Feline progressive dendritic cell histiocytosis

By Jay Furr | December 11, 2020

Marie, post stitch removal

 
We hadn’t either until recently. One day, when I was grooming our oldest cat, Marie, I noticed that she had a strange raised lumpiness on her skin about halfway down one side. I thought at first it might be scar tissue from the time Carole cut her skin open trying to trim matted fur (Marie does not do a good job cleaning herself) but it turns out that that cut was on her hip; this was on her side.
 
We took her to the Richmond Animal Hospital and they’d never seen anything like it; they took a cell sample and sent it off to be analyzed but the results were inconclusive. They asked us what we wanted to do and I said “well, I’m open to surgery if that makes sense”. So they first tried to schedule us in at the Peak Veterinary Referral Center in Williston, but they were scheduling out to January. So the vets here in Richmond said they’d do it. They shaved Marie basically bald on that side of her body and found that she had not one, but four of those strange lumps on her side — one large and three smaller. All were removed, stitches were put in, and the tissue was sent off to the oncologists at Peak.
 
We took Marie back a couple of weeks later for the stitches to be taken out, and then yesterday we took her to see an actual oncologist and dermatologist at Peak. Their conclusion: feline progressive dendritic cell histiocytosis. It’s not at all common. Something similar apparently happens more often in dogs and in dogs apparently the lumps go away of their own accord.
 
In “a proportion” of cats (don’t you love medical trade journal terminology?), the disease leads to tumors and stuff internally, so they suggested an ultrasound and an X-ray. I don’t know what I would have done if they’d come back and said “OH DEAR LORD IT’S EVERYWHERE” but they didn’t — they came back and said there were no signs at all of anything unusual.
 
Throughout all this, Marie has had her regular appetite and hasn’t shown any signs of feeling bad, so we’re hoping that this is just one of the lesser cases that doesn’t progress any further. They did recommend we have her checked every three months or so to see if her lymph nodes have enlarged or anything like that.
 
What makes me bring all this messy feline medical data up here on Facebook is the cost, frankly. I think we’re up around $2,500 in bills so far — initial exam and labs, surgery, removal of stitches, visit to oncologist/dermatologist with ultrasound and x-rays… it’s all cost a lot. And yet, I’d do it again; Marie may not be the friendliest cat (she was, we assume, abused in the house she lived in before she wound up at the Humane Society) but I want her to be happy and healthy. I wasn’t about to go “well, we’ll just let it run its course and if she starts feeling bad, we’ll have her put to sleep.” She’s a family member and she deserves to be treated like one.
 

But that said — we’re very fortunate that this expense, while frustrating, is something that won’t absolutely wreck our household finances. As I sit here thinking about this, I can’t help thinking about (and feeling bad about) all the people out there who aren’t in a relatively Covid-19-proof line of work and who couldn’t possibly afford all this… whether for a cat or an actual human member of their family. It pisses me off that Senator McConnell and others are playing politics with stimulus checks — and that we’re in this dire economic situation because our “President” had his head firmly up his ass. People shouldn’t be in a position of deciding whether to get health care for their family (human or cat) or, instead, afford to buy groceries.

(I should mention that this episode just reminds me again how terrible cancer is. Marie’s condition is not even technically cancer, I think… but worry over her “strange lumps” was upsetting enough when it was a cat. Now imagine how bad you feel and how worried you’d be if a loved human member of your family got a diagnosis of cancer and found that it was already metastasizing. Cancer may be inevitable, but no one should have to make choices such as “well, I have to divorce my husband so I’ll qualify for this low-cost insurance program that will treat my cancer”. No one should have to worry about the cost of necessary treatment for life-threatening health conditions. Our society is beyond f___ed up. Our priorities are crazy wrong.