The Flute Network - A Public Service Announcement

September/October 1997 issue

With an update, Jan. 1, 1998

With yet another VERY SPECIAL update, Nov. 12, 1998...


If you love a cat, please read this
(And yes, I do mean the four-legged furry kind...)!

     It breaks my heart to have to run this kind of notice - but it is in keeping with the mission at the core of The Flute Network, so brace yourself: your cat(s) is/are counting on you to be aware of something called POST-VACCINAL FIBRO SARCOMA.

      THE SHORT AND SWEET VERSION (if there can be said to be one) is this: make it a point to pay particular attention to your animals after they get their vaccinations, and if your find that your pet has developed a small lump near the site of his/her vaccination, watch it carefully!!! It's not too unusual for a cat to react to a vaccination in this way, but increasingly since 1991, a lump growing near the site of vaccinations has been the first indication of a very aggressive type of cancer. If the lump seems to you to be growing at all rather than getting smaller in the days after his/her vaccination, or if you have any question about what you are seeing - waste no time in getting your cat back to the vet! Hopefully, you will never need to know more about it that this.

     Neither Jerry nor I had heard anything of it until one of our cats (Ginger - the one who used to have the pet spider...) developed a lump on her shoulder in May -- we didn't know to look for it, and it didn't seem to be hurting her, so we let it go for several weeks, thinking it would resolve itself. It didn't. It just got bigger and she seemed to be getting weak, so we called the vet. Within 5 minutes of the time we walked in the door at the vet, Ginger was in surgery; we didn't have an appointment and there were lots of other patients in the waiting room -- it was that urgent. I don't know who was more traumatized. The doctor was one of the best surgeons in town and the lab say's she got a "clean margin", but I was not at all prepared for all this. Ginger looked very much like a "Franken-kitty" when we brought her home -- she'd had a 10" incision down the side of her, and even though she was on her feet rather quickly, it was a couple of weeks before moving around didn't seem to be painful to her. Since then, though, she's recovered amazingly well - and is more playful, adventurous and loving than she's ever been before! We hope that they "got it all" - but will have to be watchful for any sign of recurrence.

     Because of public pressure, the Veterinary community does seem to be more forthcoming about this kind of information in recent weeks; but, still, many vets are very reluctant to talk about it - or if they do, they downplay the chance of occurance.


     IF YOU"D LIKE TO KNOW MORE: The single best resource for more information on PVFS is a magnificent web site organized and run by Jeff and Coleen and their beautiful cat Sylvia: This web site is called Sylvia's Journey of New Hope and it is very much a labor of love -- you will find here answers to all your questions, including the latest in scientific information as well as the very real and personal story of a very much loved little cat who is also doing well in surviving her battle with PVFS. While it's not always easy reading, it's worth spending some time here and exploring the links Jeff has included ... and while the topic is an unfortunate one, it is an honor and a pleasure to recommend it to you, and to cat-lovers everywhere. (***If this link doesn't take you there for any reason, do a Google search [or whatever your favorite search tool is] on "Sylvia's Journey of New Hope" and it should bring it up! Very worthwhile to find this site...)

     Knowledge really is power, and it matters that information is available! -- especially when it comes to the things we love!

As always, all best wishes, JSP.

Update, January 1, 1998: This is the hardest thing I've ever tried to write...

Ginger's portrait goes here

Around Thanksgiving of 1997, we noticed Ginger wasn't eating as she had been, that her breathing had gotten kind of raspy, and her energy level had gone way down. It had been a gradual decline - true to Ginger's nature, she didn't complain -- we just noticed that she wasn't enjoying any of the favorite spots she had had on windowsills and buffet tops or other high places the way she used to... She also had started to "cough" - and when the usual "hairball" remedies didn't seem to help, a trip to the vet and x-rays gave us scary news, which we weren't expecting (I had been hoping for a chronic hairball...).

We'd been tracking as we'd been warned to do, and felt no lumps where she'd had the one removed in May -- so we didn't dream that the sarcoma had returned... but we found that her lungs were now holding 6 - 12 (or so) tumors, all of which the vet felt were certainly metasticized sarcoma, one of which was apparently compromising those pipes. A consult later that day with a wonderful oncologist in nearby Irving, CA was a mixed blessing - and after heartbreaking consideration, we opted against chemo for her, as from all indications the cancer had spread too far.

