Max’s Journey: My cat has cancer, now what?

Max on the job as a therapy cat before his cancer diagnosis.

By Kathy Mordini

It looked like a harmless bump behind Max’s ear that was about the size of a pimple. It appeared this summer, disappeared, then reappeared again. When Max was in for his annual wellness check, his vet was concerned.

        “It may be nothing, but it could be a mass cell tumor. That’s what they do–come and go like this one. You should have it biopsied.”

Max was soon in for a biopsy with Dr. Paula West, one of our board-certified surgeons. The little lump was a Grade 2 Mast Cell Tumor and Max ended up back in surgery to have that tissue extracted. Because of its location and the size of the tumor, that meant that Max ended up losing a chunk of his ear. While he was under, Dr. West also did a punch biopsy on another suspicious sore under his nose.

Guess what?

That, too, was a Grade 2 Mast Cell Tumor. All of this came as a big surprise to me. Max was the picture of health and a very active 10-year-old cat. He parties at 3 am when the rest of us are sleeping and truly marches to a different drummer than any cat I’ve ever known. Max showed no signs that anything was wrong.

My cat has cancer, now what?

The second tumor was right below his nose and in a spot that would require disfiguring surgery. We were already down an ear here. I had a temporary meltdown and started imagining the worst.


Max had a tumor next to his ear.

In many cases, treatments for pets give them more time with their owners and a better quality of life. So much depends on the pet’s health and attitude and of course the type of cancer. Max definitely has the attitude to make it. After all, he’s found about 15 ways to escape the cone of shame over the past several weeks.

After talking to VSC’s head of oncology, Dr. Rhonda Feinmehl, I learned that this type of cancer is often successfully treated in cats. As long as the cancer isn’t systemic or there’s nothing else brewing, we could be looking at quite a few years with Max. At his age, that is very good news.

He’s facing a course of chemo and will eventually have six sessions of radiation. Working at VSC, I see a lot of dogs and cats each day that have beaten much tougher odds than Max is facing. We’re both in a great place as we begin this battle.

When the shock wore off and I had a chance to catch my breath, I started to focus on what I have learned about cancer in pets during my 18 months at VSC. As with people, there are a lot of different types of cancers and a lot of options for Max. Unlike people, many of the treatments are actually easier on animals. For example, Max won’t be losing his fur – which comes as a relief since there is enough Maine Coon fur floating around in the fall. His appetite should also stay relatively normal.

Max is free of the cone and now has a nub for an ear. He still likes to find his share of trouble.

My takeaways so far are this:

  • Make sure your pet gets timely wellness exams with your regular veterinarian because they could seem fine like Max did even when there is trouble brewing. As a senior kitty, he’s in every six months.
  • Don’t ignore lumps and bumps.
  • If there is a cancer diagnosis, talk to your veterinarian and a veterinary oncologist about the many options before you panic. Even if your pet has a quickly progressing cancer, there may be treatments that give him or her a better quality of life in the final months.
  • Get pet insurance before your pet has a health issue. Max has had pet insurance since last fall. All I’ve needed to worry about is what treatment plan is best and I haven’t had to stress about his mounting vet bills.

I’ll be chronicling Max’s Journey here and hopefully help other people who have learned their pet is facing cancer as well. His first chemotherapy treatment is today. Paws crossed that all goes well and our little party animal will be keeping us up at night with his normal antics for years to come.

Kathy Mordini is the Continuing Education Specialist at VSC. Max is a rescue kitty who truly believes he’s not a cat. He volunteers as a certified therapy cat for Love on a Leash. He likes visiting nursing homes but his favorite thing is participating in the reading program at his local library.


Starting Monday, April 8th through the end of September, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will begin their road resurfacing project along Waukegan Road from Lake Cook Road to Half Day Road (IL 22). Please allow additional travel time to our hospital during the construction. Learn More: Waukegan Road Resurfacing Project