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I Will Miss Her June 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts, General.
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Sad news: my 8 year old Siamese, the star of “Cat Thoughts” on this blog,  lost her year and a half long battle with cancer.

I had her seven years, adopting her as a rescue momcat who had been abandoned along with her kittens. Someone found her, brought her & her family to Kitten Rescue. They let her wean her kittens & spayed her, adopting all of them out. They assumed from her small size that it had been her first litter, and she was probably a little more than a year old.

She was a shy one with strangers, and took a few days to get used to me. For those first few days, she’d hide during daylight hours and suddenly get brave at night, coming out to explore everywhere while meowing nonstop orders at me to open more doors, lift her up to more shelves, and the like. Next morning? Terrified kitty, back hiding under the bed. I thought about naming her Vampirella.

Eventually she did what all cats do, took over my house and declared herself the boss. Over time I figured out what sorts of toys she liked and what sorts she’d ignore. I spotted early on her love for sharpening claws on upholstered fabric – bad news for my new sofa, so I quickly provided her alternatives. Most people don’t realize cats won’t scratch the furniture if they have something else to scratch that they can declare ownership over. She got an old beat up yardsale chair, made of upholstered fabric. She used it as a scratching post and throne once I stuck it in a sunny afternoon spot. I left one of her favorite catnip mice on it, and she’d take kitty bong hits off it before napping daily. She never scratched the couch again, only sat on it with her claws retracted.

Now while you might be impressed at a smart cat, it can be viewed another way – when she WAS bad, she KNEW what she was doing and didn’t care.

But that’s why I love cats, I guess.

All cats are OCD, but this one followed a clockwork daily schedule. She’d walk across me every morning around 5, wanting some pets and then wanting me to give her a fresh bowl of wet food.  I get up that early on work days anyway, but cats do not understand weekends or vacations. I’d still get up to feed her, but then go back to bed. She’d nap next to me waiting for me to wake up for real, and then follow the sun around the house during the day for catnaps intermixed with a nosh or two.  Late afternoon around the time I’d get home on a work day, she’d greet me at the door for some serious you-owe-me-for-the-day pets, and then follow me back to her favorite chair to get brushed. And then a new bowl of food and most likely an evening of sitting on the sofa with me & meowing in front of her toys for some action.

I’m so used to being part of that routine that the house feels very empty without her.

But I will admit I won’t miss the stress her final sickness produced. She was dogged by health issues since I got her, most of which trace back to her abandonment. She had a growth on her palate when I first got her that needed surgical removal, she needed a fish free/grain free diet due to allergies that gave her asthma-like symptoms, she never drank enough water so she got clinically constipated  once, and she had a bout with aspirational pneumonia that I caught early enough (as soon as she deviated from her clockwork routine, I knew something was up…) and she also once needed some dental surgery.

Oy.

But then in March of 2016 while giving her a belly rub (something that took her YEARS to learn to like, and then of course, demand & crave), I felt a lump that shouldn’t be there. One of her dormant little cat nipples had also enlarged. She wasn’t in pain when I touched it, but it turned out to be a malignant tumor. 80% of mammary tumors in cats turn out malignant. I made the mistake of putting her through 2 surgeries – first, a lumpectomy to remove the tumor & biopsy it, and then when it came back malignant, she got a more intensive second surgery, a mastectomy along one entire chain of tissue up one side.

My advice for anyone out there with a cat who gets this: Go right to the mastectomy. Put the poor cat through surgery & recovery only once. My cat had to wear a soft cone collar (she fought her way out of

“Jesus, the Rams suck!”

the hard one repeatedly) for nearly SIX WEEKS as her sutures healed and a spot where she’d popped them down in her little crotch had developed an infection.

A dog in a cone collar is uncomfortable. A cat is driven INSANE by being unable to groom themselves. When her infection FINALLY healed and I removed the cone collar, she spent more than an HOUR giving herself a bath. I’ve come back from camping trips feeling dirty and shitty and thought about how great that hot shower felt…. I think that’s where she was.

