Feline progressive dendritic cell histiocytosis

By | December 11, 2020
Fat black cat hunkering on the floor, with line visible on her left side where her stitches were taken out

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.

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Orchestrating Change: Tonight!

By | September 5, 2020

The documentary, “Orchestrating Change“, that I’m a featured subject in airs nationwide on PBS Plus/PBS World tonight at 8 pm EDT and again at midnight.

I created a Facebook event for people to help people remember to tune in:

Facebook event

The documentary is about Me2/Orchestra, the world’s only orchestra dedicated to people with mental illness and their friends families and allies. The documentary was filmed in 2017, went through post-production for a year and some change, and has begun being shown at film festivals. Tonight, however, will be the first time that it airs on national television.

I mention this not because of vanity, but because I think it’s a really worthwhile film that a lot of people will enjoy and learn from. Me2/Orchestra has changed many people’s lives for the better, including mine.

Check your local listings for “Orchestrating Change” on PBS World/PBS Plus and tune in tonight!

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BLM Update

By | June 17, 2020

For what it’s worth:

Here in my little (4,000 people) town in Vermont our government consists of a five-member elected “Selectboard” which usually meets every other week during normal times, but which has been meeting weekly during Covid-19. Via Zoom, of course. Meetings have a tendency to drag on due to citizen comment — and due to the fact that we’re all comfortably seated in our living rooms and don’t have to sit in a large conference room on wooden chairs fidgeting if we want to take part.

For a few weeks, the “how can we make the jugheads who obstinately refuse to wear masks start wearing masks?” question was much bruited about. Under Vermont law, apparently the Selectboard could actually have made it mandatory with fines (and, theoretically, imprisonment) if they’d really wanted to make the lives of the local police department a living hell, but they went instead with “requiring posters to be put up in all businesses telling people very strongly that wearing masks and practicing social distancing is a REALLY GOOD IDEA”.

Of course, that all took a back seat to BLM the last couple of weeks. I was pleasantly surprised during this Monday’s meeting where citizen comment was invited on the subject of flying BLM flags at the town office and/or along the streets that every single person who spoke was in favor in one sense or another, and only one person got peevish about “well, sure, fly a BLM flag, but don’t buy it from the actual Black Lives Matter people, they’re a partisan arm of the Democratic Party.” (Sigh.) Of course, the people who don’t want BLM flags flying probably knew better than to get on a recorded Zoom call and say so. Jerks are out there, though – we heard from one guy, a former Selectboard member at that, who had put up a BLM sign in front of his house (a 4’x6’ sandwich board style sign at that) only to have it stolen within a few hours.

Our town is overwhelmingly white and liberal so it’s easy to stand up and be all virtuous and denounce racism in all its forms, when in reality our own personal tolerance and acceptance is rarely put to the test. But that said, people did make some pretty intelligent, well-thought-out comments.

There was talk the last couple of weeks about holding a public forum to discuss racial equity and other BLM-related topics, but wise voices pointed out that absent any real kind of structure, it could easily turn into a big bash-the-cops session (even though there’s no sense that our small local police department has been anything but fair and professional). So we worked out that perhaps a small committee of people could meet to work out a plan for something more constructive… small group discussions, conversations, actions we could take. For the moment, we seem to be calling it the Committee for Racial Equity but we’re not married to that name. I volunteered to be on it, as did several others. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

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Black Lives Matter

By | June 11, 2020

Many organizations have been posting thoughtful, well-reasoned announcements regarding their attitude toward recent events and toward the Black Lives Matter movement.

We, Carole and Jay Furr, are just a middle-aged married couple with no special standing — but nonetheless, it seems wrong that our website is lacking any sign or testament of our attitudes and beliefs.

So here goes:

We are tremendously sorry that it took until the year 2020 for people to finally wake up and start saying “NO MORE”.

We are tremendously sorry for black and brown citizens who’ve had to give their children “the speech.” And who’ve had police called on them for just existing and being Americans. And for all those who have lost their lives via brutality, hatred, and society turning a blind eye. And everything else.

And most of all, we are sorry that so many people have said, for so long, “Why such a hurry to change things? Just wait, change will come in time.”

‘For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”’

Martin Luther King wrote that in 1963.

Nineteen. Sixty. Three.

The time to wait is OVER.

The only way change is going to come is if we all stand up and tell the people who defiantly talk about their heritage as they wave Confederate flags that the heritage they speak of consisted of slavery and oppression and genocide. And if we tell the people who insist on saying “ALL lives matter” to demonstrate that belief by agreeing that BLACK LIVES MATTER too… and stop looking the other way.

We support the Black Lives Matter movement. Unequivocally.

Carole and Jay Furr
Richmond, Vermont
June 2020

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Covid-19 claims another event

By | May 18, 2020

We just received word today that the four Susan G Komen 3-Day walks scheduled for 2020 have been postponed until 2021:

New England, August 20-22, 2021
Chicago, October 1-3, 2021
Dallas/Fort Worth, November 5-7, 2021
San Diego, November 19-21, 2021

Obviously, it was the responsible thing to do, both from a legal point of view and from a common-sense, health-focused point of view.

I was going to be walking in the 2020 Chicago Susan G Komen 3-Day, 60 miles in 3 days, but now am apparently going to be walking in the 2021 Chicago event instead. It’s going to be a little weird not taking part in at least one 3-Day walk this year (it would have been my 31st event since 2008) but obviously, in the end it wasn’t my walking that was important; it was the funding via donations from people like you.

