The surgeon has cleared The Bird to cat again. She’s got two weeks worth of licking stuff to catch up on. I want to get her a tiny sweatshirt to keep her naked tum warm, but she’s excited to be gone, crate, and onesie free.
What I’ve determined is, Birdie does not sleep well with the cone. Lots of frequent ups and downs during the night and while I’m at school. Everybody cruises through to check on her, Miles mostly to monitor her food that he cannot access. Olivia looking into the camera says it all: “This is some fucked nonsense, y’all.”
So today on a sunny Saturday, we are saying “Fuck it!” Birdie is having monitored cone and crate free time in her stylish onesie. It is hard to curl up and chew your toes with a cone on.
Our normal vet was all about the onesie however we did the second surgery at the vet who administered her chemo and they are opposed to the onesie: it traps air not letting the wound breath and gets dirty potentially getting dirt in the wound. They basically made it sound like I would leave her in the same onesie for two weeks without ever cleaning it or checking her wound. Eyeroll. I was like: “BITCHES. SHE. HAS. A. FIERCE. WARDROBE.” Insert tongue pop here.
What I know is that right now she is out cold in the most uncomfortable spot I can imagine, the sunspot got too hot, but she is sleeping.
Not so fun Fun Fact: Cats can fight through medical sedation?
Apparently, yes they can. On chemo visit 3, Birdie, in true Birdie badass style, fought through sedation twice. They did not steal her blood and she did not receive chemo that day because she was not fucking having it. Not today, Satan!
I suspected something was up when I did not get the normal call saying that bloodwork was done and she was good for treatment that day. Instead I got a midafternoon call saying that Bird had fought through and been brought out of sedation twice, and that they could not hit a vein get a blood draw much less a vein to safely administer chemo. I’ve always considered her to be a feisty redhead which may be part of her sedation issue, but she had been extra vocal in the car that morning despite the normal pre-vet dose of gabapentin to chill her out, and the attending doctor said that sometimes cats are super motivated to fight the sedation when “they know what’s coming.” I could see that. Bird is no dummy, but her attitude can get in the way sometimes. There was a tearful moment at my desk after the call, because I was frustrated and worried for her as well as exhausted with the end of the school year and managing her treatments. No treatment that day meant we had to go through it all again the next week. (My cats are my kids, but there is still a certain shame in asking someone else to cover a class because I have to drop my cat at her appointment, talk to the doctor, and then drive 25 minutes to get to school that day. Better yet was the email asking an admin not to schedule me to proctor a standardized test because of a treatment day. The one good thing about COVID was that by spring of this school year, very little phased anyone.)
However what I got back was an insanely high little creature with four shaved and bloody legs. It made me wonder if she had pulled a tech who was not good at blood draws. It reminded me of the nurse at Blonde Doctor’s office who tried both arms then went back for a third try and wiggled the needle around for good measure, all the while yapping about her teenaged son. At try number 3, I had to lay down and say, “Just take whatever you want. I’ll be laying here.” That visit ended with me in the lab with the phlebotomist and a juice box after. So I had much more sympathy for my little girl who may have had to deal with fools that day. I rinsed Birdie’s legs and purr-ittoed her because I was not going to make her lick that much of her own blood off her little leggies.
Round 2 of treatment 3 was the next week. We changed her Gabapentin dose slightly, and the attending doctor (this is a teaching hospital so we see someone different each visit) made an extreme effort to give Birdie the royal treatment and her own space. Things went much better that day, many vet students now have pictures of my cat in “her office”, and Birdie has cemented her reputation.
That incident aside, Birdie has tolerated chemo very well -KNOCK ON WOOD-and had minimal side effects other than just needing to relax the next day. Her appetite, energy, and bathroom habits have been amazing. A re-scan did not show any evil growths. This month was Treatment 5, her last chemo session. She got a bandana signed by the staff; cats do not want to ring cancer bells or any bells really. She has one more surgical hurdle and then it’s all about monitoring from there.