Then came chemotherapy treatments. I drove her an hour each way to a vet oncologist. I was playing the odds again – if the chemo knocked out whatever remained of the cancer in her body, she’d have a fighting chance to survive a few more years. So, every three weeks for the next few months, I drove her for the injections. They’d make her a little nauseous and curb her appetite for a couple of days, but thankfully she didn’t have worse side effects like puking all over my house.

“Mine!”

They cleared her & I’d bring her in for chest x-rays every few months, since if the cancer mestastisized, it’d turn up in her lungs. And at that point, there’s nothing that can be done.

Last January, it turned up in her lungs. The doctor estimated four to eight months.

No symptoms at first, really, for a couple of months. You’d never know she was sick.

Then I’d notice her sighing sometimes after a lot of activity. The tumors would grow, produce fluid and deny her lung capacity over time. And it was beginning.

Then she’d have little coughing fits, which became more frequent. Each time she got a little worse, she’d plateau for a while.

By April, the coughing fits were more frequent. She’d shrug them off and go about her business. I’d fret and worry about her.

And then I saw how she was losing weight and her appetite was slowly decreasing.

Another belly rub one day revealed a new lump, this time on the other side. This stuff is aggressive, to say the least.

I’d arranged for a vet service to come to my house and euthanize her when the time was right. I wanted her to simply go to sleep in her own home, with me right next to her – and not in some cold vet office after being put in the dreaded carrier and dreaded car. So I was down to figuring out the timing of it all – too soon meant depriving her of the pampering I thought she deserved after basically getting half her

A freeze-frame from a vid of her yawning, one of my favorite pics of her

natural lifespan cut off by the cancer – and too late meant she’d be suffering. I did NOT want that.

Towards the end, her behavior patterns didn’t change, but her ability to physically follow through with them did. She’d wake me at 5 and follow me into the kitchen, but she’d only sniff at her food and hardly eat. She’d sit by her toys and want to play, but she’d have to sit down and swat at them a couple of times before stopping and contemplating her conquest. Her breathing grew more rapid. Normal cat breathing is 20-30 breaths a minute. She was up to 50, and you could see her forcing the breaths. I could only imagine the abdominal aches if it were me in the same state.

Her appetite dropped in the last few days to barely a tablespoon of wet food a day. I wasn’t going to let her starve herself and grow even weaker, so I called the vet.

They gave her a skin injection of some morphine/valium cocktail. She may have meowed a good “WHAT THE FUCK???” at the needle, but within 5 minutes, she was out of it. She was totally passed out. But I knew she was still sensory aware, so I petted her, belly rubbed her, and kept her comfy while the doc inserted the catheter with the general anaesthetic. Within a second, the cat was out. I hope it was like the stuff they gave me once when I got to 98 counting backwards from 99 before falling immediately into a lovely dream sleep. The euthanasia drug followed. Within another second or two, her breathing and heart stopped. She’d just gone to sleep in her own house with her dutiful slave by her side. She was gone.

And I’ll miss her.

The house already feels bigger and lonelier without her here. I just wanted to stay home all the time with her, just hanging out. She’d sit with me while I watched movies or sports, always want to know what I was cooking even if she didn’t beg any from my plate, and I think she was as mystified by my behaviors as I was with hers. But I could always tell how she felt about me by the way she’d beam her eyes at me whenever she was content, sitting somewhere and feeling safe.

She’d play hard-to-get pretty often. I’d call her, or try to get her sit in my lap or follow me to bed at night, and she’d just sit and stare. And if I went the full-Rhett Butler on her and picked her up with a “You’re not turning me out tonight, Scarlett!” and carried her to wherever, she’d go the full Scarlett O’Hara and purr her ass off at the attention. Cats may be mysterious, but they’re also predictable in ways.

I don’t plan on getting another cat right away. I think I need a break for a while, especially after the last stressful cancer year. I suppose on the plus side, I’ll go out more. Maybe without the need for a cat sitter, I can travel and visit places and people. I’ll probably get out of the house more and socialize with people a lot more than I have in the past several years.

And I’m sure that all that human contact will convince me more than ever to get another cat and never leave my house again.

Goodbye, beautiful.

 

 

 

 

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