Lincoln County News
November 18, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes a disappointing change of cats as a new feline replaces Kitty. I continue to slowly recover while I receive unsettling news from Dr. Tom and battle a serious case of anemia.

November 7, 1999: Last night, I was determined to do a restaurant review, so Paul, Sue, Ben and I headed for Maxwell's in Bath for our usual prime rib pig out. We called ahead and reserved our prime rib and a padded booth space, so I would be much more comfortable. Sue decided to skip the prime rib and go for the evening special of Atlantic salmon with a shrimp sauce which looked delicious. I managed quite well with several bites of prime rib, eating all my popover and salad, and part of a Fra Angelico mousse. I enjoyed taking home my leftover prime rib which Ben served up with eggs for today's breakfast.

I regretted eating something last night as it really put my intestines back into full upset mode around 5 am. This has happened twice before and I think I have found the common denominator: salad. Unfortunately, I adore salads and it looks like my system is not quite ready to handle them even though I am eating just the lettuce, so I will patiently wait a few more weeks before trying them again. Oddly, during all my chemo treatments when I was nauseous and couldn't face eating, I could eat a salad! Very bizarre as salad is really not that easy to digest.

November 9, 1999: We have been noticing some disturbing changes in our new cat, Kitty. When he arrived, he was eating ravenously and consuming lots of water. I first attributed it to competing for food with other cats at the shelter, and now he has full opportunity to eat all he wants. Since his arrival, he is eating more, drinking more and more water, and using the litter box constantly. Yesterday, he suddenly went crazy and raced around my living room, jumping from end tables to sofas to chairs, clearing off one table and breaking several of pieces of china and glass. Mary Ann Canfield was with me when this incident happened and we were astounded as he seemed possessed or in stress.

Today, Melissa is with me and we are watching Kitty's behavior closely. Ben emptied the litter box at 8 am. We use the clumping type litter, and when Melissa and I checked it 4 hours later, we found nearly 20 clumps of litter where Kitty had urinated. In the meantime, he had polished off all his dry food, drained his water dish, drank out of the toilets and even drank the water from my pill glass. I am very concerned we may be dealing with a diabetic cat. Both my daughter, Christy, and my brother, Ray, lost cats to diabetes and I was all too familiar with the symptoms: ravenous appetite, constant drinking and very frequent urination. I called the shelter immediately to report his stressed behavior. I did not report Kitty's physical symptoms as I wanted to talk to the director to see how Kitty would be evaluated medically. I knew that my daughter and brother had spent a small fortune in medical evaluations and insulin to keep their cats alive for what turned out in their cases to be only days or a few weeks.

I am heartbroken as I am certain that Kitty has some sort of medical problem and after losing Lurk, I can't emotionally deal with another stressed or sick pet. So Melissa and I return Kitty to the shelter this afternoon. I can't even look at him as he is taken away to a cage. I talk to one of the directors and explain what we have observed the past week. She assures us that Kitty will be evaluated and tested by the shelter's vet.

While Melissa is with me, Ben arrives just minutes behind us. Ben says we do not need what he calls a "parade of cats" coming to our house, but it is obvious he does not want to leave the shelter without another feline! So, back we go to the mature cat room. I point out "Cuddles", a huge white and gray tiger with a funny looking brown nose. He took a tremendous liking to my sister Peg when we first visited the shelter. Cuddles literally leapt into Peg's arms and kissed her face. Peg had told me that Cuddles would be her choice, but I had shied away due to his sheer size. He is at least 16 lbs. and I could barely lift him. He is also only one year old, so I figured he could easily grow to 500 lbs. in no time. I was afraid with my back and fragile bones: one heavy leap onto my lap would do me in.

Ben checks out Cuddles and gets the same warm reception as Peg. One of the shelter employees informs us that Cuddles is the friendliest cat in the shelter and follows the workers around the building. He has been there for four months and was dropped off with another cat by someone who could no longer afford to care for the two. Cuddles' companion was adopted and he remained behind. I suspect it's his size. I have never seen such a large cat. Lurk ran 16 lbs. in his prime at age 8-10, but he also looked like a couch potato or what somebody once referred to as a "mobile meat loaf" because of his bulky roundness. Cuddles' build is much different from Lurk's. Lurk was big-boned with a huge head, long thin legs, small feet and long tail. Cuddles has much shorter and fatter legs than Lurk, and his feet are enormous. Needless to say, the shelter employee loads him into our cat carrier and struggles to heft him out to the front desk. I have a feeling we are going to be owning a Guinness Book of World Records cat if we take him home.

We make it through the night with Cuddles who seems to happily settle into our home. The biggest problem is fitting him into our full size bed. It is like sleeping with 3 people in one bed. During the night, we hear him walking around the house, muttering to himself. It is not meowing, instead it is a wide vocabulary of twittering type noises which are not really loud. In fact, I slept through most of them. It doesn't really bother me, but Ben thinks that feeding Cuddles a big meal at bedtime might solve the muttering. I think it will only add twenty pounds.

November 10, 1999: Today, is my appointment with Dr. Tom. I am feeling slightly better since my last visit and Tom notes that I look better. He then delivers some rather surprising and uncomfortable news. I am very anemic with a hematocrit of 26, and apparently last week my white count dropped to 1900, not a good sign, but typical of being really hit too hard by the chemo. I had been feeling increasingly tired with no energy, but had blamed it on my radiation. Tom orders a CBC on the spot. My hematocrit, which measures red blood cells, has dropped slightly to 25. Fortunately, my white cells are on the rebound to 2900. Tom is far more concerned about my anemia and says a blood transfusion may be necessary. As I did last year, I refuse as I have a weird hang-up about the minute chance of tainted blood from the universal blood supply. I discovered last year that it takes over three weeks to get blood approved from a family donor, so this is out of the question as I need help how. So, we go to the next best resource, Epigen (also known as Pro Crit) which is a weekly injection that boosts red blood cells. It takes about a month to work, but I am determined to tough this out. Today, I get my first shot and will return weekly until the count is normal.

The worst news is that my tumor levels have more than doubled since August, rising from 861 to 1991. Tom and I discuss alternative treatments knowing that Taxol chemotherapy is out of the question due to my serious reaction to just one treatment. We decide that once my intestines heal up and the side effects from radiation have subsided, I will try a regimen of Xeloda. This was a drug that received good reviews for helping deal with advanced cases of breast cancer when it was introduced about two years ago. However, the drug has some toxic side effects, especially diarrhea, mouth sores, and to a lesser degree, nausea and vomiting. So, in preparation, I want to be sure I am fully recovered before we try this. If this doesn't work, I plan to head to Dana Farber for another try at a research trial.

November 11, 1999: I have been receiving dozens of e mails, sympathy cards and letters about Lurk from so many of my readers. I want to thank you all for your kind condolences. It has been very comforting to me and Ben. Many readers shared the story of the loss of their own pets. I have been moved to tears by this outpouring of kindness and sympathy. I try to answer every piece of mail I receive and it's at a point where I need a secretary. I put my poor daughter to work answering 25 pieces of my mail about three weeks ago when I was really too ill to answer them. It was also during my two week period of drug induced memory black out, so it is just as well as nobody would have understood my writing!

And, by the way, Cuddles is still making himself quite at home. I think this will be permanent. Ben thinks the name "Cuddles" sounds like a cuddly little kitty and we should rename him "Lunk". I think it sounds disgusting and too close to my beloved Lurk's name. Also, Cuddles was this cat's given name and he responds to it, so I tell Ben he can call the cat whatever he wants but keep it to himself. We are just going to own the world's largest cat named Cuddles.

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