Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fearing the worst, hoping for the best

Winnie's eyes - 08 Jan 2008. Sometime in December I noticed that Winnie (my little back and white cat) had developed dark spots on the iris of her left eye. I did a bit of googling on "cat health black specks iris" and didn't find any worrying info, so I didn't take her to the vet. Last week I decided to do a bit more googling, this time using the search word "spots" instead of "specks" in my search phrases. What a difference a single word makes!

All of a sudden my screen was filed with the words "pre-cancer", "melanoma", "malignant", and "cancer". Shit shit shit.

I took her to the vet straight away, but because it's a fairly rare occurrence, he wasn't really confident about doing a diagnosis. He booked Winnie in to see the eye specialist who, luckily enough, was visiting my vet clinic the following day.

By the time we saw him I was pretty sure what he would tell me. I'd spent time researching iris melanomas in cats, and looking at dozens of photos of cats' eyes, many of which resembled what I was seeing in Winnie's eye. I was right.

Winnie has pre-cancer in her left eye, caused by pigmented cells called melanocytes that have overgrown. The eye specialist used a slit-lamp biomicroscope to look at her eye to see if the lesions were flat (pre-cancer) or raised (cancer). At the moment they are flat, which is good, but if they change in shape or size, or start to affect the pupil, it may mean they have become cancerous.

75% of eye cancers in cats are malignant, so if the spots do become cancerous, the best option would be to remove Winnie's eye to stop the cancer spreading.

Deep breath.

OK - I guess that's not too bad. I mean, it is bad - it's awful - but if it became a question of having her eye removed or seeing her die of cancer, of course I'd choose the former option.

I was just about coming to terms with that possibility when another, much worse scenario occurred to me. What if she develops cancer in both of her eyes? Then I'd have a blind cat, and she wouldn't know why!

Oh God Oh God Oh God.

Winnie having a snooze by the window - December 2003. Winnie is my favourite cat. I know you're not supposed to have favourites, but I do, so there we go. She's my baby. She's family. I love her SO much, it hurts like hell just to have to think about this stuff.

I have to take photos of both her eyes, and the eye specialist will review them over time, to make sure that the spots aren't growing or changing. He told me they do this on a 6-monthly basis, but to me that doesn't seem often enough. What's worrying me is that I think I'm pretty observant, and the spots in her eye seemed to me to appear overnight. By that I mean I noticed them one day and I hadn't ever noticed them before. I looked at older photos of her and she definitely didn't have them a couple of years ago.

Sadly I hadn't taken any pictures of her for a while, so I can't pinpoint when the spots started to appear. Now I'm photographing her every day, trying to get a decent close-up shot of each eye. It isn't easy. Like any cat worth her salt, Winnie is an expert at avoiding whatever it is you want her to do (or want to do to her!). She turns her head away every time I approach her with the camera, or looks down, or shuts her eyes, or simply gets up and wanders off somewhere else. It's so frustrating!

As I'm the only person she allows to get anywhere near her, I can't ask anyone else to hold her while I take pictures, either. So I'm just going to have to persevere and get those photos - and keep on taking them, and monitoring them, and praying to the Great Beagle or the Giant Pumpkin or St Frances or something.

Winnie in the garden.
I was watching her in the garden the other day. She's so fascinated by everything. She's constantly looking at stuff, and sniffing around, and exploring, and checking out the world around her. I can't imagine how she'd manage if she had no eyes. What if she went on the road by mistake? Or wandered to the edge of my garden and fell down the steep cliff onto the road below? Or what if Teddy Cat next door decided to beat her up? She'd have no defenses!

She'd have to become an indoor cat, and I don't think that would make her very happy. Maybe I could take her out into the garden on a cat lead when I was around, and let her explore safely that way...

I know it's not exactly productive to let my mind race away into the worst "what if" scenarios like this. I try not to - it upsets me far too much, and as the outcome is not something I can control, I don't think it's a particularly good thing to dwell on it right now.

Winnie bigface - 14 January 2008. I suppose thinking through the possibilities might allow me to make some attempt to "prepare" myself for the worst. Except I don't think there's any way I can prepare myself for this. My cats are my best friends. They are the ones who live with me and share my life every day. I know that non-pet people probably think that's a little over the top, and a wee bit sad, but those of you with beloved pets will understand completely.

My cats are my fur children. I'm not going to have "real" children, but those of us who lack the maternal gene still have masses of love and affection to give. Many of us choose to give that love to our pets, and those pets become as important to us as any person. To think about the possibility of illness, pain or death in relation to my cats is as hard to do as if they were people. And what makes it somehow worse is of course that I can't explain any of this to Winnie. She will never understand what's happening to her.

Winnie in my bed, February 2004. Winnie and I are spending lots of quality time together. She sleeps on my bed every night, and unlike Bailey who generally goes off to his own bed at some point, she's still asleep on (or even in) my bed every morning. Quite often when I'm having my morning shower she'll come into the bathroom and wait for me to finish before demanding to be picked up for a good long cuddle.

