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By Ashley Berke

In 1998, while on vacation in the Virgin Islands, Margaret DeSimone spotted a beautiful tortoiseshell cat roaming Morning Star Beach. At that moment, she knew she had to bring the cat home. With the help of the Humane Society, Margaret flew Starlet, as she would later be named, to Philadelphia to begin her new life. Unbeknownst to Margaret, Starlet’s journey was only just beginning.

Starlet Fights Osteosarcoma

From the moment Margaret met Starlet, she wanted to give her the best life possible. In December 2010, Margaret noticed a problem near Starlet’s left femur, so she brought her to Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital. Tests revealed that Starlet had an extraskeletal Starletosteosarcoma, a rare soft tissue tumor outside of bone tissue.

Because of her commitment to Starlet, Margaret decided to proceed with surgery. Due to suspicion of metastasis to a lymph node, Penn Vet’s surgical team removed both the tumor and the lymph node. Following surgery, a biopsy revealed that they were not completely excised with necessary margins, so Starlet began chemotherapy and radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

“Starlet did really well with all of her treatments,” said Dr. Erika Krick, Assistant Professor of Oncology at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital. “Remarkably, she even started gaining weight while on chemotherapy.”

Starlet’s ability to handle these severe challenges to her health amazed those around her. Margaret would often tell the Penn Vet team, “Don’t let her size fool you. Starlet’s a fighter.”

Back at home, Starlet continued to surprise Margaret by showing more energy and exuberance than some of the healthier cats in the household. While Starlet had always been a bit afraid of veterinarians, she actually lost many of her inhibitions during treatment at Penn Vet. “She truly became a less timid cat during her treatment. It was incredible!” Margaret recalled.

To this day, there have been no signs of recurrence or metastasis of Starlet’s osteosarcoma. 

Starlet Fights Lymphoma

As if to prove that she could really handle anything, Starlet tackled lymphoma next. Almost exactly two years since the discovery of the osteosarcoma, a lump was found on Starlet’s neck. Once it was diagnosed as lymphoma, Margaret decided to pursue an aggressive treatment plan.

Given Starlet’s previous success with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Margaret opted for another two-pronged approach. Starlet soon began another round of Ryan Hospital staff celebrate Starlet’s 15th birthday. chemotherapy to treat the lymphoma. True to form, the fearless tortoiseshell responded extremely well. Under the guidance of Dr. Lili Duda, Radiation Oncology Service Head, Starlet also started radiation therapy that was localized to her neck. Once again, Starlet showed incredible resilience.

“It’s amazing what animals can handle if they are given the right care, the right amount of compassion, and the right amount of knowledge,” Margaret remarked. “The Penn Vet team has an incredible combination of expertise and empathy that has enabled Starlet to thrive.”

This past March, the Ryan Hospital staff joined Margaret in celebrating Starlet’s 15th birthday.

“If we didn’t have such wonderful care at Penn Vet, Starlet wouldn’t have made it to 15. That’s a testament to this great place and the great cancer care we received.”

Starlet is still in remission today and continues to inspire everyone she encounters.

The Value of a Team Approach

Having required surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, Starlet is a perfect example of how multiple treatments can help a patient. Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital is pleased to now offer a multidisciplinary approach to cancer medicine with its new Comprehensive Cancer Care program.

Through this innovative service, board-certified specialists in medical, surgical, and radiation oncology collaborate to provide a comprehensive assessment of each patient’s cancer care needs, all in one appointment. This expert team then works with clients every step of the way to navigate through the diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan for their beloved companion animals.

“We’ve always had the expertise here, and we’ve always worked well together across modalities, but it’s exciting to now collaborate as part of one service,” said Dr. Krick.

“I can’t say enough good things about Penn Vet,” adds Margaret. “It’s amazing how everything about Starlet’s life has been a team effort, from the day the Humane Society and local island vets came together to bring her to Philadelphia to the collaborative care she received at Penn Vet. There’s something very uplifting in that.” 

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