It was a late summer’s evening and not long before I was due to leave for the Peak District. I was looking forward to visiting some of the stunning locations in an area that was completely new to me. One worry was leaving Purdy cat in the sole care of my husband. Not that I had any doubts about his capabilities, but she was clearly getting worse and my gut feeling was that our time with her was running out. She was no longer able to walk around the garden, but she still loved being carried outside when the weather was good. Even though we were busy doing the zoo after work, we couldn’t say no when she somehow wound up by the back door, demanding to be let out. We carried her into the fresh air and put her gently on the lawn and we sat there together for as long as possible. It was then that I spotted this dead leaf and I couldn’t resist rushing inside to grab my camera. It’s not a particularly special photograph, but every time I look at it, I remember that time and the joy that Purdy brought to our lives. She was an amazing cat, so I have copied what I wrote about her on a friend’s web site…
Purdy is pure white and we first spotted her wandering in our lane near one of the farms. Assuming she belonged there we didn’t take much notice. Then a couple of years later we found her in the woods outside our house, so I called on every property in the lane. Some people had seen her, but she didn’t belong to anyone. We tried a trap, but without success and a couple of weeks later she moved on, not to be seen again for another eight months.
Then, at the end of November, I was driving home from work when she crossed the lane in front of me. I screeched to a halt and got out to talk to her. Instead of running off, she just sat in the woods at the top of the bank and started answering back. After about twenty minutes I decided to risk leaving her and rushed home to collect a cat basket. She ran away as soon as I approached, but I carried on talking to her and eventually she came back. She was fine about being picked up, so I took her home and she’s been with us ever since.
In October 2005 she started getting slightly dizzy, but our local vet diagnosed a middle ear infection. Tablets didn’t clear it up, but they just said it may have caused permanent damage. I have no problem with their diagnosis – even if they suspected a brain tumour, it couldn’t be proved without a very costly scan and it made sense to hope for the best. Purdy gradually got worse and as I have balance problems myself, I started looking on the internet for diseases in the middle ear. Yes – it could happen in cats too and a similar operation to mine could bring about a cure. So… I asked to be referred to a specialist, but the MRI scan showed a large cystic mass pressing on the cerebellum. We had three choices – either to give tablets in the hope of a short-term improvement, have the cyst drained with a fine needle (but it would obviously fill up again), or put Purdy through major brain surgery. We opted for the latter and although she’d deteriorated very badly in the two weeks leading up to the operation, she sailed through it very well. Purdy loves people and adores all the attention at the centre.
She stayed in for ten days the first time and when we brought her home she had to be put in a “padded cell”, as she was missing a large part of her skull and was at risk from knocks. I used to take her for walks in the garden after work, which she loved and after four weeks she was allowed out as normal. She had a fantastic summer and autumn and as normal she went into hibernation when the weather changed. Then about six months after the operation she started getting dizzy again and another scan confirmed that the cyst had returned. This time we opted to have it drained using ultrasound and a fine needle. It must be a very tricky procedure, but it’s quick and there are no stitches. She was kept in for observation for a couple of days, but as she was purring her head off and eating like a horse we were able to bring her home.
That procedure lasted only four weeks and we had to make the 200 mile round trip to Newmarket yet again, but Purdy loves the car and was thrilled to see her old friends again. They’ve agreed that the procedure can be repeated as often as every four to six weeks. The next time she lasted ten weeks and things are looking good for the future. Purdy does need regular steroid injections to act as an anti-inflammatory, but that’s it. I guess we’ve been particularly lucky in that part of the cyst is outside the skull and the access for drainage is therefore good. Apart from the fortnight before we had a diagnosis I can honestly say that she hasn’t had one bad day. She has been left with a permanent wobble, but having spoken to owners of cats with cerebellar hypoplasia I’m convinced that they don’t find it stressful, unlike humans. I have no idea how long we can continue to drain the cyst, but as long as she hasn’t given up on life, we’re not giving up on her. We found ourselves at the Trust hoping for a totally different diagnosis, but once we were there it was clear what we had to do. We were lucky not to lose her during the operation and I know we’ve been lucky ever since. I just thought it would be nice to offer some good news for what is a very rare condition.
UPDATE – Purdy has now had two and a half quality years since the first symptoms of her brain tumour. The shortest time between operations has been three weeks and the longest has been nearly seven months. She continues to purr for England and amazes everyone who meets her. As I type this we are once again on the brink of Spring and Purdy is keen to be out in the garden all day.
