Catching Cancer Before It Strikes – Belle’s Story

Recent population studies have revealed cats, as of 2012, outnumber dogs in the United States. Interestingly though, dogs are seen by a veterinarian nearly twice as often as cats. According to a recent survey, a person owning a cat is six times less likely to bring their pet for wellness care than a dog owner. A very special client of ours took the time to tell us, and you, about her experience with her own cat. I had intended on writing about all the statistics and logic for why I so strongly believe in pro-active medicine, however this letter does better than I can.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is truly worth more than a pound of cure.”

– Dr. David Steele

 Cat Wellness Exams –Skip or Schedule?

If you’re anything like me, you get your cat’s Wellness Exam reminder postcard/email and you may not automaBelle at windowtically schedule it. You may, like me, question if it’s necessary. Regardless of your cat’s age, you may think to yourself something like this: he or she looks completely healthy, plays, sleeps, eats, drinks, and litter box habits are A-Okay. Heck, you might even be thinking at this point your cat lives a better life than you!  Do I really want to catch my cat, put her in the crate, and listen to her make pathetic sounds like I’m taking her to the pound when everything is fine? Oh, and then there’s the blood work! Curse the blood work and the cost…especially when it’s two times a year for those of us with senior cats!  It’s pretty easy to trash that wellness exam reminder and go about your life. That’s where I was in March 2017…to skip or to schedule my cat, Belle’s, Wellness Exam.

Another Visit? Really?

My 12-year-old- cat, Belle, was due for her Senior Wellness Exam about a month after I had brought her in for a sick visit for some chronic respiratory issues. I adopted Belle 11 years ago and she was diagnosed with Feline Herpes soon after which causes her to get respiratory infections. Her symptoms were rearing their ugly head lately. Even with that, I wondered if I really needed to bring her in again. I had brought her in six months prior for her last wellness exam. What benefit was it going to be to bring her in when she was practically just there? She was not 100% from her ongoing respiratory issues but it was a virus that sounded like not much could be done for.  Other than that, she seemed to be eating and drinking ok, she enjoyed her time lying outside and watching the neighborhood from the porch, and her litter box habits were normal.  What will Dr. Steele tell me that he didn’t during her sick visit I thought?

Before Diagnosis - hidingCats Are Fine Until They Aren’t

As I was deciding whether to skip or schedule Belle’s Senior Wellness Exam, I remembered something a veterinarian told me years ago: Cats are fine until they aren’t. I remember her explaining that meant that cats can mask symptoms of disease so well that you sometimes have no idea something is wrong until the situation is either an emergency, you have very limited options, or in the worst cases, it’s too late. I was concerned Belle had ongoing respiratory symptoms plus I knew she really should have her blood work done. It started seeming a little silly that I couldn’t book an appointment for my cat, who is considered part of my family, to simply confirm what I thought was going on: Belle is fine except for the Feline Herpes and there won’t be much more to discuss.

I’m Not a Veterinarian and I Bet you Aren’t Either (and that’s OK)

So it turns out there’s a really good reason Dr. Steele is adamant about Wellness Exams and their intervals based upon our cats’ ages.  I brought Belle in for her Senior Wellness Appointment and upon physical exam, Dr. Steele felt a mass in Belle’s stomach he hadn’t felt when she was in last. What?! All of the sudden my mindset of this appointment was going to confirm “what I already know” was turning into a much different situation.

Dr. Steele let me know there was a strong chance the mass was cancer. He gave me clear expectations of what testing would be needed to confirm his suspicion and what potential options would be if it was in fact cancer. He was honest and compassionate as I asked about a million questions. I asked the questions that you might be wondering: If it is cancer, is there really anything I’m going to be able to do for her? Will she have any type of quality of life?

 So, Was it Cancer?

Yes, Belle was diagnosed (within a week through blood tests and ultra sound) with small cell lymphoma in her abdomen. Here’s the good news. Yes, there’s good news! Since it was caught so early, Belle has good options and a good prognosis. My back wasn’t up against the wall having to make tough decisions for her care. It was pretty straightforward. Dr. Steele got me a referral right away to Veterinary Specialty Care with an Oncologist.  Belle was put on a medication protocol that has a good success rate.

How is Belle Today?

You can be the judge. Belle still spends her days watching the neighborhood from the porch; stalking squirrels, birds, and lizards; napping all over the house; being loved on; and keeping the dog in line. She needs an appetite stimulant occasionally in addition to her two medications she takes but other than that, she’s pretty much her regular cuddly, funny self.

 Belle & Erin

How Does this Affect You?

What if I had skipped Belle’s appointment?  When I consider what you read next, I am grateful I remembered cats are fine until they aren’t. It’s been about 2 months since Belle got diagnosed. I have a picture of her about a week prior to that when I thought she looked “fine” and her appetite seemed “normal.” Well, now that she’s on her medications, I see that she wasn’t OK. She was slowly starting to go down hill but it was so gradual I didn’t notice or I attributed it to her Feline Herpes symptoms. As you make the same decision I did whether to skip or schedule your cat’s future Wellness Exam, please let Belle’s story remind you that you can create better options for you and your cat when issues are found early. Trust if you’re being asked to bring your cat in for preventative care, there’s good reason for it…even the blood work!

Written by Erin Bedell


For more information about our wellness screenings, please contact AAC at 843-884-9838.

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