I DON’T want to be sedated.

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.

Recovering from that visit required a solid 24 hours in the closet in the “I feel icky” spot sniffing my shoes.

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.

After a better treatment 3 and a happier high cat. I found the shirt on Amazon.

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.

Schrodinger’s Calico Cat

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 cancer in 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.

This diagnosis was also the day of my second COVID shot so it is tough to say if the following days of malaise were a reaction to the shot or the devastating sadness that my perky, spicy, little sass monster had a death sentence hanging over her head. I’m pretty sure the swollen armpit was a result of the shot.

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.

Day 1: she finally reclined so I could see her incision.

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.

We discovered that the cone tipped over water bowls, but that she could maneuver it around the fountain levels.

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.”

Mommy is so tired.

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.

In another “who wore it best moment”… Olivia is modeling the prototype.

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.

She is sooooooo happy to be out of the cone and to be on my bed with her beloved IKEA comforter.

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.

They are in the same space AND touching.

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.

Oncology is an Ugly Word

 

No one loves me like The Bunny.

No one loves me like The Bunny.

Dear People Of Earth Who Think I Have Been More Batshit Crazy Than Usual This Week,

I am quietly going insane.

Last Sunday I took Principessa Bella Luna, my furry companion of 13 years, into the vet because she vomited a tiny bit of blood with her food. Because this was the second trip for this reason in about two month’s time, the vet opted to do an abdominal x-ray and blood work. While I wanted an answer to Bella’s health problem, part of me did not want them to find anything because that meant that nothing was really wrong.

The abdominal x-ray did not show anything in her stomach, but the x-ray did catch the lower part of one of her lungs; it showed  a mass. She’s ten pounds of old lady fur and bones, there’s no room for a “mass!” The vet immediately starting talking about referrals to MedVet’s oncology center. Despite its soft circles and arcs, oncology is an ugly word. I’ve already been through kitty cancer with Cosmo, I knew the misery that is on its way. It felt hopeless.

Adding insult to injury, the vet said that Bella’s neck was too fatty for her to find a vein for the blood work so she shaved the front of her throat and went for the jugular. Again, she is only ten pounds of old lady fur and bones, there’s no room to “go for the jugular!” Every other vet I have ever dealt with takes the blood sample from a vein on the inside of the cat’s leg. I’ve helped them do it. No shaving or jugular veins left to ooze needed.

After standing in the lobby for what seemed like forever waiting to check out, I got in the car and ugly cried my way home. I was a danger to myself and others. Suck it, world. At home I sequestered myself and Bella in the bathroom to give her a pill and clean up a spot of blood I noticed on her paw. Keep in mind that Bella is a brilliantly white cat with black spots. Her fur is not cream or off white, no eggshell, it is purely glowingly white. So when she exited the carrier with her ruff covered in blood, I took the ugly cry to formally unknown levels of pain and horror. The jugular puncture had continued to ooze and her movements had helped to spread the blood around. Sponging blood off my cat and sobbing was not the original plan for my Sunday morning.

I spent the rest of the day walking around ugly crying, ugly crying in the back yard, ugly crying while folding laundry, alternating between states of barely coherent glazed consciousness and ugly crying. At bedtime, Bella headed for her regular spot on the pillow by my head, I took one look at her and began to wail again. She tolerated that for about five minutes before exiting the room. I found her stretched out stiffly on her side under a table in the spare bedroom, not a usual Bella spot. She was awake but did not respond with her usual purr when I petted her. I moved one of the cat beds to the floor, hoping she would have  a more comfortable night. I was convinced that I would not have a live cat by morning. I cried some more.

Had I thought about it, I probably would have realized that Bella was most likely sore and traumatized from the manhandling at the vets. I get a shot or have blood drawn and I’m a sucky baby for a day, she got poked in the jugular! By morning she was cuddled into the pet bed and ready for breakfast. I ate my breakfast sitting beside her, petting her.

As my deceased Gma said, “Getting old sucks.” It sucks  not only for my  15 year old cat (that makes her a 72 year old human), but for me as well. I actually pulled a lower back muscle presumably in the throes of the ugly bedtime cry. Gone are the days of tragically sobbing with only emotional ramifications. All week my back has hurt in pretty much every position except leaning back against pillows on the couch. Because of the stress from worrying about Bella as well as faking having my shit together every day for classes, I’ve been clenching my jaw during the day which makes my face, teeth, and neck hurt. My almost constant state of anxiety makes it hard to get a full breath, concentrate enough to follow trains of thought or plot lines, and my hands don’t work right. My best comparison is that it’s like the jittery disconnected feeling brought on  by too little sleep the night before and too much coffee the morning after. It all gets worse when I’m left alone with my thoughts and few distractions.

