In Memory of Lily, Six-Year Feline Lymphoma Survivor

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Lily was one of those “too good to be true” cats. Adopted in 2001 as a kitten, she was a birthday present for my six-year-old daughter, Anna. A child’s pet has to be patient, and Lily was. She was sweet and submissive – always one to please. She would even let Anna snuggle her until she fell to sleep, no matter how long that took. When her duty was done, Lily would wriggle out and walk away. 

Lily lived most of her years without any health concerns. Any unscheduled trips to the vet were from her tendency to eat things she shouldn’t. No matter how cautious we were, Lily always seemed to find something. Eventually, she outgrew that habit. In 2013, while I was giving Lily scritches, I noticed her lymph glands on either side of her neck were swollen. Although Lily was eating and behaving normally, we knew that was a cause for concern, so we brought her to the vet. After finding a small lump on Lily’s abdomen, the vet sent it in for a biopsy. The diagnosis was intermediate-grade multicentric lymphoma, similar to canine lymphoma, without organ involvement. (Nearly all of Lily’s lymph glands were enlarged.) The prognosis was not good.

After many tears and feeling like time was short, Anna, who was 19, told me, “We can’t just do nothing. I want to try to help her.” Since Lily had been such a special kitty and a gift to Anna, it would have been extra hard to let her go. We agreed to chemotherapy treatment at the Flint Animal Cancer Center, with the cost shared between us.
 
After discussion with the doctor, we decided Lily would be treated with a modified COP protocol. Her first treatment in November 2013 had a rough after-effect. She experienced a loss of appetite for two full days, and I was worried the choice for chemo was a mistake. The doctor assured us that we could make adjustments to treatment and that the first goal is always quality of life. After the second chemo, the only issue was having to switch Lily’s food every week or so. She became extremely picky, but she still ate, provided it was junk food or tuna.

By mid-December 2013, we learned she had achieved partial remission. I think everyone was surprised at how quickly this happened. By January 2014, full remission! Lily was deemed the vet hospital’s miracle kitty at that time. Other doctors knew about her case, and one vet tech, Elizabeth, always made sure she was on Lily’s team when she came in for treatment. (Testament to Lily’s nature--she was sweet as pie during every session.) We knew that this didn’t mean things were in the clear. Lily finished her chemotherapy in March of 2014, still in full remission, but with everyone cautious.
 
Her care from that point on was an appointment every few weeks to check her status, in case the cancer returned. Those visits moved to every other month. After that, every six months, then her care was continued with our local vet clinic. Lily remained cancer-free for six years and five months. 

Lily just passed away in June 2020 at the age of 19 from pulmonary edema, most likely caused by heart failure. Up until the very end, Lily’s health was perfect, and she remained the calm, sweet-natured kitty she had been since 2001. We will miss her terribly, but we are so grateful to Flint Animal Cancer Center for letting us have this blessing of a cat for six more years.