Mira – February, 2002 to December, 2002
MIRA – Short for MIRAcle – and that she is. Here is Mira and her on-going story, as told in e-mails, updates to the Ferret Mailing List, and in the bi-monthly Foster Grandparent newsletter.
Over time, MIRA’s wounds healed. Spirited, saucy and sassy, she has had the run of FACT ever since she was first able to hobble her way around the shelter.
However, she just recently began to feel an unexpected consequence of her ordeal. In February, 2002, after repeated attempts to treat and identify skin lesions that began to develop on her back, MIRA was diagnosed with a skin sarcoma (cancer). This game little survivor will, yet again, possibly face reconstructive surgery.
These photo’s were taken in early March. By the time Mira underwent surgery, the lesion, growing aggressively, was almost twice the size seen here.
March – April, 2002
Mira’s lesions spread rapidly invading deep into her shoulder tissues. The usual treatment for what was now tentatively identified as a fibrosarcoma, an aggressive and invasive tumor never before documented in a ferret, is surgical removal of the tumor. However, in Mira’s case the tumor was spreading rapidly and her injuries in infancy further complicated an already complex surgical procedure.
An appointment was made at Angell Memorial Hospital Hospital in Boston. Their reconstructive surgeon surgeon, Dr. Pavletic, is reputed to be the best in the world and has written the textbooks on animal reconstructive surgery. After confirming the fibrosarcoma diagnosis and in consultation with Dr. Anderson, Angell’s oncologist (cancer specialist), it was recommended that Mira be placed on a regimen of 5 day per week radiation treatments for three weeks in a row. The cost was high – each treatment would be almost $300; close to $ 5,000 in total. After that, skin grafts, at an additional expense were anticipated. There was also the possibility that, if the cancer had spread to the bone, Mira might have to have one front leg amputated. We called a FACT Board of Directors emergency meeting to review our options.
The afternoon we met, the doctors got together and changed their recommendation. Dr. Pavietic wanted to try to surgically remove the lesion, hopefully without amputation, then allow her to heal and begin radiation afterwards. He also hoped to free up some more movement in her right leg and give her more mobility. The doctors felt Mira was an excellent candidate. She had no signs of insulinoma or adrenal disease, had a strong heart and lively attitude, and thus a good chance of surviving this major trauma. Mira has never looked her 5 years, and as one vet said after hearing her history, “is clearly a little fighter.” Another benefit was the knowledge the doctors would gain from this first-ever treatment on a ferret, which translates to knowledge gained for all ferrets.
The Board’s decision, which was unanimous, was that we would proceed with the operation. However, we did not believe her quality of life would be sufficiently good if her leg were amputated. Although the blood tests had shown no bone involvement in the cancer, if that appeared to change by the time surgery was done, we wanted to ask the vet to give us an estimate of her remaining time. If brief, we would let her go while under anesthesia. If it looked like she might have several comfortable months, we would take her home for whatever quality time she had left.
As I write, Mira is recovering from surgery. Dr. Pavletic was able to remove almost all of the lesion, and, amazingly to everyone, managed to suture the 2.5″ x 1.5″ hole where the tumor had grown so fast. This means we will be spared the expense and she the discomfort of skin grafts. Mira was up and eating within hours of the surgery. While not out of the woods (if the cancer recurs before radiation begins, there will be no point in continuing) she is doing very, very well.
Assuming she continues to do well and the radiation therapy commences, a special request will be mailed to all of our mailing list to raise funds to help pay for her treatments.
One important note that also concerned our Board. Radiation used for animals is not like the severely debilitating treatment ordered for human cancer victims. It will NOT cause her extreme discomfort. There may be some skin drying and scaling, but not the sometimes debilitating sickness humans may experience with aggressive radiation therapy. Mira is very special to all who have ever read her sad story and her quality of life is extremely important to all of us.
Dubbed “Franken-ferret” immediately following her surgery, our little trooper was very tired from her lengthy surgery. In the last photo you can see how her right front foot swelled. It is almost completely normal now, but for a time her paw required almost constant attention. Fortunately, board member and foster grandparent Roxanne is a vet tech who took Mira to work daily providing an exceptional level of care! It was hard to imagine at the time how those scars would ever heal. But within a month her skin was clear, tight and healthy looking. The goal of the radiation therapy is to keep the sarcoma from returning.
Before Radiation Treatments
Mira recovered quite rapidly from her surgery. Her surgeon did an exceptional job, not only removing all traces of the cancer, but also providing her greater mobility in her front feet. But as you can see her left leg is still swollen in this series of photos. Healing has been slower with her feet first because there is less tissue for improving blood circulation and because she refuses to sit still! The dark spot in photo 4 is Mira’s treat – notice her intent gaze!
Mira is now into her last week of radiation. At the last moment, the site of her treatment was changed from Angell Memorial to Tufts Veterinary School in Grafton, MA. The difference was that Tufts uses a different type of radiation which is more focused and less likely to damage the healthy tissue of her back and lungs. There, her radiation would total four weeks, but the expense would be a little less.