On Wednesday night, Miles decided to get on board. He refused to eat his dinner and put himself to bed at 6:00 like a sick toddler. Miles does not refuse food …ever. Him not vocalizing about food or eating food is so beyond out of character for him, that I did not know what to do with myself. By breakfast, he was lethargic but ate. A vet visit, blood work, and more money later, he was fine and just wanted to make sure that Mommy was paying attention.

Friday afternoon, Bella and I traveled to the cancer center for better chest x-rays, blood work, and an ultrasound. Surprisingly, I held it together even when they put me in the same exam room that I had sat in for hours when I was there with Cosmo in 2009. After consulting with the oncologist, she sent me off to “run errands” until 4:00 when they would be done with Bella’s exam and would have some information. What

Bella says you're never too old to shave the pussy. At least she has a sense of humor about this.

Bella says you’re never too old to shave the pussy. At least she has a sense of humor about this.

errands? At this point I was lucky to have enough brain function to answer questions like my own phone number (I got the area code wrong) and drive my car.

Essentially, I have a very healthy older cat. Her ultrasound on her abdomen was “boring” aside from having her tummy shaved (I was wondering how they were going to deal with the ultrasound goo), her blood work was great and she showed no signs of being in physical pain. However her chest x-rays confirmed that there is a mystery mass of cell anarchy inside her tiny kitty lung.

The surgeon felt that Bella is a good candidate for surgery. In one moment he would make me hopeful which is frightening in itself, but in the next he would seem to contradict himself, making me question if surgery was the right path. I feel like this is where doctors and teachers overlap. It would be nice as a teacher to be able to be straightforward and say, “You know, your kid is not smart and really the thousands of dollars you’re going to spend on college are going to be wasted on Charlie from Flowers for Algernon. He should learn a basic trade and that’s cool because the world needs ditch diggers too” or “Survey says that your child is a lying whore/bitch plus she’s super lazy and manipulative so maybe you should take away all the expensive stuff you bought her and pretend to be a real parent until she moves out of the house.” However, teachers have to find veiled, secret code, politically correct ways to say any of this so it sounds like every student is a super smart, well loved winner with oodles of potential. Likewise no doctor wants to promise that everything is going to be okay or that the right decision to make is Option A instead of Option B. Doctors will not straightforwardly say, “If you do this, you will barely prolong your pet’s life and will painfully torture her in the process.”

“If you do this, you will barely prolong your pet’s life and will painfully torture her in the process” is among the possible scenarios on a loop in my brain. Am I selfishly setting my best fur friend up for suffering? Or am I helping her? If she was a relatively healthy 72 year old woman there would be no argument. But I can’t explain to her what is happening. I hate that at least two doctors have suggested that I go home and “talk this over with the family.” I have a family, but these people mean MY FAMILY because a woman my age is supposed to be married and have reproduced. I don’t know if she is in pain right now. I question every move she makes, wondering if it’s symptomatic. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we just got really old and then died, bypassing all the questions of what to do, minimizing pain and suffering? Have I made the right decision?

I can’t make my brain stop thinking about this. I almost cried in the checkout line at the grocery store today. The whole trip, one voice in my head was logically running through weekly meal options and the other voice was screaming questions about mortality and finances– seriously, can I even afford this. That makes it very hard to focus. Forget about trying to choose yogurt flavors. Waiting behind a woman with a ton of groceries and no intentions of sliding the conveyor belt divider my way, the screaming voice had pretty much won. Suddenly another store employee popped into the aisle behind me, made eye contact, and very firmly said,

“Don’t worry. You’re fine.”

She was referring to the “Checkout lane closed” sign she had just put up for that aisle, but the logical voice had to really strangle the screaming voice to keep it from screeching, “BUT I’M NOT! I’M NOT FINE!”

I am dropping Bella off for surgery in the early hours of Wednesday. If all goes well, I will have her home some time on Friday. Between now, then, and beyond, I will continue to sleeplessly dismiss all shreds of rational thought.