This is not a funny post. It is in fact a horrible post. If you now anything about Schrodinger’s Cat (Yes, I know there should be an umlaut. Whatever.), you know the cat is simultaneously, theoretically alive and dead. That’s our basic situation right now.
A quick Schrodinger’s Cat tutorial.
At the end of February, what I thought was a fatty growth on Birdie turned out to be an enlarged mammary gland which, according to the article I was sent home with, means a 90% probability of a savage and fatal cancerin cats. Dogs have a better chance, but cats, per usual, are fucked. This article is best read and annotated while sobbing on the kitchen floor as cats mill around you inquiring about treats because, c’mon, lady, you’re in the kitchen.
Birdie’s mass removal was an entire week away. A week I spent preparing for the worst findings because that was what the article suggested, but also a week observing a cat who had no idea that she was carrying around that “vial of poison” that could be opened at any moment. Also because grief makes for super rational thoughts processes, I finished the painting that I had started and procrastinated on well before I knew too much about cat mammary glands because I didn’t want to be “the weirdo painting bad pictures of her dead cat.” That is a direct quote from my Brain.
X-rays did not show any growths in her lungs and the surgery went well. They got all of the mass and shipped it off to the high-tech lab for analysis which would be back in an additional 5-7 days. When cats and dogs have a “mastectomy,” they have to remove the entire row of glands, so it looks like they cut my cat in half from head to tail. I got back a Bird with a gnarly incision and sutures, instructions not jump for two weeks, and a cone of shame.
I have plenty of close ups that I will decline to post because they are very graphic. There was a lot of dark purple bruising as well as some oozing of various fluids, plus I was supposed to convince Bird that intermittent ice packs were a good plan for the first couple days.
However the biggest struggle was the cone and the no jumping. She was insanely pissed that she could not lick her butt, and she would not settle down to relax. Additionally, my entire house is made for jumping cats so the only spot to contain her at night and while I was at work was my tiny, windowless bathroom where she spent the first three nights crying loudly about eight feet from my bed.
I stayed home the day after her surgery to monitor her and give pain meds. Personally, if I had just had a mastectomy and been dosed with pain medication, I would take a fucking nap. Birdie is more into pacing the entire house with me wandering behind her to keep her from jumping, and to help her because the cone turned her into a sad kitty Roomba bouncing off everything. The cone was already filthy because it dipped into her food, water, and litter box so I was also ready for clean up. Around 11 a.m. that day I texted a colleague: “I assume this is what having a toddler is like. Been up since 7, but I haven’t eaten yet because she won’t nap and I’m trying to keep her from jumping off things.”
We needed solutions.
My district has spent the last year worrying and focusing on mental health and social emotional learning so in that interest, I needed an alternative to the cone and a different containment space because neither Birdie nor I were going to survive the two weeks. The vet suggested baby onesies (still not sure how that works on a cat with a body length incision) and a few brand name products. I found a DIY cat t-shirt onesie and some products on Amazon that my sister sent me because I’m the only human who does not have Prime and immediate shipping.
The t-shirt onesie did not go over well, but it did give her an evening of butt licking freedom until our Amazon finds arrived.
The vet okayed the onesie as a cone replacement after seeing the photo on the bed, and learning that “Birdie demonstrated that she could poop” while wearing it. We got three onesies for daily changes and rinses. She didn’t love it, but tolerated it and left her incision alone. Win.
In the meantime, a colleague had mentioned in a completely unrelated conversation that he an unused Great Dane sized crate. Their Great Dane no longer needed crating. I cashed in on that information, and he was kind enough to bring it over and assemble it for Birdie. I can fit in it! It takes up the entire Happy Morning Sunshine room, but it got her out of the tiny bathroom. From the crate she could see what was going on, interact with the other cats, and even get a sunbeam in the mornings. She did not cry once from that space and even hung out there voluntarily when the door was open. It has displaced an entire room and the associated furniture, but made the two weeks of no jumping bearable. Worth it.