FURTHER UPDATE – During a week off at the beginning of June 2008, the cats were in the garden and I popped out to check on them. Purdy had collapsed by the back door and was clearly very dizzy again. We rushed her back to Newmarket, but two drainage operations failed to work. Exactly two years and one day after the first major brain surgery, Purdy underwent a repeat operation, only the odds were even worse this time. She survived the surgery, but as her vet was still very concerned we were allowed to visit the next day in case we lost her. By that time Purdy was on the mend and had even tried to attack the dog in the neighbouring cage! The first few days were difficult, but she was soon eating like a horse again and we were able to bring her home after about ten days. A month later we allowed her back in the garden and she continues to enjoy the summer. The fortnightly steroid injections have been replaced by half a tablet of Prednisolone every other day, which is a pity as she used to enjoy her trips to our local vet.
OCTOBER 2009 – Exactly four years after the first symptoms of her brain tumour, Purdy was quite wobbly again. I took her back to the specialist, but this time a drainage could not be performed because the scar tissue over the gap in her skull had started turning to bone. With no other options we elected for a third major operation and because we had been able to get her there early this time, Purdy did very well indeed. We were able to bring her home after just five days, although she is back in the “padded cell” until Christmas. She had already gone into winter mode and isn’t interested in going outside, so she is very happy with this arrangement. The situation inside her brain has now become very complicated and further surgery is not an option. However, she now has a nice new window in her skull, so it may be possible to continue with drainage if necessary. She looks very well and is in fantastic condition. Her appetite is still enormous and she continues to purr for England!
AUGUST 2010 – Purdy got very close to making it to a whole year after surgery, but she started to get wobbly again in early August. With her neurosurgeon going away for most of September, we had to decide whether to act sooner, or take the risk and leave her to enjoy the last of the warm summer sunshine in the garden. She was doing pretty well considering, but the weather changed suddenly and I just felt we needed to move quickly. It was just as well because the MRI looked truly awful and from that alone we would have been advised to have her PTS. Instead we discussed the options for further surgery, which weren’t looking too good by then, but Purdy amazed everyone once again by sailing through with hardly a problem. She was purring within thirty minutes of being taken to intensive care and she was eating like a horse in no time. We brought her home after a week and she continues to do well. Further surgery has definitely been ruled out as the tumour had become very complicated and for the same reason it would not be possible to drain the cyst – there was very little fluid left. Instead we have opted for chemotherapy and she started her tablets a few days ago. Fingers crossed, she is still happy and eating well and I will take her for the first of her regular blood tests next week. It is now exactly five years since I first noticed the signs of Purdy’s brain tumour. It has been a long and sometimes scary journey, but one I would not have missed for the world. Hopefully we still have a little way to travel with her.
OCTOBER 2011 – Over a year after her surgery, Purdy started to have slight balance problems again. I kept in touch with the specialists at the Animal Health Trust and on Valentine’s Day 2012 we took her back to Newmarket for another MRI. It showed some of the tumour was solid, while there was a fluid part in the area where she still had a hole in her skull. Surgery seemed almost impossible, but we were offered the option and told up to two-thirds of the tumour might be removed giving Purdy a potential four months if all went well. The risks were far greater and this time we declined. Purdy spent the next couple of days recovering with her friends before I brought her home. We believed she only had a few more weeks left. It is now July and although she can barely walk more than a couple of steps without falling over, she is very happy, eating well and in good condition. The summer hasn’t been good and she seems very content in her bed surrounded by everything she might need. On the odd warm day she has somehow got herself into the kitchen and demanded to go outside. There are times when it is upsetting to see her living a “smaller” life, but our decision to let her carry on has been made purely for her. After all, she is now quite an elderly cat, being at least 14 and possibly 15 – something we never dared to imagine when all this began.
12th NOVEMBER 2012 – With a very heavy heart, I had to make the decision to have Purdy PTS tonight. A few weeks ago the tumour stopped the ability to blink in her left eye and she developed an ulcer. In spite of frequent applications of drops and ointment (even getting up in the middle of the night), Purdy’s eye eventually ruptured. In spite of what we were told, it didn’t seem to bother her one bit and it never weeped or looked sore. We knew it wouldn’t be too long until her swallowing reflex was affected and we initially opted for a home visit a week ago. However, it wasn’t a good time and we had to have one of our dear little ferrets PTS. As Purdy was still doing well, we bought her several packets of best prawns and she ate and purred for England. She even put on weight and remained in superb condition, although a weekly bath and blow dry became necessary.
She was fine in the morning and again when we got home from work, but over the next hour or so, she began to look occupied. For the first time, she refused her prawns, so as she purred for the final time on my husband’s lap, I called the out of hours vet. The end was quick and peaceful and now she rests in her beloved garden. She had the most extraordinary life, in spite of living the last seven years with a brain tumour. One of my fondest memories are of collecting her from Newmarket one summer afternoon and taking her for lunch in the garden of a pub just up the road. Purdy explored the place thoroughly wearing her harness and lead. Stopping on the way back home, I let her out to stretch her legs at the very busy (and noisy) motorway services at Bishops Stortford. She mugged everyone in the car park for a fuss. She was a super star.