Case Solved: Oncology
There was something different about Truffle and Karen Foster* and her daughter, Ruth, recognized it right away. Some people looked at the rescued feral kitten in pitiful shape with a deep gash on her flank, and deemed her a hopeless and unadoptable animal. But Ruth, working then as a local animal control officer, instead saw a handsome tuxedo-colored feline with a sweet disposition and a manner that conveyed she needed a family.
So the Fosters made her a part of theirs and called her Truffle because, like her wild mushroom namesake, she dark fur and had been found in the woods. More than a decade with the family, she has brought joy, love and a unique outlook.
“She is different from other cats we’ve had,” said Karen Foster. “She is affectionate and charming but she is also fierce. Truffle will stare down a dog with those tiger eyes and maybe that is the feral part of her coming through.”
Whatever the source of that unique attribute, Truffle’s survivor instinct would prove to be an invaluable asset in the face of the scariest of c-words: cancer. In early 2013, Foster noticed that Truffle was behaving out of character and not eating much. Her local veterinarian discovered a large mass in her stomach and cautioned that the severity of the situation likely meant that Truffle had only a short time to live.
The case was referred to Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University in February and Truffle was seen by members of the oncology team. The diagnosis was grim: malignant, inoperable gastric lymphoma. At this point, Truffle’s health was so compromised that she needed a feeding tube to receive nourishment (when a cat can’t or won’t eat, it can cause fat to accumulate in the liver which can eventually lead to liver failure).
Just as with human cancers, there are many treatment options available for treating pets. For animals with cancer, the treatment goals are to maintain or improve the patient’s quality of life and not cause increased suffering through the treatment. The Harrington Oncology program at Foster Hospital for Small Animals is nationally recognized as a leader in the field and provides quality care by integrating state-of-the-art diagnostic, medical, radiation and surgical techniques. The board-certified veterinary oncologists are engaged in ongoing research into the causes, biology and treatment of cancer, including the environmental risk factors for cancer and novel cancer therapies.
Since surgery wasn’t an option for Truffle, the oncology team put her on a treatment regimen that involved a combination of different chemotherapy drugs. From that point, the plan was to continue treatment and monitor her response.
The persistence of the Foster family’s love and care of Truffle, as well as the ongoing monitoring of her condition by the Foster Hospital oncology team started paying off in the months that followed. “She responded well to the chemo and was really fighting back,” said Foster. “We witnessed how tough she was and by the summer she was eating enough on her own that she didn’t need to use a feeding tube.”
On October 29, 2013, Truffle came to the hospital for a recheck. An ultrasound showed that the cancer had gone into remission. Remission is an indication that an effective medical regimen is in place but it doesn’t signify a cure. Thus, medical treatment continues. In Truffle’s case, the medical team continued the course of chemo treatments for another few months and monitored her for recurrence of malignant tissue. The average survival for feline lymphoma is typically between two and nine months. Nearly a year after her remission anniversary, Truffle remains cancer free.
“We are thrilled with Truffle’s outcome,” said Dr. Lisa Barber, a board-certified oncologist and assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine who was part of Truffle’s care team. “Her fighting spirit and family’s compassionate care augmented the medical interventions that we were able to provide for Truffle’s specific condition.”
Foster has dubbed Truffle the “Miracle Cat” and is grateful for every day she is with the family. She is also thankful to Dr. Barber and the hospital staff who cared for Truffle during her treatment.
“Dr. Barber is absolutely wonderful. I wish that all creatures—human and animal—could have a doctor like her. She, of course, has many other patients but whenever we met with her, her focus on Truffle made us feel like we were the only ones.”
*The Foster family is not affiliated in any way with the Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals.