How a senior cat beat high-grade stomach cancer (2+ years remission & counting)

simba-700x933-1 How a senior cat beat high-grade stomach cancer (2+ years remission & counting) cat cancer

I’d like to introduce you to Lisa Knight and her beautiful 16.5 year old cat, Simba. They join the ranks of inspiring cancer healing stories here, where a cat beats the predictions that he only has weeks to live.

When she sent me this story, she said:

“Your post about Nate (recovering from high-grade lymphoma) was something I really hung onto and I wished it could happen for Simba––and it did!  I hope this gives hope to someone else. Statistics describe the general experiences of populations, but they do not describe the path of an individual. You never know how treatment will work until you try it. “

Please note that in Simba’s case, early diagnosis seems to have been key. So let’s watch for those symptoms Lisa talks about in this interview. Also note that Simba was diagnosed with stage 2 chronic kidney disease (CKD) before his cancer diagnosis, so that influences some of his food and supplements.

Liz: Can you tell us a bit about Simba and his diagnosis?

Lisa: Simba is an Abyssinian cat who is very outgoing and is expressive––I can always tell his moods. He loves people and his other cat family members. I got him as a kitten from my sister and he was there for me through some very difficult times of life. 

I have a very special relationship with him. I feel like he actually saved my life. I have called him an angel. He was there for me through a difficult divorce and he kept me going. After that, he would stay close by me, especially when I was very sick on two occasions. He stayed by me constantly after a surgery when I had difficulty doing very basic things. He knew I needed support and he gave me such love, expecting nothing in return. (Thankfully, I am all better now.)

When it was his time to be sick I had to return that level of love and support. I didn’t know how long he would make it, but I told him I wouldn’t leave him and that we would travel the road together as long as the road went. I was on Team Simba.

Simba is also a shoulder rider. He finds his way onto my shoulder and likes to ride around, and will do this even when I vacuum! Also, on nice days he likes to go out on a leash in his yard. I think this has been an important part of his emotional recovery from cancer.

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“When it was his time to be sick, I had to return that level of love and support.”

Spotting suspicious symptoms
Simba has a history of stomach gastritis, which was diagnosed when he was about 8 years old. At the age of 13, in the fall of 2019, I noticed Simba occasionally wanting to eat cat grass to make himself vomit, which was a consistent sign that his tummy was upset. Assuming this was a flare-up of gastritis, the usual remedy was Cerenia and Famitodine for a period of time until it settled. It seemed to work at first, but then he started to be unwell again later in October. 

On Oct. 22, 2019, Simba saw the vet again because he was vomiting clear fluid fairly regularly in the morning.  He was having some slight inappetence issues with his food, but nothing too much at this point. Blood work was done and nothing concerning was found. I tried the gastritis treatment again.At the end of October, I stopped the gastritis treatment and Simba started vomiting again, once with some pink, indicating blood. I was quite concerned about seeing pink in his vomit because I knew blood can be a sign of ulceration or cancer. 

But, on November 1, an ultrasound said Simba’s stomach appeared normal. Because he was known to have gastritis, I tried putting him on a hypoallergenic diet, but this didn’t help. 

By about mid-November, as soon as I stopped a second round of Cerenia and Famitodine, he started vomiting daily again. When I saw pink again and he started to vomit in the afternoon as well, I decided it was serious and time to have an endoscopy done to see what was going on.

Getting the diagnosis
The soonest we could get the endoscopy was a week later. The endoscopy found a small bleeding mass in Simba’s stomach. They took samples for biopsy, of the mass as well as elsewhere in his stomach and duodenum. 

A few days later, on December 3, 2019, the results came back from the lab and it was confirmed that Simba had cancer.  It was intermediate-to-aggressive diffuse, large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) in his stomach.

It looked like it was diagnosed very early and had not spread, which is uncommon for cats. But the prognosis is very poor for this type of cancer

I was told cats die from it, with just 4-6 weeks to live from diagnosis since it’s a very fast cancer. They’d never heard of cat who had beat it. I was devastated.  

Liz: Can you walk us through a timeline of his treatments?

Lisa: Simba started immediately on medications for palliative care (Prednisolone, Omeprazole and Cerenia). I didn’t want to add to the sadness by having Simba pass on Christmas so I started oral chemo (Lomustine) right away and accepted a referral to a vet oncologist just to check if there was anything else that could be done. Simba received a Lomustine pill on December 6, 2019, three days after receiving the cancer diagnosis.

In the meantime, that pill bought time with this fast-moving cancer to wait to see the oncologist. In mid-December, the oncologist offered IV Doxorubicin chemo to give Simba more good days. We were also offered the CHOP protocol, but it was more expensive, and no cats had been known to beat this type of cancer on it. I chose to go with five IV doses of Doxorubicin every 3 weeks as it would give Simba more good days and not be too hard on him. (The CHOP protocol would have had him at the oncologist for doses of the other drugs in the CHOP protocol in the weeks in between the Doxorubicin.)  

Liz: How did he do with the IV chemo treatments? 

Lisa: Unlike with humans, Simba did very well on this chemo and did not lose any fur.  He did feel quite unwell from the Lomustine pill, but was fine on the intravenous Doxorubicin. I recall the IV appointments being about 45 minutes. They alternated giving it to him in either back leg through a catheter, which required a little shaved area. 

They gave it with fluids to reduce the reaction to the skin and veins and so that it was absorbed over a period of time. I wasn’t allowed to go in to see it happen. The oncology staff dressed up in hazmat suits to give their patients the doses in a special room. I was told he cooperated with the treatments. He was always fine afterwards, not sick. Simba started the Doxorubicin in early January 2020, when his white blood cell count tested back in the acceptable range again (after the Lomustine, which reduces it).  