Birdie With Onesie had a much different temperament than Naked Birdie. Birdie With Onesie was deferential to the cats and requested head bumps and kisses rather than starting Fight Club at meal times. She even allowed herself to “cuddle” with Miles. THIS. DOES. NOT. happen in real life with Naked Birdie. In part, I think she was cold, but also feeling the after effects of surgery.
Birdie With Onesie also spent as much time following me as I spent monitoring her. She was very intense. I wonder if the high grade purring was part of her pain management.
What now indeed? Eight days after the surgery, we got the analysis: the worst type of aggressive cancer. Her tumor was 3cm which is right on the cut off/edge/border of whatever mystical survival rate chart people in labs use to evaluate these things. Estimated survival is 300 days without treatment, and 700 days with 4-6 chemo treatments. Somehow it’s worse that it is measured in days.
I will, of course, consult with an oncologist because I can’t not. (And I got all the way to writing this sentence without crying)
So you see… I have this cat who doesn’t have to reside in a “box” anymore, but who is simultaneously, theoretically alive and dead all at once. From here on out she gets all the ham and prosciutto she wants because that won’t be the thing that kills her.
Suture-free and back up to full sass, Fight Club attitude.
I’ve always hated that line of questioning. How was your weekend? Your break? Your whatever? I’m not completely convinced that anyone really cares how my time was spent. It’s a knee jerk social convention that I am guilty of employing myself.
The asker just wants the other person to respond with “Good” or “Fine”, or possibly with a short but interesting anecdote. Often the question is a jumping off point for the asker to launch into a story of his or her own. “Oh, well let me tell you what happened to me. You’ll appreciate this!” Chances are good that I won’t, but by all means proceed.
Much as we may or may not appreciate witty vacation stories, no one REALLY wants to know how it was if it was bad. Unfortunately for others, it is completely within the scope of my personality to stop people in their tracks with exactly how bad it was.
My beautiful friend died this summer. That’s how it was.
Yes, I did some fun things and had adventures. I could pull out an amusing anecdote if needed. Heck, I was at the beach with my family for the first time in five years when she passed. I wasn’t there for her alcohol soaked bedside vigil at the hospital with her family, and all our friends and a red wagon full of booze. I could only post photos and memories to the Facebook group from afar, going back as far as possible in my digital archives. So how was my summer?
I hovered around the idea of emailing our school staff and begging them to pinky swear not to ask each other the dreaded question. After all, our friend and colleague’s fight against cancer had been the entire school’s fight for nine months. But my reputation as the person who says the inappropriate thing or the snarky thing stayed my hand. Somehow it would have come across wrong. As school started, inevitably the question was asked even by people who had been directly active in her care.
So I’ve tried to be a good kid and answer with stories of caterpillars, zip lining, yardsales and the like. But a part of my brain screams about her as I tell those stories.
Particularly today. Her sister reminded us that it was a year ago today that everything changed. What she had spent most of a year thinking was sciatic nerve pain hobbling her movement, was an insidious creature absorbing her hip bones and building tumors up and down her fragile spine. It was so wretched and evil that doctors wouldn’t be able to identify its source for another six months.
Running its course, the cancer immobilized her, then teased her and us by letting her build back the strength to walk unassisted again. It took her hair. It took her appetite and stole her taste for favorite foods. She could no longer stand chocolate. That’s a horror story. It played with creating new lesions and growths in different parts of her body just to keep the doctors guessing. For a while it gave her a lazy eye and double vision. And in the end, it sucked up her ability to get enough oxygen on her own, and her dream of seeing her two-year old at Disney. But all through the ridiculous ups and downs, and loss of dignity, she smiled her gigantic Disney princess smile. A smile that had a little bit of the villainess behind it. I couldn’t have loved her as much without a little wickedness being there,and a shrieked “RIGHT!” and cackling laugh in response to my own sarcastic commentary.
She was a life-long cheerleader, positive but not a Pollyanna. Where I would have been the worst and grumpiest patient, she was gracious to all. She gladly absorbed all the tributes, signs, tshirts, videos, and projects created in the name of keeping her strong; or more likely keeping us strong as we powerlessly watched everything happen.