Perhaps you can already tell by the tone of this missive, we're talking about our "fur-baby" here... (That seems to be a semi-legitimate and oft used term, I've learned -- and I'll unabashedly admit that it pretty accurately describes the sentiment involved here!) We took her home, I stocked up on Gerber's babyfood Formula 2 - turkey and chicken - which she eagerly lapped up off a spoon for the next several days; also found an herbal tea that she tolerated well by syringe (she wasn't drinking anything otherwise - and this stuff seemed to sooth her!. -- Thank goodness for the Internet! There are bulletin boards for cat health, and also for grief counseling, both and all of which I found extremely helpful during all this - again, use your preferred internet search engine to find what is currently available --- you DON'T have to go through this alone (and sometimes it helps to "talk" with others online in friendly supportive forums like those, especially when our real-life, flesh-and-blood counterparts might be uncomfortable doing so... there really is no "normal" time table for doing this kind of work). Anyway - I do believe we got to "keep her" most of that week primarily as a result of this tea-stuff.

But by Friday, Dec. 12th, as hard as it was to think so, it was clear that the most loving thing to do was to let her go. That fine balance between "existing" and "enjoying being" was tipping obviously in the wrong direction, even though we were trying all we could find to keep that from happening... she was eating less and less and beginning to refuse all liquids, and getting weaker almost by the hour as a consequence. (We could maybe have eaked out another week with her, but I could absolutely not stand to see her suffer... that was/would have been TOO hard.) Her vet was kind enough to come to our home where Ginger felt comfortable and unafraid, we talked with her and loved on her, and with first a seditave to relax her, the vet gradually and gently gave her an overdose of anesthesia and Ginger peacefully (almost gratefully, it felt like?) and with a tremendous amount of our love slipped over to the "Rainbow Bridge" (Again - "Google" it: search on the term "Rainbow Bridge" for the current most up to date offerings of this marvelous poem! I'm still finding the notion very helpful).

SO - even though our story has not had a happy ending, we share it in hopes of helping other cats and their people. Information is power. PLEASE, KEEP UP WITH THE CURRENT RESEARCH BEFORE VACCINATING YOUR PETS. The recommendations about this have changed several times even in just the 8 months, and hopefully whatever necessary changes in the vaccines will be made soon so that others are not compromised. Thank you.

Unexpected and Very Special Update, November 12, 1998

Two kitties on a carpet-tree goes here

I've been forced to admit it... sometimes GOOD things happen even when you don't want them to too! Here's the story...

In the photo above, the orange tabby is kitty "Nikki". We originally got her with the intent of her being a companion for Ginger, but in the year they had together they never really did get along all that well... so I'd been resigned to letting Nikki be the "only" one, for the duration, and Jerry and I turned our attention and energies to other things in our lives. (Can you hear it coming?!) That changed - very much against my better judgement at the time - on September 31, 1998.

The little black kitty in the photo is "Miss Prinn". She was a stray that came into the yard four days before that and simply wouldn't leave. (Jerry and I have a house that is just on the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest and, sadly, animals get "let loose" up here far more frequently than my heart can stand to think.) Jerry even "helped her over the fence" once, but she didn't take the hint... next morning, there she was, right back in the window again. I called everybody I could think of who may have been looking for a kitty, or lost one. I was fighting so hard to keep my distance from this little thing... kitten was skittish, very small, obviously hungry, but energetic and ....quite insistent, persistent, and determined... She'd keep her distance from the window (which Nikki would sit in and growl from) but if she saw me through it, she would come running up and sit on the ledge and mew -- which drove Nikki nuts! If I was outside at all, this kitten was right under my feet. ...I thought I'd found her a home at one point, with a teen and her family who lived across the street -- but two hours later, Ruby brought her back to me saying her Dad wouldn't allow it. At that point, I gave in. I carried her into the bathroom, gave her a foam-bath for fleas, and set up food, water, and litter box and her quaranteen began until we could get her to the vet.

