My Cat Has Cancer — A Personal Journey
When you adopt a cat, you are occupied with all the details of taking care of your new family member. You name it, you get it a special bowl for its food, you set up litter boxes, and you buy scratching posts.
And then you begin to get to know your cat. Anyone who has ever owned one will tell you that each one has its own unique personality, quirks, and habits.
As you go through the years, the cat becomes a part of your life. He sleeps with you, wakes you up wanting food, and greets you at the door when you come home. As time continues to pass, that nagging voice in the back of your mind starts to worry. He's getting old. How much time does he have left? How will I ever fill the void when I lose my precious baby?
This is the story of my personal journey of love and loss of one special cat.
He Finds Us
He came to us one month after my husband and I were married. In setting up house it just didn't feel right until we had a cat.
We visited a local rescue and as we were looking at the cages and talking to the foster families, this gorgeous, blue-eyed creature stuck his paws out through the cage and meowed at my husband.
The volunteer got him out of the cage and handed him to my husband and the cat immediately started purring and put his paws around my husband's neck.
Needless to say, we were smitten.
Born Loving People
He was the kitten of a feral, Siamese mother. A TNR (trap-neuter-return) group had brought the mother and two kittens in to be given vaccinations, get spayed and neutered and then be returned to their cat colony. The TNR group notches their ears to indicate that they have been fixed.
But the story we were told was that as our cat woke up, he started talking to the volunteers and purring and rubbing on the cage. Someone said "I don't think this one is feral."
So our little notched kitten got a second chance and at six months old became a part of our household.
A red point, Siamese mix, he lived up to all the personality traits of this kind of cat. He was loud and demanding and followed us around like a dog when we were home. It quickly became evident that he was lonely when he started chewing on the blinds of our apartment during the day.
So we got him a companion a few months later and he was much happier.
In a few more years we moved to a house and soon our first child was born. One of my earliest pictures of my new son shows a curious Siamese cat sniffing the newborn infant as he's sleeping in his carseat.
A few years later our second son came into the picture but Merlin, our Siamese, took it all in stride.
A Part of My Everyday Life
You never really realize just how much they are a part of your life and your everyday routine until the fact of their impending loss is staring you in the face.
He greets me at the door when I walk in. He talks to me and fusses when he needs something. If I sit down he jumps up on my lap and head bumps me.
When I got to sleep at night I only have to reach out my hand to feel his warm body and the vibrations of his purring.
His presence is large. Though I have other pets, Merlin is different. He is special.
At sixteen years old, it's always in the back of your mind that you are on borrowed time with your pet. It's the nature of having old pets and part of the process. But that doesn't make the shock of it happening any easier to bear.
I had noticed that his belly looked swollen but I at first attributed to him overeating. It very suddenly hit me, as I was looking at him, that the roundness I was seeing was not fat but fluid, like another cat that I had who passed away from metastasized liver cancer.
I called our vet and got him in right away.
The vet confirmed my worst suspicions; fluid in the belly most likely equals cancer in a cat of his age.
The Moment When It All Seems Too Real
He listed options for diagnosis and said that an ultrasound would probably be the best option for seeing what was going on in the abdomen.
He invited me back to the ultrasound room with his assistant to watch the procedures. As I was rubbing Merlin's head they scanned his belly and pulled his internal organs up on the screen. The vet could immediately see "foreign bodies" that were not recognizable as organs.
At that moment I felt like I wasn't in my body but suspended. Watching.
The radio was playing somewhere in the background and I heard Phil Collins' "True Colors" start playing and it got to be too much. Tears started streaming down my face.
I didn't openly weep or sob. That would come later. But I felt the grief well up in me from somewhere deep and hidden.
The Waiting Game
For now he's still eating. He's still talking. He's still doing his regular things.
I reached out last night and his body was there and he purred. And I cried.
We can opt for comfort measures for him. They can drain the accessible fluid from his abdomen.
We'll know when it's time. Or will we?
I've been down this road before with other pets. But this one feels different. This one is more personal and more painful.
I don't really know how long he has. It could be days. It could be weeks. It is not long.
I know that there are terrible things going on in the world. People get cancer. Children get cancer. People are starving. People are living on the street. People are dying of preventable disease.
But grief and grieving are personal experiences. And each experience of grief is both selfish and necessary.
This is my personal sadness. This is my grief.
I will miss this cat.
March 17, 2014
My sweet Merlin passed away in my arms this afternoon. It was a bittersweet moment but I'm so glad I got to be there during his last moments.