This is Part 1 in an ongoing series about Mortimer, Original Critter, who has been diagnosed with feline hepatic lymphoma. Read more about that whole pile of shit here.
That’s how all this started: With poop. How else would it start in my house?
Technically, that’s not true. It was the absence of poop that got this ball of suck rolling downhill in highly uncontrolled fashion.
The following is as condensed a timeline as I can give, from weirdness that I now understand to be relevant to diagnosis. It’s probably very dull–it’s a goddamn timeline of my life over the past couple weeks. But if there is one thing I hope it can illustrate, it’s that the symptoms of this horseshit can be extremely subtle. I pay such close attention to my critters that you could reasonably accuse me of helicopter pet parenting and not a single (probable) early symptom couldn’t be easily explained by normal circumstance of life. So if you have a cat with lymphoma and you feel like the biggest asshole of all time for not picking up on it earlier, I am here to tell you that this shit does not play fair.
Beginning of August. Schmoop and I had been on vacation for a little over a week, during which time a friend and my mom were coming over to feed and love on the kittens. They got food and scritches twice each day. Everything was normal.
Our first night home, Kittens were very lovey. The next morning, the wee monsters even allowed us to sleep until 7-ish. This was both highly unusual and extremely delightful since, you will recall, Mortimer has a very strict 5am breakfast schedule, for which he begins agitations between 4 and 4:30am. Every. Single. Morning.
Breakfast schedule returned to normal the following day.
Four days after our return, I left on a four day bike trip and Schmoop rotated to a modified night schedule. This is significant for two reasons. First, because there was a considerable upheaval in household scheduling between the vacation, Schmoopie schedule, and my absence; and also because Schmoopie shared that, in my absence, the kittens were letting him sleep in.
Instead of seeing this as the retrospectively suspect behavior I know understand it to be, I just got huffy about how nice the cats were in my absence. I vowed to have a serious discussion with them about feminism and the shared domestic spheres of our household, and possibly called them little furry jerkfaces. To reward my aspersions, normal wake-up shenanigans recommenced upon my return, but largely led by Nigel. Nigel, it should be noted, typically does not care about breakfast. He is interested in early AM snuggletime. It is Mort who agitates for food. Always has been.
Mort was still providing a wake-up assist, but he would come downstairs to the kitchen and, instead of ravenously trying to snatch away food before it was completely prepared, he would sort of . . . wander off, and then wander back in when it was time to eat. He was eating, but with considerably less enthusiasm.
All of this would have (should have) clued me in that something was wrong except that we had just started a new bag of a prepared dehydrated raw food that we didn’t use very often, and it was a flavor that we had not used previously. I presumed his lack of enthusiasm could be traced to some modicum of displeasure with the new victuals.
Truthfully, I was happy about the mild reduction in enthusiasm. We’d been using dehydrated raw more frequently of late, as Nigel is going through some age-induced pickiness, and it seemed the prepared stuff was causing Mort to pack on the poundage that he’d lost when we switched to prey model raw several years ago. If we had stumbled upon a food that Mort would eat, but not snarfle, perhaps we could keep him lean and–dare I hope?–even get some more sleep in the mornings.
Then came Friday. Friday, Mort refused breakfast. This was a red flag, but a small one as I was still assuming the food was to blame. He ate dinner per usual. I didn’t worry, but I did note that I’d been scooping less poop, which reminded me that Mortie had horked up two enormous fur tubes earlier in the week. Odd for him, as he’s never been one to get hairballs. I started to entertain the idea that the new food might be constipating him.
Saturday he refused breakfast. The litterbox was scooped and scrutinized. And then he refused dinner.
That officially tipped the scales in favor of A Problem. That problem presumably being an inability to poop. Schmoop and I went to bed Saturday in agreement that we needed Mort to eat and poop very soon, or we’d be off to the vet.
Neither of those things happened by Sunday afternoon, so we trucked him off to the emergency/specialty practice under the assumption that we would be sent away with a tube of lactulose and a pat on the shoulder for being a bit reactionary. Absolute worst case scenario, in my mind, was an obstruction. Or maybe megacolon. Both pretty shitty (hurrdurr!) in their own right, but certainly a far cry from lymphoma.
Things moved pretty quickly once we got to the vet, by which I mean suspicions were raised and it all took about 5 hours to resolve but when you take a constipated cat to the vet for some laxative and people start throwing around words like “abdominal mass,” “Carcinoma,” “lymphoma,” “nodules,” “liver failure,” and “end stage” time has an uncanny way of speeding up. It’s like wading in a river of knowledge, where knowledge is pudding and the current is very fast, so that you simultaneously feel dragged, bogged, and very, very confused. Even the critical care doctor was surprised, telling us that she would never have imagined the turn it all took.
Initial suspicion was FBO, they felt a lump during abdominal palpations, did x-rays, visualized a mass, did a quick ultrasound, and his bloodwork came back a hairsbreadth from liver failure.
We left without our cat or any real understanding of when or whether we would see him alive again.
What the hell just happened?
There was very little speaking, and a whole lot of averted eyes. I spent the next 12 hours trying to figure out how the hell I’d missed signs that, with the benefit of hindsight, seemed so damned glaring. Like, “irresponsible pet parent” levels of “How the hell did you miss THIS?!?”
But they were all so subtle and, much to the misfortune of my striped cat, occurred during a time of upheaval in schedule and in food. For everything that would have piqued my concern in a normal situation, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation: vacation, work schedule, my absence, new food.
I will, in the future, not be so quick to dismiss accumulating symptoms, even if they coincide with some level of situational disruption. Unfortunately, that does little for Mortimer, who was officially diagnosed with lymphoma the day after we took him to the vet, via a needle biopsy of his abdominal mass and his liver.
He’d probably much prefer I’d have learned this lesson in a much less fraught manner.