There had to be times when she just wanted a private life instead of constant well meant bombardment. Times when she was overwhelmed by the pain and the fear of what was happening. She must have leaned on her mother, sister, and husband’s shoulders in those moments. I only had a few moments like that with her. As always, she worried about other people, not wanting to make them uncomfortable by talking about how she really felt or things like planning her will. She was more often in the role of comforter.
The first time I visited her after the diagnosis and initial surgery, I cried because all the pain killers made her voice sound strange. Of course, she just kept saying,”I’m sorry. It’s okay.” As if this was her fault. It’s a cliche, but I’ll never feel like I did enough or visited enough or did all that I could for her. But I desperately cling to the idea that she was mine.
The last time I visited her with a friend, she was groggy and in and out of a very disturbed sleep during the visit, not really aware of us until we were leaving. When I told her I loved her as I kissed her goodbye for the day, she managed to make eye contact and mumble a “love ya” back.
Back off greeting card industry unless it’s to offer me my own card line featuring this amazing artwork all drawn on the notepad app on my phone while lazing on my couch. The Photogrid app helped to add and adjust text although I think I can do that in the photo editing tools on my camera roll. Plus I just learned how to add a watermark in Photoshop! (It’s a complete pain in the ass. How about nobody steals my shit??? Lets agree to that.)
I like my greeting cards funny, filthy, and sarcastic with a touch of weird. There’s never really a card that reflects what is going on in my brain. Example: “Happy Father’s Day…I guess. Meh.”
I mean what card is there for my friend with cancer who has to mentally and emotionally psych herself up for her chemo treatments? I didn’t think about this aspect of chemo until she had to miss a treatment because of test results, and was devastated. It was an emotional kick in the teeth for her.
I’m not going to send her some creepy sympathy or “thinking of you” card with funeral flowers on it and a sappy poem inside. Not my style. So I sketched up a little something for her next treatment. She deserves (a better artist) beams of sunlight radiating from her bald head. I also sent her cat hair to make a merkin, but that’s a whole other issue.
My cards would not be complete without involving my cats!
This is for those of you who have helped your BFF pull the one giant gorilla hair out of the middle of her chest in public. C’mon, she was getting ready to get a portrait taken! Chest hair not welcome.
Or perhaps you’ve helped someone with glasses pluck her “goat hairs” off her chin because she can’t focus on them herself.
This card is threatening. One person interpreted it as uplifting and encouraging “Oh, your cat wants me to have fun”, but it was drawn with threat in mind. If you knew my cat…
I anticipate my top sellers would be my “Sorry about your vagina” line.
I don’t like babies, or small children and often I dislike large children, some days I dislike most adults. What the Hell? People suck. More cats please.
So when my friends crap out babies, which they seem to do with great frequency,I’m generally more concerned with the shattered state of their bits and pieces than with the damned baby. (Who does not look like you or your spouse. It looks exactly like all the other wrinkly babies! I cannot see that it has your nose. Ugh.)
Again radiating beams of light.
I don’t like spinning. I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right, but it makes certain things hurt and not in a “Boy, I worked out today type of way!”
For when your down under feels political. I made the mistake of watching part of the live feed of the Women’s March on Washington and reading the comments as they scrolled by. Every other comment called the marchers whiny, sore losers, baby killers, and even Satanists (what?). It would be nice if people would realize that women’s rights and healthcare goes beyond abortion. The caliber of the comments made it painfully clear why this large child was voted into office where he can pick equally large children to be his playmates in a game of “Leader of the Free World.”
To end on a lighter note, we all get old and those crazy gray hairs show up…EVERYWHERE!
I am so psyched about these vagina foxes! Adorable!
We are never so lucky as when an animal chooses one of us to be his or her pet.
When I relocated for a new teaching job, my first two purchases for my new home were my own washer and dryer and a cat. The cat was the more important purchase.