She thinks I'm another cat, and rubs her face enthusiastically against mine in greeting. She curls up next to me on the sofa if I'm watching TV, or jumps up onto my lap if I'm working on my computer. If she wants attention, or wants to play with me, or wants her tummy rubbed, she isn't shy about letting me know.

And right now, whatever Winnie wants, Winnie gets. I don't know how much longer we've got together, and I want to make every moment count. I want to savour every second I have with her, and I want to show her just how much I love her.

So for now, I'm fearing the worst, and hoping for the best. Sometimes cats with iris pre-cancers can continue for years and years without their condition deteriorating in any way, and without the pre-cancer becoming cancer. I'm praying that this will be the case with Winnie.

Iris Melanoma in Cats

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


Missdeuxmont said...

Oh Ali, that is so sad...

I completely understand how you feel - my cat is my pseudo-child too. Going away on holiday is usually marred by me missing Fatty, wondering what he is up to etc. Ha ha! Sad but true.

It's good that you found the spots now. What will be will be, you just have to make the most of her like you are.


Andrée said...

I'm sorry you have to suffer thru this. The worst: not having her. The best: having her. She is precious and beautiful. I have been so fortunate not to have worries like this. I will be checking in to see how things go. My best wishes for you both.

webweaver said...

Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and sympathy, guys. Winnie is asleep on my lap as I type this, and I'm cherishing every second we have together.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog post by Googling "specks develop cat's eye iris". I tried some weeks ago with different words and came up with nothing much, but your post is exactly what I was looking for, only much scarier than I would have liked, of course.

I photograph my cat Hazel a lot and have noticed a small speck developing in one of her eyes for a while now - probably over a year. Just recently I have noticed more spots appearing in the same eye (I'm now wondering if anything has appeared in the other eye, and she's out in the garden at the moment, so I'll have to check when she gets back in!).

Hazel is 12 years old, but very fit and active and has just emigrated with me from UK to Portugal. I know exactly what you mean about cats being part of the family.

There doesn't seem to be a lot on the web about Iris Melanoma which suggests to me that it's quite rare that it becomes a problem. Cats are pretty good at surviving (9 lives etc.).

Thanks for the info in your post and best wishes to you and Winnie.


Care said...

Thank you for this post. I am going through this with my favorite boy, Twinkle, right now. I feel the same way about my cats as you do about yours. It's nice to hear from a kindred spirit.


webweaver said...

David and Care - thanks so much for your comments. I do hope it all goes well for Hazel and Twinkle - I'll be thinking of them and you both.

Updating Winnie's news - two years later and she's still going strong. The spots in her left eye have grown considerably, and over the past 12 months her right eye has also developed discolouration.

It's different from the left eye (where the spots are well defined) - in her right eye the colouring is much more diffuse and lighter in colour.

The eye specialist vet says it's likely to be pre-cancerous, but he just sees her once a year to check up on progress and isn't planning to remove her eye(s) any time soon, thank goodness.

It appears that in many cats the pre-cancerous markings never develop into malignancy, and the cats carries on to a ripe old age with no ill-effects. And so unless the spots become raised or velvety, he won't need to do anything drastic.

I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed.

Steff said...

I just found out my baby has a malignant melanoma on his ear. I am just devastated. He's had this growth on his for a long period of time but when I asked my vet she said it was nothing to worry about. It has been bothering him lately so I decided it must be removed. The biopsy revealed it is a malignant melanoma. I have no idea where it has spread. S-rays will be taken soon. It has been such a shi--y year anyhow and I now mya lose my baby. Thanks for listening.

B3arly said...

My husband and I are going through this, too, with our little fur boy Rowdy. Three years ago, I noticed a spot on his eye and couldn't tell whether or not it was growing. Then, over the next few years, it definitely got a little bigger. Suddenly, about 6 months ago, the growth rapidly accelerated, and we went from having a yellow-eyed kitty to having a kitty with one yellow eye and one brown eye.

We are currently getting up the courage to make "the appointment" to have it removed after two eye specialists told us we should do it fairly soon.

We are devastated at having to make such a horrible decision that Rowdy can't understand...our poor boy.

Michelle's Blog Journal said...

I just found your article.... thank you for this. I took my kitty into the optomologist today and she has melanosis. She is not even two years old yet and the spot is very large. He already put on the table removing her eye even though it's benign due to her young age and that it could be very aggressive. I have a lot to think about, but appreciated your blog. My kitties are my kids and this one is my baby for sure. My heart shattered to for her. Thank you and I hope that your loved kitties are all well and Winnie is hanging in there.

Anonymous said...