First thing the next morning she and I went to the vet clinic. I held my breath while we waited for the results of blood tests -- and they were negative for the feline leukemia and FIV; and that was the point where I surprised myself and everybody else by bursting into tears... (I was SO embarrassed!)... and at that, this little kitten, right there on the cold metal table, stopped wrestling and leaned into me and started purring the loudest purr you've ever heard in your life. Well... let me tell you... with that, it was all over. Seeing this kitten's reaction, the Vet herself burst into tears too - (it was she who'd come to the house and had helped with Ginger last December; and she told me right there, with both of us in tears, that Ginger was her first professional experience with the PVFS as well...). It finally got through to me that this kitten was indeed "home"... just took this silly human a little longer to figure it out.

Because of all the experiences from before, the Vet and I decided to do limited vaccinations and I brought her on home. There is a bathroom in the middle of our house that has two doors and that became "her" room. Nikki knew she was in there, and the plan was to let these two have LOTS of time to adjust to each other, even if it was something of an inconvenience (fortunately, we have two bathrooms). I found some vinyl covered chicken wire at Home Depot and covered one of the door frames with it, so that there was a barrier there even with the door open. It was now Thursday, and since the vet determined she was actually older than we'd thought (kitten had all her adult teeth) we scheduled her spaying for the following Monday, so she'd have time to heal and recover a bit before we began the process of letting these two critters get together.

The first six days, we kept both doors closed. The two cats could hear and smell of each other under the doors, but neither seemed to feel particularly threatened -- and that's the way we wanted to keep it. I moved their feeding bowls to either side of the door as well, moving Nikkie's closer and closer to the door, as she'd tolerate it, over time. When they would each seem to eat comfortably while knowing the other was "there", we moved on to the next step.

In the mean time, the personality of this little kitten was so obviously that a of a "Princess - with attitude!" that the name "Miss Prinn" (alternately, "Princess") just took. Three days after her surgery we began to crack the door with the chicken wire just a bit so they could now see each other. They would growl and hiss, but couldn't hurt each other. The fourth day after her surgery, I put some more nails in to be sure the chicken wire would hold (Miss Prinn is defintely a climber...) and opened the door for the first time. And for the next week and a half or so, with the help of "kitty treats' when they were together "nicely" at the chicken wire door, they got used to each other and "their humans" being with each of the other one as well. All the while, we'd watch to see that they would eat comfortably in each other's presence... on either side of the chicken wire door.

All together it took almost three weeks - but it seems to have been more than worth it, and we now have our bathroom back. Nikki and Miss Prinn still tussel, and attack and stalk each other, but they also eat well together (with no chicken wire wall involved any longer) -- and occasionally touch noses and give each other a grooming lick. They do seem to relax sometimes in the same room, but Nikki does get tired of Miss Prinn's abundant energy and is not the least bit quiet in letting her know about it. I'm confident they will work it out as time goes on. Two weeks ago Miss Prinn had a very scary episode with her eyes fogging up (which precipitated lots more - very expensive - blood tests, as well as further extensive education on my part, about lots more potentially scary things that have to do with cats) - but devoted adherence to two kinds of antibiotics (and I'll admit it, lots of prayers too!) cleared it all up.

To my mind, this is a very important Chapter Three to Ginger's story, which is why it's offered here. I am by profession and training a family therapist and counselor (among other things)-- and have been active in recent years in helping others with their grief work. If anybody knew about grief and healing and what was involved with all that, I figured I sure did! And even as I knew that "there are forces bigger than us" involved in our lives, it has never been so clearly brought home to me before, than these episodes with this precious little 5.2 pounds of fur that took over our lives just six weeks ago. I will certainly still miss Ginger, and will still be keeping her pictures around, but there are indeed sizable changes in the way my heart feels these days... The hurting spots I'd gotten used to and accepted just don't seem to hurt anymore. When I do go to those spots which had been hurting so, there's almost a sense of imagining Ginger's satisfaction in these developments... ! This is something that, despite my professional training and lots of experience, I honestly wouldn't have believed was possible, even if somebody had tried to tell me it would happen. And so, I offer it to you - for whatever it may be worth. There are things we just can't predict, about living and about life. No matter how smart we may think we get! :D


I think we'll close Ginger's story here... and we'll start a "new book" with whatever comes next. Thanks so much for your kind indulgence if you're actually still reading all this, and for sharing this experience with me. Lots of love to you - and to your dear pets too... whatever they may be. And as always, Wishing You All the Very Best! :D

Sincerely, Jan Spell Pritchard

Miss Prinn's portrait goes here

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