Bits 'n' Pieces: Kitty Mao comes back from brink

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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When Scott Weissbeck noticed the skinny, malnourished cat roaming near his Rose Village home about six years ago, he knew he had to help her.

So, slowly and calmly, he opened his home and began caring for the stray, which he named Mao.

Once she settled in, the 49-year-old, who works for the U.S. Postal Service in Portland, took the young Mao to the vet, got her spayed, groomed her long soft calico fur and made a lifelong friend.

"She's real loving," Weissbeck said. "She likes to jump up on my lap and be petted. She doesn't meow much, just real softly. And she loves to play."

That relationship almost came to an untimely end, though, when in June the cat, now 7, was diagnosed with "aortic body chemodectoma," a rare disease that caused a tumor to attach to her heart and lungs.

It left Mao struggling to breathe, with fluid in her lungs and a myriad of other health problems.

"I was really miserable," Weissbeck said. "I live by myself — it was just really rough seeing her like that. I prayed to God, 'Please spare her life.' I think it was a combination of that and turmeric that saved her."

That's right. Turmeric.

The substance, a common Indian spice, might sound like a strange treatment for tumors or cancer.

But oddly enough, even the American Cancer Society has noted that curcumin, an antioxidant and active ingredient in turmeric, has demonstrated some cancer fighting effects in the lab.

The spice also has a long history as an herbal medicine in China and India, but that said, it's still in very early testing stages as a proven treatment in the West.

But when Mao's situation grew increasingly dire, Weissbeck was ready to try just about anything.

"The doctor said she had a tumor wrapped around her heart," Weissbeck said. "I went into panic mode and started emailing everybody looking for suggestions. I came across turmeric on the Internet. I was skeptical, I thought 'yeah, right.' But I decided to try it anyway."

On Mao's next vet trip, the doctor suggested she wouldn't live through the weekend, and that Weissbeck should consider putting her to sleep.

Instead he bought a $5 tin of the turmeric from Fred Meyer and started mixing it into the cat's food. He also got some turmeric supplements and began adding them to Mao's food and other medications.

"I noticed the next morning an almost total improvement in Mao," he said. "And she's been fine ever since. Now I just put a little bit of turmeric in her food each morning as a preventative."

After the success, he took Mao to the clinic to have her checked out again, and the doctor told him the fluid buildup was gone and her breathing was good. The doctor couldn't confirm whether the cancer had vanished, though, because Weissbeck couldn't afford to pay for X-rays or other advanced diagnostics.

That said, Mao has been much more active and happy since he started feeding her the spice, Weissbeck said.

"Mao's in totally good health," he said.

It's not a scientifically proven treatment for cancer by any means, but Weissbeck said he's thrilled to see his friend doing so well. He's been so impressed with the progress that he started taking turmeric as a supplement himself.

"I was so surprised that it worked," Weissbeck said. "But I'm so happy she's made a full recovery."


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.