He was born in April of 2000 - the most beautiful Maine Coon kitten I had ever seen.
He was like a little painted rock, with all the stripes and spirals he was supposed to have as a tabby - a true feline masterpiece.
Since I had just moved to Kansas, I named him KC Masterpiece ... "Piece" to his friends.
At The Shows
As he grew, Piece seemed to be living up to his name. Together we showed for a full year with great success. His show career took us coast-to-coast and we had a wonderful time. His victories in the show ring earned him the titled of Best Maine Coon in CFA's Midwest region and he was the fourth Best Maine Coon nationally! Piece was more of a “people” cat than any I'd ever before shown. Everywhere we went people wrote about him and he was featured in many news articles. He was, and still is, is a love-of-my-life kind of cat.
With his victories in the show ring behind him, Piece retired to live the life of a beloved house kitty.
All was well for several years. Then, when Piece was about four years old, I picked him up like I did a million times a day, but this time I felt a little spongy mass between his shoulder blades. I didn't know what it was, but something about it concerned me. I immediately took him to my veterinarian and she did a needle aspirate of the mass. She recommended further tests with a veterinary oncologist – a vet who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
The following Monday I took him to the vet school in Manhattan, Kansas where they performed a biopsy, a CT scan, and other diagnostics looking for an answer to what the problem might be. The news was horrible. Piece had a vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma - it was cancer. To make matters worse, it had already spread to his lungs. They said the cancer was terminal. There was nothing they could do. They gave him four to six weeks to live.
It felt like somebody had knocked me out. I took Piece home.
In the next two weeks, the tumor more than doubled in size. We thought we were close to the end.
|A fibrosarcoma is a deeply rooted malignant tumor that spreads quickly by growing widely in a localized area. When the fibrosarcoma occurs at the site of a vaccine injection, it is called a vaccine-site or vaccine-associated sarcoma, a condition unique to cats. These vacccine-associated fibrosarcomas seem to be more aggressive than fibrosarcomas in other parts of the body. Because previously, most vaccines were given between the cat's shoulder blades, these sarcomas often were difficult to remove or required amputation of the front leg. The American Association of Feline Practitioners have recommended vaccines no longer be given between the shoulder blades on cats. See our articles titled Vaccination Sites On Your Cat and Fibrosarcoma for more information.|
A New Hope
Just as we were preparing emotionally for losing Piece to the tumor, we received a phone call from a veterinary student at Kansas State University. She said the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University (CSU) was conducting a clinical research trial on these fibrosarcomas. Piece would have to fit certain guidelines to be accepted into the trial, but it was a possibility we could consider.
Off to Colorado we went, hoping for good news....
Unfortunately, at his initial medical consultation at the CSU Animal Cancer Center, they said Piece did not qualify for the study. His tumor was much too big. However, a surgeon offered us another option. Although no more than a millimeter wide, the margin around the edges of the cancer was just enough that he thought he could remove the tumor surgically. We were looking at a do-or-die situation. It was our only option.
I talked to Piece before making a decision. I told him I didn't know if it was the right to put him through something that might be painful, but I asked him to just give me a chance to help him. I swore to him that I would stop the treatment if it became undignified or too uncomfortable for him. I said that if he would just get through it, just see if we could do something to help him, then I wanted to try.
I think he knew what I was saying. The decision was made ...
The next day, Piece went into surgery and the tumor was successfully removed. His skilled surgeon had to take some of the scapula, the bone of the shoulder, but he was able to save Piece's leg.
Surgery was followed by weeks of radiation therapy. Monday through Friday, Piece would have a radiation treatment during the day and return to the hotel room with me each evening. He was very accustomed to the hotel routine from his time as a show cat so he thought that was great! What a trooper!
After nine weeks of radiation, everything looked good. We went home.
Months passed. Piece enjoyed years of good health and great times. We were all relieved and happy. Piece even became a daddy, producing a beautiful litter of kittens!
Then, four years after the initial surgery, the tumor came back....
We knew this had always been a possibility, nonetheless, we were devastated. But also determined to do our best to fight the cancer a second time.
Returning to CSU, they said they could try to take it out again. Piece had already received his maximum dose of radiation, so this time, conventional radiation therapy after surgery was not an option.
However, in the four years since his first surgery, the Animal Cancer Center had acquired what we call in human medicine a "cyber knife" (Varian Trilogy); a technology that wasn't available when he was first diagnosed. With specialized beams of radiation, they could penetrate only the tumor and not affect the normal tissue around it.
Once again, before making the decision, I said, “Let me talk to Piece.”
I was really nervous about it, but he'd recovered so well last time and had been such a happy cat afterwards that it just seemed cowardly to give up now, so we decided to try it.
The surgery was performed, followed by five months of chemotherapy. Once again, it was a success!
Piece's Ninth Birthday
We celebrated Piece's ninth birthday this year.
I always give Piece little massages while rubbing the back of his neck. He likes it and I take the opportunity to monitor for any sign of the tumor's return. I don't feel anything there anymore. Zilch! It is truly a miracle. I don't know if it's really gone but at his last check up, there was no evidence of the tumor.
Having Piece cancer free and celebrating his ninth birthday is a real victory - and better than his best win in the show ring!
I appreciate every day I have with him.
In the early morning, he likes to get up on my dresser and, one by one, he'll knock things off until I get up and get him a can of cat food. If he can find a piece of plastic, he'll rattle it until I get up.
Things like that used to be annoying, but now are cute to me. In fact, I'm more patient with all the irritating things that anybody does now, feline or human. Little annoying things don't bother me anymore.
Experiencing cancer treatment with Piece has put everything into perspective.
Piece's cancer has been my worst experience with an illness of any kind, but it has also been the best medical experience I've ever had with an animal. It is amazing the way the CSU Animal Cancer Center runs things in such a very methodical, yet very personable way. The kindness and wonderful care they gave Piece was just unbelievable. I don't think I had better treatment when I myself had to have surgery.
I learned an important life lesson too. In a dire situation when somebody says there's no hope, don't give in to despair. There may still be a light - a solution to the problem. We found it at the CSU Animal Cancer Center. Five years ago Piece was terminal, and now he's nine years old. We consider it a gift and a great victory.
GC, RW Syracoon's KC Masterpiece
CFA Midwest Region's 7th Best Cat in Championship 2002
CFA's Best Brown Tabby with White Maine Coon 2002
CFA's 4th Best Maine Coon Nationally 2002
and Cancer Survivor!