Breast cancer hasn’t gone away in this era of Covid-19 and thousands of women (and some men) will die from it this year. The need for funding into research, treatment, and education has not diminished, and in order to continue funding key programs donations are needed now. (If you’re curious, incidentally, where the money donated to Komen all goes, click here: https://ww5.komen.org/ourimpact/)

Now, that said, I know that a lot of people are in some pretty dire financial straits at this point due to their stores or restaurants or other businesses being unable to open — or due to crippling medical bills, which is even worse. Please understand that I’m not saying “never mind that! sponsor me!” I’m only asking you to consider sending some money in to Komen to help keep their programs running if you can.

If you would be willing to sponsor me, I would be very, very, very grateful. You can donate at http://www.the3day.org/goto/jayfurr — and thanks.


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By | October 19, 2019

We planted lots of chile and bell peppers in every color and size and degree of hotness (well, just about) and chopped them all up into a container of, well, chile hash — which we then used today to make 12 quarts of salsa.

Ideally, we’d have used homegrown tomatoes as well, but we didn’t focus on paste tomatoes in our garden — mostly, we got zillions of cherry and currant tomatoes and a few other varieties, but not enough. Instead, we bought nine large containers of roma tomatoes from Costco, added a lot of sweet onion, green onion, cilantro, and garlic — and then got down to the serious business of boiling it all up and canning.

Jay very carefully used me as a barometer to know how much chopped chile to add to the salsa; he added a bit at a time and stirred and had me taste and so on until I said “that’s probably enough, definitely don’t add any more.”

We don’t do this sort of thing as a rule — it’s been years since we did any serious gardening, but as the photos show, this year we got into raised plants and container gardens in a big way.

Next year, having learned what worked well and what didn’t work, we’ll probably grow fewer varieties of tomatoes and more of the specific kinds we really liked. As for the chiles — well, who knows what Jay will do next year? (Answer: not even Jay.)

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Hey, I Was In A Movie!

By | October 15, 2019

So: I’m a featured subject in a just-released documentary film.

For reals.

The documentary is titled “Orchestrating Change” and is all about Me2/Orchestra, the orchestra I’ve been playing French horn in since 2011. Me2/Orchestra was founded to raise awareness and fight stigma about the realities of mental illness. The members of the orchestra run the gamut of conditions — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, anxiety, and everything in between — but you don’t have to have mental illness to be a member. The orchestra is specifically “for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them” — so anyone who plays an instrument can join it. We form a model organization, in which people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment of acceptance and mutual support.

Emmy-award-winning creators Barbara Multer-Wellin and Margie Friedman heard about Me2/Orchestra a few years ago and immediately realized that this group of amazing people would make for an equally amazing documentary. They spent several months (spread across about two years) visiting Burlington and Boston, spending time with the members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington and the newer Me2/Orchestra Boston — then went back to Los Angeles to do the hard work of compiling all the stories and pain and accomplishment into one incredible documentary.

It was screened here in Burlington at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center the evening of October 12 and then was screened repeatedly in Boston over the following days. As one of the featured participants in the film, I was asked to be part of a roundtable discussion after the showing, along with the other featured members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington.

I wish I could share the whole movie with everyone I know because it really is a phenomenal, outstanding picture. In my opinion, it really tells the story of Me2/Orchestra in the way that we hoped it would be told — revealing the members as musicians, friends, people — showing that those who suffer from mental illness can still have prodigious talent and creativity. Since it’s not yet in wide release (they’re still working on that), I can point you to the website for Orchestrating Change, the film, which has a lot of nice resources including a few short scenes from the film and a printable discussion guide. There’s also a nice article in the Boston Globe that’s worth a look.

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Green Mountain Horn Club performance in North Hero

By | August 10, 2019

The Green Mountain Horn Club has been a thing here in Vermont for several decades, changing in membership over the years but always managing to come together every few months to put on fun French Horn-only performances for our legions of admiring fans.

We did a performance recently in North Hero, Vermont at a little roadside venue called Island Arts (North Hero is one of the town-sized islands in northern Lake Champlain). We had assistance from a piccolo player (for the “Stars and Stripes Forever”) and several drummers from the talented pool of Vermont percussion players. Four of our horn players also brought their Wagner tubas — brass instruments that look like skinny, stretched-out French horns — to use for three numbers. It was a fun evening and I’m grateful to our legendary conductor and organizer, Charles Mayhood, for putting the whole thing together.

Jay sat on a blanket in front of the band and did his best to film the performance on his cell phone, but predictably had a few “oops”-es along the way. Fortunately, a cameraman from Lake Champlain Access Television was also present, to film the performance for later broadcast, and just the other day the video went up on their website. Enjoy.

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By | July 9, 2019

Bear on my front porch this morning.

Yes, you’re supposed to take your bird feeders in during the spring so as not to attract bears coming out of hibernation. We’ve actually only had ours out for the last month or so.

Our reaction to the bear coming onto our porch today was “Hey, dammit, it’s JULY. Get lost. You’ve been awake for weeks.”

Parenthetically, it’s not illegal per se to have birdfeeders in Vermont. It’s generally accepted that you take them in at the end of the winter before bears wake from hibernation… but a lot of people put them back out again once late spring or early summer comes.

We checked the law, and the law says “it’s illegal to knowingly feed bears” — https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/10/113/04827a — and so that more or less translates to “if you know bears are raiding your birdfeeders, it’s illegal to leave them out.”

So, yeah, we’ll be taking them in until winter. It’s a pity, because our cats absolutely love watching the birds, but the law is there for a reason. You don’t want to train the local bear population to see human habitations as places to get a snack.

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