Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Best Cat Ever

Except, of course, for your own. (With apologies to Cleveland Amory, from whom I shamelessly stole the line. There is, however, an old saw that suggests that the first time one steals a line, it's quoted directly; the second time, it's quoted indirectly; the third time, it's delivered as if one's own. If such is the case, I shall quote two more times so that we may proceed.)

Calle has cancer.

Someone with a greater insistence for accuracy might say that we think she has cancer, that it could be something else, that the outcome may still be in doubt, or any of the other things with which people in this situation usually comfort themselves. Although I've never been through this with a cat of my own (or more accurate, in my own house, because cats are never really one's own), I have been through it with people, and in such cases, it is always best to accept the truth internally and hope for the best externally.

We have an appointment with an oncologist next Friday. What we will discover is that the vet is correct, and that it is relatively advanced, and that at this point, we should allow Calle the feline equivalent of tidying up her affairs. (I shall not ask her to whom she wills her possessions. I expect she would rather see them thrown away than given to that cat, so we shall not ask, and Josie will have use of the ones she likes. Or, perhaps, she will not like any of them at all.)

On May 1 (or perhaps April 30), for no apparent reason, I suddenly realized that Calle was older than I'd thought. (Of course, I really hadn't thought much about it.) I went back through mentally – almost five years in the house, some time in the apartment, however long she'd lived with Kristen – and came up with 8 or so. I then checked my leases (oh yes, I had not cleaned them up yet) and found five years' worth. So she's 12 or 13, something like that. Not so bad, but not a youngish cat. A middle-aged cat. (This was a sudden thought, that's all.)

I visit college friends in the spring/summer, usually over Memorial Day weekend. When I returned, it seemed that the cats had been on a hunger strike. Purina had introduced a new flavor of Purina One, and since flavor A was so good, perhaps flavor B also would be good. Alas, it was not, so flavor A made its return.

Except that it really didn't. For some reason, not a lot of food was being eaten, and there was more meowing. Why? Of course, it's hard to tell. However, challenges had come and gone, and there were no other signs that I could see, so this too might pass.

There was also more sleeping (how can you tell? Well, it's hard – more a feeling than anything else). But it didn't really seem to be that big of a deal.

Then, Sunday night, I think, I was in the kitchen for some reason, and I saw that the food bowls were fairly full, and that, come to think of it, I hadn't filled them for a while. (Josie does not eat much. She's a small cat.) For no reason, I picked a kibble out of the bowl and tossed it toward Calle, who was by the refrigerator. She ate it awkwardly but greedily. Another kibble, same result.

Hmm. Not so good. Probably some tooth thing that I missed, or perhaps sores (she's allergic to something, and every now and then it appears; we take her in, get her a steroid shot, and it goes away). So I toss another one, and she kind of nibbles at it, but doesn't eat it.

I have treats in the cupboard. They're softer. I get a couple out and put them down. Gone in a flash. Not a good sign at all. So I feed her some treats, slowly, so as not to upset her stomach. (It didn't work, by the way.)

Well, she hasn't been eating, so we'll take her in to see the vet. Out of curiosity, I decide to weigh her. You know, additivity: weigh myself, weigh me and the cat, subtract me.

I step on the scale. 189. (Thankfully, it was evening and I was fairly well dressed. I still have weight to lose, but this is not my story.)

I pick up cat and step on the scale. 198.

198.

Nine pounds. Calle's last recorded weight was 12 pounds. I know this like you know when your child was last sick enough to see the doctor. You do not need to be good at math to see a problem here.

Then, when I step off the scale, Calle suddenly lunges out of my hands, lands awkwardly, and runs off. Also not good signs. She landed much like I would land if I jumped down from a height of four feet or so, not at all catlike. Also, for some reason, when I hold a cat (always left hand under the front legs), my right hand doesn't support the legs, but rather lifts the cat to nestle in the crook of my elbow, perhaps supporting the cat's midsection.

So I get a little more food into Calle and resolve to call the vet tomorrow morning.

Happily, they have an afternoon appointment. (Strangely, I work about 5 minutes from the vet, but 25-30 from home, so I have a 60-minute round trip to get the cat.) Cleverly, I close the bedroom door: Calle predictably makes a break when she sees me home during the day, realizes her best hiding places are unavailable, turns and jogs back into the living room, only to remember it looks roughly like a sports bar on a Wednesday afternoon. I pick her up, put her into the crate (thanks to Paul for suggesting the top-of-the-crate-removal trick - record time for cat insertion), and off we go.

There's not much meowing in the car or at the vet.

They can see us right away. I'm running about 3 minutes late. Not bad for a 60-minute trip with cat retrieval included.

Naturally, the first thing we do is weigh the cat. (You know the drill.)

7 pounds.

Not 7.9 pounds, or even 7.4 pounds.

7 pounds.

I am an intelligent man, and I have seen bad things before. I do not know much about cats other than as a faithful companion, but I know enough to recognize that when a cat loses almost 50% of its body weight in any period of time, something is wrong, and it is not a tooth problem.

The vet tech and I trade pleasantries and hedge upward: even though I know, and she must know (because she's looking at Calle's chart, because Calle has been there for every vet trip since I took care of her), we decide her last measured weight was 11 pounds, even though it's not.

So the vet comes in and is given this news, and the symptoms (not eating much, peeing less often, pooping less often, no visible diarrhea, no other visible symptoms), and of course he does the correct vet thing and checks into it himself, even though he suspects that he will have to explain something rather soon.

Blood tests to come. They shave a patch of her fur (bless her heart, she still has thick fur, even if it's short) and draw blood (I look away). Temperature, normal. He examines her. Head, no problems. Belly.

"I don't like that." Something in the abdomen. X-rays to come.

So it can be a number of things: you know, or possibly a kidney problem, or something else. The X-rays may or may not tell us.

The X-rays come back. It is not a kidney problem, not unless your kidneys hide behind your ribcage. Her kidneys are clearly not where this mass is, nor is her spleen there. Where it is is where no mass has any business being in a healthy cat.

So. It looks like intestinal lymphoma. If you don't know what that is, it is not difficult to explain. Like in humans, the lymphatic system in cats is pretty much everywhere: therefore, if you have cancer in your lymphatic system, it did not just knock on your door and offer to sell you a nice magazine subscription. It has made itself at home, and has invited some of its friends, and it has eaten your favorite ice cream and forgotten to set the DVR for MythBusters.

Of course, it is not always like that. There are degrees of malignancy in cats as there are in humans, but a low-grade tumor does not cause a cat to lose five pounds. Not this cat, the one who would eat Pop-Tart pieces, or lettuce, or, well, anything not too spicy that happened to fall on the floor, or on a napkin, or onto your plate, even if it hadn't fallen quite yet, but could have if she weren't watching it so closely for you.

To the vet's credit (and I expected no less from him; he has always done well by my cats and has always told me exactly what's going on), there was no hedging. I asked a couple of questions and he confirmed them.

So we will see the oncologist next Friday, and he will tell me that it is a high-grade tumor, and we will discuss options to improve her quality of living, and I will probably thank him for all of his help, and go back to the vet, and schedule Calle for some periodic steroid shots (this seems to help with the symptoms), every week or two, or something like that, and then, you know, it will be time.

Calle has been the best cat I have ever had, in nearly four decades of cat companionship, and I have treasured every moment we have shared together. I could not ask for anything more than for her last days to be as good for her as the other days have been for me.

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