Friday! No video games! Let’s talk about real life struggles!
For those of you not following along on Twitter, I’ll give it to you straight. Back in February this year, my 12-year-old kitty was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery to have her entire left mammary chain removed as a precaution. The surgery went fine, she recovered well, and within a month she had gone back to her usual self. The tumor was small, which typically meant we’d get another 2-4 years with her. Unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky.
About 3 weeks ago we noticed her breathing more rapidly than normal. She was about 2 pounds overweight, so we chalked it up to her age and size and decided to put her on a diet. A week later, the speed of her breathing increased and we immediately took her to the same veterinarian who performed the mammary gland removal surgery. It was far worse than we could have ever imagined.
They showed an Xray of her chest and her lungs were full of polyps, causing her to rapidly breathe at 50% of normal capacity. We were then given the unfortunate news that our beautiful kitty would continue to quickly decline and likely pass away in the next few weeks. Devastated, we took her back home after she received a steroid injection to help with her labored breathing.
And now it’s Rewind Time.
Approximately two weeks before this all occurred, I spiraled into a manic state of anxiety far worse than I’d ever experienced before. I’ve openly talked about my depression before, but rarely anxiety as it’s often under control. Long story short, I had an IBS flare-up that had similar symptoms to colon cancer, I made the mistake of Googling said symptoms, and my hypochondria became catastrophic to my overall mental health. I became a mess, sleeping 1-3 hours per night, waking up to panic attacks and having them throughout the day. These caused the muscles and joints in my arms and legs to tense up and ache and further increased my IBS symptoms (for those confused, IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome — essentially a state of constant to intermittent abdominal pains, diarrhea swapping in and out with constipation, and other un-fun things).
The worse this got, the worse my hypochondria became. If I was awake and in pain, I was Googling my symptoms and spiraling out of control. At that point, I was convinced that I had three different types of cancers! My girlfriend has been a big help and I’ve since seen a doctor who issued me a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug (Buspar). Finally, there was a light at the end of the tunnel! Until there wasn’t.
After my first appointment, I was informed that I no longer qualified for their sliding scale fees (I’m an unemployed former full-time student without insurance who somehow doesn’t qualify because I have to live with my mother for now and *her* income counts as mine, despite me being 36 and not claimed in any way by her tax returns — American healthcare fucking sucks for poor people, if you haven’t heard).
A week into the medication (which has been helping) I started to have increased anxiety because I wasn’t sure how I’d go about continuing to receive it — I’m currently working with another clinic and playing the “waiting game.”
So atop that, we now fast-forward back to the unfortunate cat news. Juggling both of these things was an absolute nightmare. My depression was high because I was about to lose my 12-year-old fur baby, and my anxiety was (is) high because I was convinced that (despite the low chance) I had colon cancer. Watching her deteriorate from her newfound lung cancer played into the hypochondria, which, in turn, increased my anxiety levels even further.
Then another surprise came. While petting the belly of our 14-year-old cat, my heart stopped as I felt a strange lump near one of her nipples. I was hearthbroken, thinking about losing another one of my cats in a similar manner.
This is the part of the story where I’d like to break away for a minute and stress the importance of spaying or neutering your cats at an early age, though.
We discovered Winkle’s breast cancer during a routine petting. The tumor, which felt like hard, lumpy oatmeal and appeared underneath the skin of one of her nipples, was about the size of penny and didn’t move around at all. The size of the tumor at the time of diagnoses plays a large role in the life expectancy of your cat, as well as its age, weight, and breed.
According to WagWalking.com:
“Generally, the prognosis for cats with breast or mammary cancer is guarded, with a few exceptions. If the cat’s tumor is smaller than 2cm, it may survive for up to three years. Cats with tumors between 2 and 3cm may survive fur up to two years and cats whose tumors are larger than 3cm may survive for up to six months.”
While Winkle’s tumor was on the small side, she was obese by two pounds and considered a senior at age 12. Mammary tumors in cats are also incredibly aggressive and metastasize quickly, as hers spread furiously into her lungs and resulted in her death roughly four months after surgery.