The day after moving in all my stuff, my mom, sister, and I visited Cat Welfare http://www.catwelfareohio.com/ on the recommendation of a friend. It was Crazy Cat Lady heaven with dozens of cats roaming freely around the shelter while small kittens and those who had just had surgery or needed meds were staying in stacked cages. It was wonderful and overwhelming.
August 2, 2000
Her second day home. Much more comfortable.
I was bent over looking in a cage at a vibrant calico named Sarah, when something from above snagged my hair. A smudged white paw had shot through the bars and latched on to some of my ponytail. I stood up and looked in at green eyes, a black mask, and white fur dirtied by the newspaper print lining her cage. We checked each other out and I kept on moving around the shelter.
I was across the shelter, when I noticed a couple looking in at the black and white caged cat. For whatever reason, I bee lined across the room and made their personal space my personal space. They moved on and I asked a volunteer if I was allowed to hold the cat who was caged because she had recently been spade. I baby cradled the future Bella Luna who calmly gazed up at me and worked her shelter cat magic for all she was worth. She reached up and patted my cheek with her paw, a move she would use for the rest of our life together.
Sometime during the car ride home Bella Luna officially became Bella Luna my beautiful moon. She was named for a line in the movie Moonstruck; a film where many of the characters’ love lives are turned on end by the power of the giant fantasy moon (la bella luna) that shines over Brooklyn. The grandfather character urges his pack of dogs to howl at the moon: “Guarda la bella luna.” Look at the beautiful moon.
During her first day at home August 2, 2000, Bella spent her time hiding under chairs and boxes, avoiding her new people and getting the lay of the land. Exhausted from moving and unpacking, I fell asleep while reading in bed with the lights on. At about 4 a.m., I was awakened by Bella walking up across my body until she settled on my chest and tucked her head in under my chin to go to sleep.
For 13 years, she has been sleeping on my chest, my back, my shoulder, beside my head on the pillow, tucked into my armpit, whatever part of me she could comfortably get to. If I slept on my side, she would somehow slide herself in between my arms and body. On more than one occasion, she demanded that I lay down for a nap so that SHE could have a place to sleep.
For 13 years, she has tolerated traveling, moving, costumed photo shoots, other cats in her house, questionable boyfriends, loud music, the vacuum cleaner, so many other things, and me. Most of all she tolerated me. My other cats can be selective with their purrs, but Bella always purred when I petted her and best of all she purred simply when I was there in the room with her.
For 13 years, I have been in love with my Principessa Bella “Bunny” Luna. I loved her soft bunny fur and tendency to hop. I loved her big green eyes framed by her “Batman” mask of black fur. I loved that she stole pizza toppings with her left paw. I loved her black spots that were markers for scratching and petting. I loved that I was allowed to fall asleep with my face against her side as she purred. I loved that she wanted little more than to burrow under a blanket or make a “cat burrito” with a piece of fleece. I loved that she would press her face against mine when I carried her. I loved her pink nose that changed from pale to bright depending on her mood. I loved her tiny paw pads that were a mix of black and pink. I love that my best friend is owned by Bella’s fur twin. I loved that she was opinionated and grumpy at times.
I loved that she was mine and that she chose me.
While Bella survived the lung surgery and removal of a tumor in October, her health deteriorated during December and test results showed that a whole new cancer had appeared in her swollen lymph nodes. This made her yet another statistical oddity, as her oncologist said that this cancer did not typically manifest this way in cats. After an ultra sound on December 28, it was revealed that the cancer had filled her, giving her a week to two weeks of getting progressively sicker until she died. I could not stand the idea of making an additional appointment later to essentially drive my girl to her death. Worse yet, I did not want her to suffer. She had put up with so much already.
My mom and I buried Bella in the evening on December 28. I’m not sure what to do with her food. My house is covered in photos and artwork of her. I forgot that her chemo meds were still under the sink. I’m offended that the other cats don’t seem to care that she’s gone. Every time I walk down the hallway to my bedroom, I automatically expect to see her on my bed or in the window seat. The other cats don’t sleep on me the way she did. I’m just so terribly sad.