every few weeks, changed to every few months. She had gained weight back; her values had levelled out.
Then she dropped half a kilogram in 30 days. Was she eating a bit less? Was that vomit hers or her sibling’s? Alright. Back to square one. We scheduled an ultrasound fairly soon after.
Cancer was of course on our differential list. IBD and lymphoma go hand in hand, sometimes. But she’s young, right? That can’t be it. It’s got to be something else.
If I have a cat with cancer, I’m not treating it. I can be quoted saying this. I could never put my pet through that.
Our travelling sonographer came. He did a quick overview and was thinking positive…then we got down to her large intestine. I saw his face drop a little. I asked him what it was.
“This doesn’t look good.”
My heart might as well have hit the floor. I could feel tears hitting her fur. A little 1 cm mass, sitting right in the middle between her small and large intestine. Small cell lymphoma just jumped up our list.
All of my training, schooling, experience in this field could not have prepared myself for possible cancer diagnosis in my pet. The pet that I took home, snuggled with on the couch, slept with every night, yelled at for chasing her sister. I couldn’t walk away from it, then. I couldn’t shrug it off. I had never been more devastated in my whole career.
I could never put my pet through that.
Except when I decided to do just that… and the next two weeks were the worst.
The first worst week was when I decided to go after it. That pesky little 1 cm mass ended up blocking Jade’s intestines the day before our planned surgery; my co-worker was preparing me for the worst. We may have to make choices we didn’t want to. I still said go after it.
Sans 10 cm of bowel and a blood transfusion later, Jade recovered just fine. The second worst week was waiting for her biopsy & histology results. I had to care for my cat, do all the things we tell clients to do – keep them quiet, small frequent meals, keep an eye on the incision – with the added bonus of watching for the incision falling apart. I couldn’t sleep. Is this what everyone did? Stayed up until 2 am and watched their cat sleep?
After the longest seven days – seriously, couldn’t the lab work ANY faster? Didn’t they know this was my fur-kid? – her results finally came back. I printed them off and read them to my co-worker who had done her surgery. I scanned the entire thing until I found what I wanted:
I could go home and sleep again. I could look at Jade without worrying about her outcome. I could stop looking at her and wanting to cry – and I had the inside scoop! I had a better understanding of everything that happened to my pet than the average client. I probably made the most informed decision of any of our recent patients. Somehow, though, I didn’t feel any more prepared – and in the end, I still went home with the burden of the unknown, even though I said I would never put my pet through this. I still did it.
We are all the same at heart, and that’s what happens when they’re yours…they come home.
Written by: Sarah Boundy, RVT