May 21,2012 Hi I found your blog when I was reseaching iris melanoma after my 3 yr old bengal Misha was told she has it. My vet opthalogmist told me she had cancer although did not do any tests other than glucoma and other tests looking into and behind the eye. Misha also has a red (blood like) discharge from both of her eyes. I am very up set with my reg vet who a year ago said the spots could be a cancer but she doubted it. The OD vet told me that unless her glucoma readings go up she will be ok to keep her still working eye. Also that removing the eye will not prevent cancer from spreading and removal of the eye will only be to keep Misha from being in pain when and if her readings go up. I am praying all of our "FUR BABIES" will remain healthy and pain free for ever!

Cory's Father said...


Your write-up about your cat Winnie explains exactly how I feel about my cat Cory. I have 2 cats and Cory is my favorite, and it's mainly because he's more affectionate and clings to me like a magnet.

7 months ago I noticed faint spots in his eye. My eye doctor thought it was just blemishes. Now almost his entire iris is taken over by these spots and after examination the specialist says it is iris melanoma. My cat had a vaccine in 2009 which caused him a lot of grief. He was on prednisone for 6 months and I wonder all of the time if this is why he developed the cancer. He had the feline leukemia vaccine as well as the regular rabies, distemper, and clamydia vaccines. I'm very worried about Cory and what the outcome of this will be. Right now he can see through his peppered eye, and he is in no pain. He's eating well and behaving normally. I fear waking up someday to find him not eating, in pain, and very sick. He's only 3 years old.

The vet suggested laser surgery, but every month more of these things are showing in his eye and laser surgery is $2,000. The specialist does not think the laser surgery will cure it, but he said there is a very small chance it might. So there are feelings of guilt for not having it done, yet since I'm photographic the eye monthly and seeing dramatic changes I feel it's useless to put the cat through this stress for nothing. I asked about having the eye removed before it spreads and he did not think that would be good to do until the cat is in pain and then it needs to come out. I'm not sure the rationale of this. I would think removing the eye to prevent any spreading would be the best plan.

I was happy to read that your cat is still doing well and it's been a while since diagnosed. Maybe mine will be lucky and live much longer too.

The specialist wants to see Cory every 2 months @ $300 per visit. This is mainly to do a pressure test on his eye. The pressure reading on his right eye this week was 18, and his left eye was 24. It's his left eye that has the issue. The specialist said that 24 is still in the normal range and was not concerned about it.

I'm continuing to take photos like I have since October 2011. It's now June 2012. Looking through them you can really see big differences happening. Spots are larger/darker, and more new ones are there each month. It's a shame, because Cory loves everyone and is so enthusiastic about life. He sleeps with me in my bed too every night. I want up in the morning with him draped over my arm. It's so nice to have him, and he's closer to me than any cat I've had before. It's very sad and heartbreaking.

Judym said...

My vet told me my cat has melanoma in her eye--brown spot. She wants to remove her eye. Apparently there is no way of knowing whether it's malignant until they examine the removed eye. X-rays show no metastasis. We will monitor spot for 3 months to see if it grows, but vet says spot is raised which is a bad sign. I am so upset I don't know what to do.

Judym said...

My 4 yo cat was diagnosed with eye melanoma-brown spot in eye Vet wants to remove her eye. X-rays show no metastasis cat is in no discomfort and is happy and active. Only way to know if it is malignant is to remove the eye. Vet thinks it is because spot is raised. I am so upset over this. I don't want to put her through anything horrible. Vet suggested waiting 3 months to see if spot gets bigger but she's not optimistic. I'm afraid to put her thru eye removal and then have her cancer spread from the surgery. Don't know what to do! I love this little cat so much/never felt so attached to a pet as I do this one. She's had the spot for 2 years

webweaver said...

Hello everyone

Thank you so much for sharing your stories with you. I thought I'd give you an update on Winnie.

It's been six and a half years since I wrote that first blog post, and Winnie is still going strong.

The dark spots on her eye have spread and spread over the years, and now her left eye is pretty much completely dark brown in colour, with only a few flashes of green left in between the blotches of dark pigmentation.

A few years ago I noticed that her right eye seemed to be getting darker as well - it seems to have developed a hazy darker pigment over the top of the original green, which has deepened in colour over time.

I stopped taking her to the specialist eye vet after the first couple of visits - he seemed pretty positive about her prognosis and so I guess I just decided I'd rather stop thinking about it. It may not have been the most sensible thing to do - but it's worked for Winnie so far!

I do hope all your cats are in similar good health.

It seems such a dreadful decision whether to have your beloved cat's eye removed just in case it's cancer. I don't actually know if I could do it now.

I wish you and your cats all the luck and love in the world.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your update. I am going through now what you were with your original post. Please continue to update us if you can. I hope you kitty continues to live a long and healthy life and hopefully my kitty's melanosis will remain benign too.

Tigualil said...

my cat looks just like your cat and has the same situation. maybe its genetic?? hope all is well with your kitty.