Friday, July 20, 2012

Tuffy's Fight


When I first felt the bump, I thought it was a flea bite. I even thought maybe somehow her microchip (size of a grain of rice) had migrated. I was afraid it could be a tick. I tried to separate the fur but couldn't see anything. I was busy and working a lot, so I missed their bi-annual(6mo) comprehensive exam. (They are on a Wellness Plan through Banfield at Petsmart). It got to the size of a pencil eraser. I mentioned it when I took them in on a Monday and they performed an aspiration on Tuffy.(April 23, 2012) And aspiration is like a tiny biopsy, just a very small hollow needle to get some tissue to put on slides to analyze. (cost: $60)

(May 7, 2012) The results said it was a probable Mesenchymal tissue and the Dr suggested I could go to the Oncologist or they could remove the tumor there. I scheduled the surgery for the date of their follow-up appointment two weeks later. (cost: $600) When I picked her up, I was surprised at the size of the incision, about 3" long! I felt so bad for her and that first night at home I knew she was in pain and it was hard for her to walk on that leg. I thought it was over. I thought it was just precautionary. I had NO idea.

On Wednesday, May 9th I received an email from her Vet saying that the mass that was removed was confirmed to be fibrosarcoma which is very invasive and can originate from the Rabies vaccine. They tend to spread out in all directions and that a more extensive surgery would be required to try to remove all the tumor cells. “The mass was comprised of interlacing streams and bundles of spindeld shaped cells”. It was an Intermediate grade fibrosarcoma. The prognosis was “guarded”. She again suggested that I take her to an oncologist located in San Leandro, and also suggested chest x-rays that they could do at Banfield. I broke down at work. I was just sobbing and couldn't believe this could happen. I had done everything right to take care of my cats and I was being punished for it. I cancelled my classes and clients for the next day. I emailed her back and went in the next morning for those x-rays. I also called BAVS which because they are 24hr Emergency I was able to make the appointment that night for 2pm the next day.

On Thursday, May 10th I got the x-rays done in the morning at Banfield. They were clear. (cost: $220) Dr Couture was very comforting, as much as one could be. I trusted her. I took my cat back home and at 2pm mom went with me to BAVS. They suggested an ultrasound of the abdomen to make sure that was clear and also get a 3rd angle for the chest x-ray to be sent out to a specialist. (quoted 818-1126, actual cost: $600) We came back to pick her up after eating dinner and found the abdomen it was clear. So, the cancer had not spread to either the lungs or the abdomen. That was good news. I was not prepared for what they suggested next. They suggested amputation of the leg. I was floored. There was really no way to be sure how far the cancer had spread either way. The oncologist came back with the estimate for the amputation. I made her give me one for the 2nd option of surgery without amputation. I figured I didn't want to take her leg, especially if we didn't know if that would be enough or necessary. I would do the 2nd option and hope for the best. Oh, and radiation was recommended in both cases, daily for 3 weeks which would cost approximately $7,000! WHO has this money?? I was miserable. How could I not be able to save her because of money? What price is a life? In the past we didn't have these options, now we do, but..HOW do we do it?(quoted surgery cost: $3,132-3,339 w/o amputation, $3,747-4,247 with amputation)

(May 11, 2012) When Dr Strotner, the oncologist called me on Friday to follow-up, she informed me that the specialist had confirmed there was no visible cancer in the chest x-rays. I confirmed that I only wanted to do the 2nd operation and I scheduled it for Monday, as soon as possible.

(May 13, 2012) However, on Sunday I received an email from Dr Couture, her main vet. In it she stated that she got the report that I had a surgery scheduled, and that it was of course my choice but she urged me to do the amputation and it would give her the best chance of survival, and that cats really do well on 3 legs. And wasn't that the whole point after all? Her survival.

(May 14, 2012)When I went in to consult with the Dr. Carlsen, the surgeon, on Monday morning, she went over everything with me. She was also very comforting and I decided to let them amputate her leg. There was no guarantee. Since it was being done on Monday, there was a chance I could have the lab results from the mass being removed Thursday. I would not be able to breathe until I got those results back. I kept wondering if I did the right thing. Shortly after lunch she called me to let me know that the surgery was complete, and Tuffy had done well. There was no going back now. In a way I was relieved that the tough decision had been made and it was done. She was to be held overnight.  They usually like to keep them 2 nights but it was possible I could get her home after one. I had to pay the lower estimate value as the deposit.

