Written by Sandra Murphy
Cancer. It doesn't matter which kind, how many treatments are available or what the odds are. Once you've heard the word, everything changes. What makes the biggest difference are the things you do next.
Cats are more than the one who put a hairy paw in your coffee or air holes in your mattress cover—they're family. How can you cope when you find out your cat has cancer? Take a deep breath. Not every diagnosis is a death sentence. Here are a few tips to help.
Assemble a team of veterinarians. If you decide to use a combination of traditional and holistic treatments, make sure your vet respects your choices and your right to make them. Improving your cat's quality of food can help boost his immune system. Bottled or filtered water removes impurities so your cat's kidneys don't have to. Consider adding vitamins or herbs to his food.
A regular routine will reduce stress for both you and your cat. This is an opportunity to bond more closely. Each day you have together is a cause for celebration—your cat is a cancer survivor.
Find someone to talk to and someone willing to listen. They need not be the same person. The person you talk to should act as a sounding board, bouncing your ideas back to you with suggestions and refinements. A listener should have the ability to nod, look sympathetic or angry depending on what you are saying and most importantly, say nothing much at all.
Go to Yahoo Groups and search feline cancer. You may have to try a group or two before finding the best fit. There, you can post questions and get answers from others in a similar situation. They'll cut to the heart of the matter, tell you what you need to know, celebrate when the reports are good and cry with you when they're not.
Find an outlet for your emotions. You'll have a lot of anger aimed at the cancer. Your frustration level will rise and you may have trouble concentrating. A physical outlet will do wonders for your well-being, physical and mental. Meditation will calm your mind the way exercise calms your body—use both.
Taking time for yourself each day lets you return to your cat with a fresh attitude. While holding him tight and crying may help, it will cause him stress. Cry at the movies or in the shower but with your cat, do the best you can to be calm and loving. Have play time but watch for signs he's getting tired.
Make new memories. Remember how you wanted to learn to use a digital camera? Take a lot of pictures. And scrapbooking—now's the time to start.
Don't let friends focus only on her illness. You've told them stories about your cat for years—ask which tale was their favorite. Telling friends and family your cat is ill is hard. If you don't want sympathy, say so. Tell them what is wrong, what you are doing and what may happen. Warn them there will be times you won't be able to talk about it or might have to cancel plans at the last minute. You'll hear some insensitive remarks—show patience. Not everyone will understand your choices, especially about the amount of money you spend on treatments or the treatments you choose.
Ask questions! Ask your veterinarian to tell you when he thinks your cat is in pain or suffering. Cats can be stoic and not show what they are feeling. Being so close, you may not see small changes yourself. Ask what symptoms to look for—and ask early on, before you need to know, while your mind is still clear and not overcome with worry. Ask your cat to let you know when he is done with treatments and medications. Trust him to tell you—mine did.
Make plans for “after”. If your cat's prognosis is terminal, give some thought to his passing before it happens. Do you want burial in a pet cemetery or at home? You may choose to arrange for cremation and want an urn on the mantel (or not). If your cat has been treated at a veterinary teaching hospital, consider donating her body to science. The veterinary pathologist will do a necropsy, an autopsy for animals. A necropsy will provide information researchers can use to help other cats.
Forgive yourself if life gets in the way of doing all you want for your cat. You'll lose your temper when she won't eat, cry when you see a litter commercial and squeeze him too tight. You'll pick and choose treatments based on your budget, not your heart. Just do the best you can. Your cat will never ask for more.
Most of all, remember, it's not your fault.
Sandra Murphy lives in the land of booze, blues and shoes - St Louis, Missouri. When not writing, she works as a pet sitter. In her spare time, she caters to the whims of Reilly and BB, stray cats rescued by her dog, Avery.
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