A few days after his second Doxorubicin treatment, at the end of January, I noticed something had subtly changed. I thought he might actually be feeling a little bit better. By the February chemo treatment, his weight was up a very small amount and the oncologist and I noticed that Simba had picked up a bit.  We mutually decided not to say what we were thinking out loud (so as to not jinx it) and to keep going through to the end of treatment.

Liz: Did you make any changes to his diet and supplements during or before his treatment? 

Lisa: Before, during, and for a while afterward, Simba ate a homemade cooked diet plus some hypoallergenic duck crunchy treats. His homemade diet was custom formulated through consultation with Dr. Rebecca Remillard of PetDiets.com. The ingredients were organic canned butternut squash, some organic canned pumpkin, pork loin, sardine oil, and special Balance It Feline-K vitamins that I ordered online from Balance IT. (Simba has had food intolerance issues with shellfish and salmon (including salmon oil). He was okay on the sardine oil at first. However, eventually I think the fish oil sensitivity increased to include more types of fish and I now have him off any food with fish oil to avoid irritating his digestive tract.)

His main food now is Wellness Gravies Chicken Entrée/Bits in Ample Gravy. There are a few other brands out there without fish oil, but I now have to watch the fat content because he has had some pancreatitis. (After the homemade diet, he was eating Blue Buffalo Limited Ingredient Turkey pate and Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Chicken pate, but the company recently changed their recipes and put fish oil in them so I’ve changed his diet.)

Pancreatitis support
His pancreatitis is well managed with lower fat cat foods and a small amount of PankAid (a pancreatic enzyme supplement) and Aventi Kidney in his meals. As a treat, I give Simba minced roasted rabbit leg. It is a lean, high quality protein that was recommended during vet diet consultation. It is good for kidney issues, IBD and low fat so helpful for cats with pancreas issues.

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Liz: How is Simba with pills? Were you able to give them to him directly or put them in his food?…any tricks that helped?

Lisa: Actually, I was really unsure that he would allow me to pill him at the beginning. Abyssinians are known for being independent and Simba doesn’t like to be held. I kind of talked to him at the beginning and asked if he would let me do these things to help him. I didn’t expect him to understand it, but it was a gesture and respect I showed for him. To my surprise, he lets me manually pill him all the time, like this:

  • I wrap up pieces of his pill into one reasonably sized pill in part of a Pill Pocket treat and get it wet (for Canadians, see the Hide and Treat hypoallergenic option). I don’t hold him down. I gently open his mouth and pop the little Pill Pocket treat mixture in while talking nicely.  
  • Pilling him in the evenings when he’s been sleeping makes it easier and I often praise and treat him afterward so he doesn’t feel like “something is being done to him.”

What happened after he completed the Doxorubicin treatment?

Three weeks afterward, on April 20, 2020, Simba had a full medical checkup, blood work and an endoscopy:

There was absolutely no cancer in the stomach.  It was completely gone!

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16 endoscopy samples were taken from his stomach, analyzed by a lab, and they were all negative for cancer as well. 

Neither his regular vet nor the oncologist had seen this before (with large-cell lymphoma), but Simba had achieved complete remission. 

In the summer of 2020, he had another follow-up endoscopy with 11 samples, an ultrasound in summer 2020 and another in spring 2021 and has had two echocardiograms (since Doxorubicin can be hard on the heart). All have shown him to be well and in remission. He is now over 2 years in complete remission and has made it an amazing 2 years and 5 months since the diagnosis.  He continues to see his doctor regularly for check-ups and remains in complete remission today at over 16 years old!

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Simba’s oncologist with Simba… the hospital created this page to celebrate him.

Is there anything else you think helped with Simba’s recovery?

The most important thing that helped Simba was early diagnosis. Finding cancer as early as possible is huge in improving the chance of beating it, just like with humans.

But, I did do something else different than other people do. And I think this may have helped tip the odds in Simba’s favor. Simba takes a very special cat-safe version of  Rehmannia Eight—it’s a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herb mixture, but only certain brands of Rehmannia Eight are safe for cats because of how it is prepared. Some of the ingredients can be toxic if not prepared in a special way, so the formulations are not all the same. A vet trained in vet acupuncture and TCM should know which ones are safe for cats, as well as the right dose. Simba’s was prescribed by such a vet to improve blood flow and circulation to help the kidneys, as he has been in stage 2 CKD. He was on this supplement well before the cancer started.

I have read National Institutes of Health information to suggest that Rehmannia might also boost the natural killer (NK) cells that help fight cancer.  And, Simba had no heart damage from Doxorubicin noted on his post-treatment echocardiogram, which is unique. I have wondered if the Rehmannia Eight may be heart protective as well. (See this abstract and the conclusions sections for notes about TCM potentially being heart protective against chemo). Simba stayed on Rehmannia Eight throughout chemo, and is still on it.

CAUTION: In case someone reading this thinks of buying Rehmannia Eight off the internet, please don’t, as it may be toxic for cats if it’s not the right kind. Get it from a vet trained in TCM who knows which preparations are safe for cats, as well as the right dose!

As of this writing, Simba also continues to be on Cerenia and very low-dose Prenisolone, alternated every other day with Omeprazole to manage gastritis and now IBD inflammation that he’s prone to.  

Every day is a good day now, with Simba eating well and having a great quality of life!

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Simba at 16+, more than 2.5 years after diagnosis

Wonderful news, thank you, Lisa!

We celebrate the fabulous Simba, a cat who achieved high-grade cancer remission and as of today has already lived nearly 2.5 years longer (and counting) than his initial prognosis!

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