(May 15, 2012) On Tuesday, I had expected to pick her up but she was not ready. I was able to go visit. Mom went with me as we were not sure how it would be to see her for the first time. They wait was horrible. I was so worried to see her, and they were doing a blood transfusion when we came. They put us in on of the rooms and brought her in. We were trying for a while to keep her from moving. It was painful to see her all stitched up, trying to stand and falling. She had an IV with a pain med drip. They we found a bump and freaked out. Sandy, the surgery tech, got the first available oncologist who aspirated it right there to put on a slide and found it was just dry skin or a cyst and we will follow up in 30 days to confirm. (free). Sandy told us we could put her on the floor if she's more comfortable. They were all so non-chalant about it, because they are used to seeing it all the time. They kept reassuring me she will be FINE with 3 legs! And not to be surprised at her doing all the same stuff as before. So we put her on the floor, and she kept getting up and falling. Eventually she crawled in my lap and was comfortable there. I realized as I was posting pictures later just how drugged she looked! haha her eyes were SO big!

(May 16, 2012) Wednesday mom and I went to go pick Tuffy up. We went through the discharge information. I paid the balance due.(cost: $4,412) Sandy had tried to get her to purr and pet her on her face like she liked and everything and she only purred when I was there. I would need to keep her confined for the next two weeks, and kept away from Dash. I got the spare litter box I had and put it in my bedroom along with her food and water bowls. An unexpected side affect is that Dash wants NOTHING to do with her. So sad. She smelled when I brought her home, like sugery, blood and urine. I used the pet wipes and cleaned her a bit. Dash just stared at her. He is still hissing and growling at her, like he’s afraid.

Thursday it was back to a full day for the first time in about 1 1/2 weeks, which means i was working until 10pm. Dad went by to check on her and give her her pain meds in the afternoon. But it was so hard to be happy that she was home, and concentrate on her recovery when I still didn't know if she was going to live. I had fears that this is how I was going to remember her, shaved, stitched, hobbling. Put through all that for nothing. And the stories of the tumors growing and opening, horrendous. The animal doesn't feel it, just as her leg never bothered her. But YOU know and YOU see.It's ALL I could think about!

(May 17, 2012) Then I had a missed call from a (510)#. My stomach tightened. I knew I needed to see my current client. It was everything I could do to get through that hour. I saw the voicemail notification. Before I was to train my general manager, i told her i had to take the voicemail. I was so scared. I had like 8 voicemails before it I needed to delete from an internet phone inquiry I made on a debt program. ugh. Then the message from the Oncologist. . . GOOD NEWS! The lab results showed a 6cm border of clear, cancer-free skin from the mass around the tumor that was removed. Almost certain it wont return. My baby is cancer-free! She will live! In my entire life, I have never known the feeling of crying for joy...until now. I was just sobbing. Words cannot express, the relief. I could breathe again. I could go home, and hold her and know she'll be ok. I can look her in the face. I called her back to let her know how Tuffy was doing. I told her about my blog and youtube and how I wanted people to know. She said how hard it is to see, and how people don't want to amputate the leg but most of the time, those are the surgeries that don't get it all. I saved her life. And it was Dr. Couture who changed my mind at the last moment. wow. It was over.
 I still can't believe all that has happened in the last few weeks. But Tuffy is doing fine, hobbling along better each day. It is a hard decision, but it's literally "life or limb". DO NOT HOLD BACK. Do WHATEVER is necessary to save your loved one. It also put it in perspective when my friend commented on my photo saying he 'hears' its not too bad after amputation. He's an amputee. Of all people he would know. And it comforted me.
(May 20, 2012) Tuffy is adapting quite well. She still purrs all the time. She is getting around quite well on 3 legs. She hasn't learned how to hop up yet, but she can definitely hop down off the bed or couch. She's able to use the litterbox and squat again like a normal cat, on her one hind leg. I am just SO glad I made the decision, and so grateful to Dr Couture for keeping in touch with me and changing my mind! We are contacting the vaccine manufacturer, I'm not sure what will happen. I have also contacted my attorney for his feedback. I want every pet-owner to know that this is a reality. It's not just like those commercials we laugh at the long list of side affects. DEATH should NOT be a 'side-affect', and we should not be forced to give our pets (OR our children!) vaccines that can kill them. 
*That night as I was prepping my food for the next day, I heard her hop up on the couch, all be herself! 
Talk to your Vet, ask the tough questions. It could save your little furball's life. 

