Back in the fall of 2016 we took Spot to the fancy-schmancy ophthalmologist vet in Nashville. He had some discoloration in his right eye, the iris. When I’d researched, I learned that this was either melanosis (nothing to worry about) or melanoma (plenty to worry about).
Our local vet was concerned because it was only in the one eye. I stood right there and said, “So let’s take the eye out. Like, right now.” Her reply was that removing the eye was no guarantee; it’s been known to metastasize even after the eye is removed (technically, it spreads before the eye is removed but doesn’t show up until after). So she sent us to Veterinary Ophthalmology Services in Nashville, where we met with a specialist. From her we learned that they assess several things:
• color • shape • flat/raised • eyeball pressure •
and using those criteria they decide “probably benign” or “probably cancerous.” (Since they can’t easily biopsy something inside a cat’s eye.)
With melanoma, the color is typically black/dark; Spot’s color was brick red. With melanoma, the shape of the iris or the pupil becomes distorted; Spot had none of those symptoms. With melanoma, the spots are raised; Spot’s were flat. With melanoma, eyeball pressure becomes wildly uneven; Spot’s eyes were the same and in the normal range. So the vet was inclined to believe that for the time being, Spot was OK.
However, as I’ve noted, there is some evidence that melanosis is sometimes a precursor to melanoma (but most times it is not). “Some people can’t live with uncertainty,” the vet said, and they have they eye removed, even knowing that it’s not a guarantee. Typically, if it does metastasize, it ends up in the lungs or liver, so she suggested we have our vet X-ray his lungs for a baseline.
As we pulled out of the parking lot in Nashville, we called our vet, and they were able to get us in right then for the X-ray. And his lungs were clear. So for the time being Spot was in good shape. The vet asked us to try to determine when we’d first seen the spots—and to send photos. I spent half a day combing through our photographs and was able to trace it back a couple years. (I learned later they used my photos in a professional presentation, and was thrilled that perhaps it will help someone else’s cat or dog.)
Fast forward a couple years of quarterly checkups and our ophthalmalogist vet gave us the news: probably time to take the eye out. So … our big boy would have one less eye. But, we hope, no cancer ever.
That said, I was not emotionally prepared to sign a DNR for my cat at 7:15 in the morning, having arisen at 5:15, left the house at 6:00, and driven to southeast Nashville in freaking I-24 rush hour traffic without even a cup of tea to sustain me. Fortunately, Spot did just fine. We went off, had breakfast, shopped a little, and picked him up a few hours later. But OMG that Cone of Shame. He hated it, and he had to stay inside for two weeks.
I’d told the vet I was experienced at giving pills to felines. I said I knew all about putting the syringed pain meds in the cheek. I said, sure, I’ve shot lots of antibiotics down the throat from a syringe. (We’d just been through sweet Bean’s final illness.) Oh yeah, I’m good, I’d said.
… [Lowers eyes modestly] …
And then there was Spot. Who spit out the same pill three times. Who could rage-leap eight inches straight up while being tightly scruffed by me. Who clamped his mouth shut and when you pried it open literally exhaled the antibiotic. Right. Back. Out. We tried different positions (“you hold this, I’ll hold that”) and eventually discovered that we had to swaddle him in a large towel and then Gerry had to lie on top of him to hold him still-ish so I could administer the drugs. It was, shall we say, a team-building exercise. Several times a day.
And Spot was miserable. Himself, yes, but a sadder version of it. It was breaking our hearts.
One night during this time we had a little gathering here, so we put the felines into the master suite to keep them out from underfoot. (We always do this. This spot in the house has always been their voluntary retreat, and they’re quite content there. All amenities are included.) But we check on them, of course. And when I did, I found the Cone of Shame on the floor right in front of the door. And Spotty was on the bed.
There was a tiny trickle of blood from the upper end of his stitches, so we know he scratched, but he didn’t appear to have done much damage, and we got the cone right back on him. The next day he paced the house endlessly, roaring like a mini-lion and just generally expressing his extreme displeasure. At that point we were just counting the days until his next appointment.
On the day, we had the Ceremonial Removal of the Cone of Shame. What a relief for all parties concerned! Coming home, we let him out of the carrier, because he seemed restless. And this is when we found out that Spot enjoys riding in the car. He doesn’t pace or try to climb into awkward places. He’ll get up on the console/armrest and lie still. If we’ve been out without him, when we return he is waiting—and the minute the door opens, he jumps into the car and will happily stay closed in the car while we unload groceries. Sometimes we forget him for a while. 🙂
Best news: the ophthalmologist called a few weeks later. They’d gotten the pathology back on the removed eye: it had, indeed, changed to melanoma, as the vet had thought when he observed it in February. (He’d seen Spot three months prior to that.) Nonetheless, all indications were that it had not metastasized. The vet was delighted, and we, of course, share in that emotion more than a year later.
Followup: The vet inserted a silicon eyeball when Spot’s diseased eye was removed. For esthetics! To make him look better! But as time went on, we noticed that it would swell, and he would seem to not feel well, and then it would leak fluid and he’d be fine for a while. The vet could never figure out what was causing it, but in the end we decided to have the fake eye removed. Now he looks a lot more like the tough ol’ buzzard we know him to be.
But there’s more. After this ordeal, Spot changed. He had never liked being picked up, particularly, and really didn’t like being held on his back (as the longtime cat owner—me—was wont to do). He would tighten his stomach muscles and stiffen his spine straight. Now, though? Pick him up, flip him over, and he curls right up and purrs.
Final update: Spot is our only cat now. When he joined our household, we were down to just Bean and Laddie, but both are gone now, Laddie (who tolerated Spot but did not want him here) just a few weeks ago. In the months since, Spot has evolved into a different cat, and it’s been lovely to watch. He follows us around inside the house; when he’s outside, he doesn’t wander as far from the house as he once did. In the evenings he sleeps on a pillow behind my monitor or on Gerry’s lap in the man cave. He knows precisely when bedtime is, and if I am trying to finish something up, he sits in front of the monitor to get my attention. When we’re in bed, he sleeps with us—something he never, ever did before. (In fact, he slept closed in my office, to prevent “accidental” run-ins with Laddie.) For some weeks he slept at the bottom of the bed between us, or on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed; then one evening he discovered the pleasures of having his very own pillow above my head. As I say, all the vestiges of that feral cat I worked so hard to tame in 2010 are gone. And it makes us happy.