Some of you have been following Tabs and Tidbits on Facebook and Instagram. Each week I gave an update on Cooper after his weekly chemo sessions. There is plenty more to share at the midpoint of Cooper’s chemotherapy treatment, so I wanted to give you more details on how chemo has been for Cooper so far.
Before I move forward, I would like to emphasize that Cooper is still going strong. He is enjoying looking out his favorite window to chatter when the birds land in the trees and bushes. Chase the lizards that climb on the outside of the window frames and screens. With some small issues that came up, Cooper has still managed to live life to the fullest.
A couple of months ago, I announced that Cooper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Once pancreatic cancer was the diagnosis and removing the tumor would kill Cooper, treatment or decline treatment were the only options. I knew the typical outcome with this type of cancer, but not offering Cooper a chance was never on the table from the day he joined our family. Chemotherapy was an option, and we accepted. The ultimate goal of the chemo is to slow the growth or reduce the size of the tumor. Of course, there is that hope that we could just get rid of the cancer, but I have to remain realistic about this type of disease. Regardless of the outcome, Cooper was strong and healthy enough to go through chemo.
So, the task became finding the right treatment for Cooper. Cooper’s health is a balancing act. How to target his pancreatic cancer without compromising his kidneys was the biggest issue. Cooper’s doctor researched and consulted with other doctors to find a chemo drug that Cooper could tolerate and that would not risk his kidney health. Once the right drug was found , Cooper was at the vet for his first chemo session starting right at the beginning of February.
The schedule of the chemo was set up once a week for 5 weeks. Cooper would get the sixth week off, but he would have an ultrasound that week to see if the chemo was helping. If the results of the ultrasound were encouraging, we would continue chemo for an additional 5 weeks.
Different chemo treatments have different side effects. When chemotherapy became the topic of discussion, my mind envisioned Cooper losing hair, becoming nauseous, weak and fragile, not eating, so on and so on. However, that could not have been further from the actual side effects Cooper has had so far. Cooper’s chemo drug was typically known to cause an appetite decrease, but otherwise, it was very tolerable for cats. Cooper’s doctor advised me that Cooper would probably have an appetite drop within 48 to 72 hours from each chemo session. And just like clockwork, Cooper would lose his appetite exactly 48 to 72 hours after chemo. However, Cooper was prescribed appetite stimulants to aid in getting his appetite back on track.
Cooper did lose some weight during the first 2 weeks of chemotherapy. His doctor mapped out a more specific schedule with the appetite stimulants to encourage Cooper to eat more. By week three, Cooper was starting to gain his weight back. Halfway through chemo, Cooper has gained back his weight and maintained his bodyweight.
Another unexpected side effect that started to show up early into treatment, was anemia. Strangely, Cooper was obsessing over water from the sink. That is not strange for cats to want to drink from a running stream of water in the sink, but for Cooper, this was bizarre. Especially, when Cooper was loving his water fountain before treatment began, but days after chemo started Cooper would not touch it nor his water bowl. Cooper’s doctor ran some tests, and it turned out that Cooper’s red blood cell count was low. His doctor prescribed a medication that would help him build back his red blood cells. Cooper started to build back his red blood cells, and within 2 weeks, he was no longer anemic. Once we reached week 6, Cooper was maintaining a healthy blood cell count without the medication.
The ultrasound during the sixth week was not great but was not shocking. Pancreatic cancer is an ugly beast, and we knew what we were facing from the beginning of diagnosis. The veterinarian that conducted the ultrasound said he was surprised that Cooper was eating and had the energy to carry on as usual based on what he saw in the ultrasound. But, that is exactly what Cooper is doing. To make things even more surprising, Cooper has had some of the best lab work at the halfway point of his chemo treatment. Although the ultrasound was disappointing, Cooper is still going strong. He is healthy enough to continue chemotherapy. His doctor is adding another drug to his chemo treatment moving forward. As always, Cooper will be monitored very closely as we continue chemo.
So, we are at the midway point of Cooper’s chemotherapy, and he continues to impress us. Close monitoring and the best care from his doctor and staff at Riverview Animal Clinic has allowed Cooper to thrive so well. His doctor said if you looked at the ultrasound and his current lab work, you would think you were looking at two different cats. She went on to explain that this is why she treats the patient not the disease. Cooper is here today because of that exact philosophy in medical treatment.
I hope by sharing this experience that I can take away some of the fear from chemo that frankly can seem down right scary. Cooper’s doctor and the staff put me at ease through this entire process. I eventually did not have to struggle to say Cooper has cancer and he is undergoing chemo. I had to stop feeling sorry for Cooper and the raw deal he got with his health in the past and now cancer. Cooper does not feel sorry for himself, and precious time is wasted in having a pity party that he is not joining. So, I can say that regardless of the outcome of Cooper’ chemo treatment, I have been able to spend even more precious time with Cooper during this process. And for that, I am grateful!
Now for the fun stuff…pictures! You may have seen some of the photos on our social media. I took each picture shorty after his chemo each week. He was sleeping in most of the pictures. The sleeping had nothing to do with his chemo, but rather Cooper being “on guard” at the vet for the day.