CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sissy was a remarkable cat.
When her owner, Debbie Bowes, of Alum Creek, contacted me at the end of June, I was impressed by her story.
During the last three years, Sissy survived two rounds of radiation therapy for a nasal tumor. She put up with daily fluid delivery for kidney failure. She even took medication for hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure without ever putting up a fight.
I wanted to know more about this special cat.
Unfortunately, just four days after Bowes contacted me, Sissy went into acute renal failure and passed away.
Still, hers is a story worth sharing.
Sissy came into Bill and Debbie Bowes’ lives on Thanksgiving weekend 1996. The couple was in Williamson for a Christmas parade.
“We were just getting ready to get in our vehicle,” she recalled. “There was a little apartment building on the side of the street, and we noticed two little cats eating macaroni salad someone had put in a bowl.
“Immediately, she walked over. I had on a long jacket with a side pocket. I bent down to pet them, and she crawled right in.
“My husband said, ‘We can’t take ’em both,’” Bowes continued, explaining that they already had one cat, a male stray named T.C. they’d taken in the year before.
“It had been chosen for us which one to take. It was just meant to be.”
Sissy was gentle and loving, Bowes said.
“She was always just a perfect little cat. She wanted to be in your lap and sleep with you at night. She was very affectionate from day one. She wanted attention, and she wanted to give it back to you.”
One of her favorite things to do was to sit in Bill’s lap and rub against his goatee.
“I think to her, it was like a scratching post. That’s how she’d get her evening loving.”
When Sissy got sick, her demeanor remained the same, despite her increasingly rigorous medical routine.
Her health problems began in May 2011, when she was 16. The Boweses began seeing spots of blood in the house and eventually determined it was coming from Sissy’s nose.
“One day, she sneezed, and when she did that, we saw all the blood. We immediately knew something was wrong.”
They took her to their vet, who first prescribed antibiotics to see if that would help. Bowes began researching nasal bleeding and found that it’s an indicator of tumors.
They discussed treatment options with their vet, who, like many in the area, lacked the expensive equipment to perform the necessary diagnostic tests. In the end, they turned to MedVet outside of Columbus, Ohio, where they had previously taken another cat for laser eye surgery.
“They did CT scans and immediately saw the tumor,” Bowes said. “It was quite aggressive, and they immediately recommended radiation treatment.”
Because of the location of the tumor — deep inside the nasal passage and headed toward the brain — radiation was the only option. The Boweses decided on palliative radiation therapy to slow the tumor’s growth and lessen its effect on Sissy.
That meant four increments of radiation, applied directly to the tumor area. The Boweses chose to do it every two weeks to give Sissy time to recover in between. This meant an eight-hour round-trip every two weeks, plus the cost of the therapy. Not doing it, though, was never an option.
“We have been very blessed that we could afford that,” Bowes said. “Had it been that we had children, we would not have been able to afford it for sure. Even if we had, though, we would have done whatever it took.”
Sissy came through the treatment wonderfully. She suffered none of the potential side effects like ulcers or blisters on her palate. Her appetite was fine, so she didn’t need a feeding tube. The only change, Bowes said, was that the fur in the area where the radiation was administered turned from gray to white.
During the course of the cancer treatment, MedVet discovered Sissy had high blood pressure. A capsule for that was added to the pill for hyperthyroidism she was already taking. Some animals hate taking medicine and will put up quite a fight, but not Sissy.
“We never had any problems whatsoever,” Bowes said. “Did she like it? No. But did she fight me? No.”
In 2013, a new component was added to Sissy’s daily medical routine: subcutaneous liquids to treat her kidney failure.
The Boweses had Sissy’s kidney levels checked that April when they noticed she was sluggish and sort of moping around.
“Our vet was amazed that we had not seen any other symptoms because her levels were horrible.”
With the fluid treatments, Sissy bounced back to normal quickly though.
“After a three-week period, we went back. [The vet] was amazed. He couldn’t believe her kidney levels were where they needed to be and that her body was reacting so well to treatment.”
Sissy’s health was dealt another blow a year later when this March her cancer returned.
“This time it had actually grown through the skull area and had eaten away some of the bone. It was headed towards her brain.”
The Boweses resumed radiation treatment at MedVet, completing it in April. Things seemed back to normal.
But at the end of June, the Boweses noticed drainage in her eyes. They took her to the vet.
“Two days later, she was lifeless. She went into an aggressive stage of renal failure in a three-day period.”
They tried intensive intravenous and subcutaneous fluid treatment for a few days but to no avail. Soon, Bowes said, Sissy couldn’t walk, was using the bathroom everywhere, not eating and had gone from being a very vocal cat to barely talking. They knew it was time.
“The vet was wonderful. He made it a little easier for me than what I thought it would be,” Bowes said. “He made the statement that this was the last good thing I could do for her. In my heart, that made it OK.”
Doing the right thing didn’t stop the hurt, of course. Both the humans and felines in the Bowes family have been grieving this month. When she passed, Sissy left behind six kitty siblings: Abe, Barkley, Katie, Salem, Sammy and Tracy.
“She was just a remarkable little girl,” Bowes said. “She fought so much for so long, but it was all OK with her. However she had to be poked or prodded, she was just wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever known a human to fight and hold on as much as she did.”
Bowes hopes Sissy’s story will inspire others and give them hope if they are faced with a similar situation.
“Don’t give up on elderly or sick animals,” she urged. “Don’t give up on animals diagnosed with simple or even major illnesses. There are so many options available.”
Reach Amy Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4881.