The first week went wonderfully, but as the therapy progressed, it began to interfere with the normal healing process that had started out so well after her surgery. Right after surgery, her left foot swelled up like a balloon, necessitating frequent hot packs and medication. It had subsided, but the radiation brought it back. And her pretty, pink shoulder skin became red, irritated and itchy.
Right now, a little bit of baby aspirin and more hot packs are helping the foot. And Benedryl is helping to stop the itching that was so bad she was making herself bleed when she scratched. She has lost ‘1/4 lb., but we are working to put that back on.
We’ve been warned the last week of radiation, as the therapy builds, will be the worst. Mira will be in the capable hands of an experienced ferret owner, Bill Williamson, who generously volunteered to care for her for another week. Bill cared for her the 2nd week and brought her back and forth for her daily treatments. Another FACT member, Meredith Harper, cared for her for the 3rd week. Their generosity is helping save boarding expense and ensuring Mira got lots of attention. Weekends she spends here at home. It is always wonderful to have her silly little self back home, and I’m hoping it helps relieve the stress of different places and different people. She is a lot more tired and more willing to sleep quietly in my lap, but thus far we are seeing nothing that looks like permanent damage from her treatment. What happens after? According to the doctors, we will just have to wait and see. In several months they will want to test again to make sure the cancer is totally gone. In the meantime, we know you will all be thinking of her and wishing her the best.
A request for funds to help with the medical bills has been to our entire mailing list. I do not doubt that people will give generously to Mira. Just as important as anything you might donate are any contributions you may be able to raise from animal-loving friends, family, or co-workers. A couple people have already set up donation cans at work. Mira’s story is so compelling that even my bosses and fellow workers have helped. If you are willing to put up a canister, we’re happy to provide a copy of the flyer describing her need and a photograph. All amounts raised will be sincerely appreciated!
During Radiation Treatments
Here are several pictures taken while Mira was staying with (and being spoiled by) Bill Willimason.
The following pictures were taken on May 19th just before Mira went to Tufts for her 4th and last week of radiation therapy. She is on a medicated moisturizer to help her skin. The swelling has reduced on her left paw though it is still irritated. Following this week’s treatments, we anticipate that her skin should heal quickly. She remains on a tiny amount of infant aspirin and a regimen of hot compresses. As we expected, she is more tired than normal, but otherwise alert, active and her usual, mischievous self!
June 8, 2002
Here Mira’s skin is beginning to heal wonderfully. While still swollen, her foot continued to improve daily. The first week of June, Mira started using that paw again.
June 30, 2002
Close-ups of Mira’s paw which continues to improve. While she had lost weight since the start of her radiation treatment, we are happy to say that Mira is well on her way back to retuning to her usual, puggy self!
Below are the most recent pictures of our feisty little girl. Her leg is almost completely healed and the swelling in her foot is almost totally gone. The second row center photo shows very clearly Mira’s original deformity from her infancy – although don’t tell Mira – she’s always done precisely what she pleases! That’s one of Mira’s roommates – the sable Rapunzel.
Here is an updated Mira pic. Her leg has been healing very slowly and we had to bring her to Angell Memorial (MSPCA) in Boston for her surgeon to check on it. He’s prescribed a new ointment to aid the healing process. We also wanted to see if he could enhance the movement in that leg, but while he feels it is possible is reluctant to attempt any additional surgery until she gets a “one-year-cancer-free” verdict from her Tufts veterinarians.
The good news from Tufts from her August 6 month check-up she is showing no signs of that very aggressive cancer! And while she has slowed down some, she is still a rather self-centered 5 year old! So we hold our fingers crossed until her January re-check.
The news about Mira is not very encouraging.
We are sorry to report that Mira’s cancer has returned on her front leg. On November 19th, our shelter vet, Dr. Barrios, surgically removed the tumor. He offers no promises, but at this point the incision is healing.
Mira had some issues with eating, on and off, and may have been suffering from a couple of different influenza viruses. Normally a hopeless little piggy, twice during the last 4 months she stopped eating. The first time, an array of medicines, along with force-feeding, brought her back to health. Most recently, she appears to have been exposed to a virus that we suspect arrived in the shelter with a group of six ferrets that were admitted to the shelter in early December. It seemed only weakened ferrets became ill. She spent two days on an IV drip at the hospital, and, we are happy to report, has just begun to recover her usual appetite.
Mira was in good enough health to bring to FACT’s Fall Frolic in November, where, as usual she stole the show! Everyone who meets this little girl is inspired by her resilience and undeniable charm! As evidenced by the outpouring of affection she received from Frolic attendees, Mira maintains a special place in many people’s heats. We are truly grateful for the gifts of love, money and good will that have made caring for her possible by so many in the animal-loving community. We all continue to hope and pray that this survivor can continue her battle successfully.