Our first few months with Maggie were fairly normal ... then she started having weird health issues. Over the course of the summer, our vet ran test after test, (FIV, negative. FeLV, negative. Everything we could think of, negative.) but no diagnosis was to be had. In November 2002, Maggie got worse. She was listless and refused to eat and we went to our regular vet ... who immediately sent us to the emergency department at Southpaws (a veterinary specialty practice).
Blood tests revealed that Maggie was dangerously anemic and her blood platelet count was only 10% of what is should have been. She spent two days in Southpaws' intensive care unit, being treated with fluids and large doses of steroids. Even when I brought her home, I still wasn't sure that she was going to make it. All she wanted to do was 'hide' in my bathtub ... so she hid, and I sat in the bathtub with her and cuddled her and tried to entice her to eat.
After a few more very dicey days, Maggie began to slowly regain her strength. More tests revealed that Maggie had Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, an autoimmune disorder where Maggie's own immune system attacked her blood cells ... and she would most likely require steroids and Cyclosporin, an expensive immune suppression drug, for the rest of her life. (IMHA is very rare in cats. My vet has only seen one other case in her whole career, and those owners chose to euthanize, so we were operating in almost uncharted territory.)
Maggie responded well to treatment, and life around here was pretty normal ... until right before Maggie turned eight. I was petting her one day and I found a lump on her neck underneath her chin. Back to the vet we went ... Lymphoma ... probably caused by her years on immune suppression drugs. We scheduled delicate surgery to remove the cancerous lymph node (Bless you, Dr. Bradley) and a biopsy to determine where we went from there. Biopsy results ... Hodgkins' Type Lymphoma, which is rare in cats and was treatable.
Maggie received six rounds of chemotherapy (CCNU, to be exact) and she has been practically perfect ever since. So good, in fact, that her oncologist weaned her off the Cyclosporin last year, because Maggie's bloodwork was the best it has ever been. The doctor theorizes that the chemotherapy probably knocked out both the cancer AND the agent that was causing her IMHA. Maggie will always be on a low dose of steroids, though, because her immune system will never behave normally. Half of a methylprednisolone tablet every two or three days before breakfast, and she's good to go.
I tell this story every year to place Maggie's history online, so anyone who has a cat with a similar diagnosis can know that there may be hope and a future with an IMHA cat. When Maggie was diagnosed, there was nothing out there to read to offer any kind of reassurance. There IS hope, and Maggie is proof.
When Maggie was at our vet's for her regular check-up recently, her doctor brought a visiting resident student into the room to meet us. The doctor looked at me, pointed to the student, and said, "She's never going to see another one of these ... tell her Maggie's story."
It's amazing to think that Maggie has been with us this long, considering how much she's been through. The force is strong in this one, as they said in Star Wars. If you have visited here, you have met Maggie ... because she greets everyone at the door, demanding attention and begging to be petted.
There's just something about Maggie that is wise beyond her limitations as a cat ... perhaps she's doing some evolutionary pennance, spending lives as a cat as punishment for some sort of world domination plot in a past life. I wouldn't be surprised if this was true.
Happy Birthday, my dear Maggie!! Eleven already? It can't be. It was only a few days ago that I was standing in PetsMart, cradling you and trying to shoosh my inner voice that was screaming at me to take you home. Our home is a richer place because of you ... but you know that already.