For more on our fight, see the links below.
Tuffy's Fight Blog - Full Story
Tuffy's Fight on YouTube - Meet Tuffy and see her recovery! Know that a 3-legged cat can be happy, healthy and get along just fine! ;)


  1. I'm happy your kitty is doing great!!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm thankful for her every day! ;)

  2. Hi Coach Nic,

    Thank you thank you thank you for this detailed post about Tuffy's illness and recovery.

    My sweet baby Dumpling was just diagnosed with fibrosarcoma from the feline leukemia virus vaccine. I am heartbroken. Beyond heartbroken. She's only five years old and has soooo much life left in her.
    Her tumor is in her left hind leg and is about the size of a plum. Her chest x-rays looked clear. I'm taking her for oncologist consultations in San Leandro and Walnut Creek on Sat and Mon (we live in Berkeley, so these will be the longest car rides of her life). I found the link for your page on the BAVS yelp site (since Dr. Sidlecki is one of the oncologists my vet referred us to)

    Your post was super-helpful in letting me know what to expect and in giving me hope. I'm cringing in horror at the idea of putting her through an amputation, even though it's probably the right thing to do.

    If you have time to answer, I have a few more questions.

    1. This was written 7 months ago. Is Tuffy still disease-free and doing well? What do you do to monitor the situation?

    2. Did you have any luck in tracking down the vaccine manufacturer? I would pay any price to save Dumpling but if we're looking at 5-10K in treatment costs, it would be nice if the company that gave her this disease would contribute to the costs of her treatment.

    3. Dumpling is currently in the dreaded e-collar (aka 'lampshade' 'cone of shame') so that she won't lick her biopsy incision or bite out the sutures. She hates it with a passion and would do anything to get out of it. I see from the pictures that Tuffy was initially in a similar plastic collar but in the later pictures, she's wearing a blue collar that looks more comfortable. Can you tell me more about the blue collar - where did you get it? Did she tolerate it better than the plastic cone? Did it prevent her from licking her wounds/pulling out her stitches?

    4. Dumpling's "brother" Maurice (they're unrelated but they bonded at the animal shelter and I adopted them together) is like Dash - he won't even go in the same room as Dumpling. Either she smells like the vet office or he's freaked out by the lampshade. Before this week, the two of them were the best of friends and usually slept snuggled up. So I was wondering -- did Dash and Tuffy become friends again? How long did it take for Dash to get used to her as a tripod-cat?

    Again, thank you so much for this post. I hope you and Tuffy get many more years together. I also hope that Dumpling makes it through this ordeal as well as Tuffy did.

    1. Hello! I am SO glad you found it! Tuff is still well! I am thankful for her every day. She acts as is nothing changed. She does try to itch her ear with the 'ghost leg' which now I recognize it and scratch it for her. :) I did get my pet license renewal and sent my Vet's letter in along with this blog and hope they will also let me spare her twin brother.
      - Your Vet should be able to turn in a clain to the Vaccine manufacturer. In my case it was Pfizer. You should be able to get some sort of 'non-reponsibility settlement'. Meaning they are not admitting fault, but are settling. It will not cover the entire costs.
      - The blue one was given to us by BAVS. The more comfortable collar I did like better, but then she did find a way around it and I ended up putter her back in the cone. She kept getting to her stiches and as much as it sucked, I'd rather get her to heal as quickly as possible.
      - Yes, Dash was definitely weirded out. But the are fine again. They fight of course, but they are back to normal.

      I know how scary it is...I was traumatized, I must've gained 10lbs that week! Hang in there, listen to the docs. I wish you all the best and let me know how it goes! xo

  3. wow, thank you so much for the quick and detailed response. Dumpling went in today for a 'high amputation' with Dr. Carleson. I just called BAVS - she's out of it, but otherwise OK.
    Unfortunately, she's probably going to need radiation and possibly chemo too. Her tumor is too big and too close to her anus to get the required margins.
    I will keep you updated (there's so much I want to write, but it will have to wait for a time when I'm less stressed).
    I hope Dumpie responds as well to her three-legged state as Tuff did.
    Thank you again - I'm exhausted and barely literate right now so I can't adequately express how much your posts have helped me.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that! She will adjust fine. Tuffy was groggy but they figure it out quick. I totally understand how you feel! I hope the further treatments will help. You are doing all you can...hang in there!