When it comes to mammary tumors in cats, less than 1% of them are benign (safe), with 77% being cancerous and 22% being pre-cancerous. The statistics are definitely not in their favor, so I implore you to routinely check your cat’s tummy on a weekly basis and not hesitate to schedule a vet visit if anything feels off. The procedure to have it removed was roughly $1,600.00 USD and was followed by a month-long recovery process.
The statistic that surprised us the most, though, wasn’t the 99.1% likelihood of a tumor being cancerous, but had to do with the age she was spayed. She was spayed as a 6-year-old adult, but cats spayed before their first heat cycle reduce their risk of the same cancer by almost 100%, dropping to 90% if they’re spayed before their first birthday. Waiting increases their risk exponentially, with an 8% increased risk by the 2nd heat cycle and a whopping 26% increase by their second birthday. You can imagine her risk percentage by her sixth, right?
In short, spay and neuter your pets. If I had known about this 12 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about keeping the electric on versus spaying my cat.
Thankfully, our 14-year-old’s lump turned out to be a common, harmless case of aging mammary tissue. It was flat — not lumpy like oatmeal — and our vet confirmed it as nothing life-threatening.
Yesterday, though, we had to make the incredibly tough decision that Winkle, our furry kitty, had been through enough. Her breathing had declined to the point where she was just eating and sleeping, and struggling to do both. She no longer wanted to play with her favorite string, no longer carried her favorite strawberry-shaped toy in her mouth while meowing down the hallway in the middle of the night — nothing. As a pet owner, it’s our job to make these decisions for them and it’s never, ever easy.
While I’m sad that she’s gone and I’ll never forget her adorable personality quirks, her chunky cuteness, and all of the wonderful memories and happiness she gave us, I’m also glad she’s no longer suffering.
As a result, my anxiety has improved, but the hypochondria remains in the back of my mind while I wait for my next appointment. All signs point to a combination of severe depression and anxiety, along with IBS, but, to my brain, “anything can happen.”
I feel silly talking about it because I think any rational person would chalk it up to the likely outcome and quietly wait for their appointment. But I can’t. I spend most of my day staving off the next panic attack, struggling not to pick up my tablet and Google more symptoms in a futile attempt of narrowing down a shitty self-diagnoses.
To give you an idea of how my hypochondria works: in order to combat my IBS’s diarrhea symptoms I stopped eating fast food and other bad-for-you stuff (like soda and ice cream) as well as struggling with anxiety’s unwelcome decreased appetite over the course of the last seven days, which resulted in a five-pound weight reduction. Sounds normal for a 221-pound male to lose five pounds in a week when they’re barely eating — and when they do eat they’re eating fresh fruit and vegetables and other high-fiber foodstuffs. To me, this was “drastic weight loss,” which redirected my brain back to one of colon cancer’s earliest detected symptoms. Because of course it did.
Needless to say, it’s been the struggle to end all mental struggles, my family is an amazing support system, and I just want to sit in my room and cry about my cat. This is why I haven’t been around for the last few weeks and why I’ve been distant on social media. My world is in shambles and I’m struggling hard to put it all back together. It’s a slow process that I feel is working, and I also feel healthier, but anxiety and hypochondria are always there to remind me of the absolute worst possible outcomes.
Thank you to everyone out there who have reached out on Twitter or Discord and offered their condolences and/or shoulder to vent on. It means a lot. This post was hard to write, but it did make me feel a little better (even if it does make me sound completely insane).
Games haven’t been working as a distraction and I’ve completely bounced off Prey, Tokyo Xanadu Ex+, Grand Theft Auto V, Watch Dogs 2, and Shadow Tactics. I just can’t focus on them long enough and, as a result, gain nothing in return. I did have a $15 refund credit on PSN and used to pick up a few games during their Mid-Year Sale (Ys Origins, Song of the Deep, Full Throttle Remastered, Sine Mora Ex, and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams), but whether or not I dive into anything this weekend is completely up in the air.
If this post is a little too uncomfortable to read and reply to, I completely understand. This was for me more than anything.