Cancer Diary: Pets and Cancer II (They Are Not Immune to the Ravages of the Disease or the Need for Support)
The cats in the window, Intrepid (tabby-mau mix) and Murjan (red & white Turkish van), were the best of friends. Murjan "raised" Intrepid after he was found as a small kitten crying in the grass after his mother died. Both were born in Jordan and were brought to the USA when we moved back home to California. Both were diagnosed at the same time with lymphoma though the vet said that it was pure coincidence. Intrepid was the younger by four years, but he had the worst case: his kidneys and liver were already damaged when we found out he was sick. Both began chemotherapy in summer of 2018.
In October 2018, Intrepid, named for his daredevil approach to life, died. He was only 11 years old. As the days went by and the chemo did little more than make him loopy--actually, it was difficult to know whether the progressing disease was causing him to walk drunkenly or the chemotherapy side effect or both--he ended up on IV at home at times and IV in the pet hospital at times.
The sicker Intrepid became, the more time he spent in a cat bed under our bed. I suppose it gave him the comfort that comes from the dark and sleep and yet being near to us. When Intrepid's final day care, my husband, Carl, drove him the 45 minutes to the emergency room one last time. Trep poked his head up once as we were leaving to take a look out the window from his carrier, the laid his head down on my hand, which I had put inside the carrier, and slept on it all the way day. That was our last contact with him. An hour after being admitted and put on oxygen, he died.
Today, he rests permanently with Carl who recently also died of cancer. Trep and Carl were bonded from three months alone together in Jordan after I came back to the States and they got stuck for a while (long story) in the Middle East. The cemetery caretaker kindly let us bury their ashes together, and my husband's big bag of ashes (the urn did not fit) is now draped over Intrepid's tiny box of ashes.
Together at last, they had followed the same path. As I watched my husband decline, the images of Intrepid's decline, step by step the same, guided me in the next steps to take with my husband.
In 2021, after three years of chemotherapy, Murjan died, at age 18 1/2, exactly one month after my husband, Carl, died. His decline followed the same path as did Intrepid and Carl. I should have been able to cope with it better, having all that experience, but Murjan was my bonded baby, and it was hard to let go.
I did have more time with him, and his death was a bit slower than that of Intrepid, giving him time to try to die in his own way. On his last full day, he wanted to go outside. He loved walking on a leash, but this time, emaciated from a weight loss that took him from 16 pounds to 5 pounds, he was more interested in searching out dark spaces. Like Intrepid, in the dark he was looking for a place to die.
The next day Murjan was ready to go. His spirit kept him moving, but his body could not take him where he wanted to go, and he cried. I took him, this time with my son, on that same 45-minute drive, but I could not hold his paw or give him my hand because of needing to steer the wheel. Fortunately, when we arrived at the hospital, we were stuck outside, in the car, for 20 minutes. I opened the carrier door, and Murjan, like Intrepid before him, lay his head on my hand and peacefully rested for 20 minutes of the last 30 minutes of his life. We no sooner got him inside than he joined Intrepid and Carl. His ashes are with me, in a beautiful box in our dining room, waiting for his own time and place for burial, perhaps with me -- and Carl and Intrepid.
Murjan touched many hearts in his short, but long for a cat, lifetime, even though the last three years he was very sick with cancer. Every visitor loved "dog cat" who would greet visitors at the door, then roll over to have his belly rubbed, and follow them around for petting, rubbing against their legs. He obviously, even in his dying moments, still had that Turkish van (his breed, a very social one) appeal because the emergency room vet who walked him into death made a contribution to Birchbark Foundation in his name (I found out only from the foundation itself).
The same questions remain that remain after a human death. Would it have been better to choose to focus on the dying for them, or, like we did, to focus on the living? Better to let the cancer run its course unfought or fight like the dickens to beat it? In retrospect, perhaps both would have been more comfortable letting nature take its course. In retrospect, we definitely would have had more quality time to spend with them--and to prepare for the dying, to experience it more fully rather than in passing as we rushed with medical care to prevent it.
Yet, as when Carl was dying and we focused on the living until we had missed out on opportunities to manage the dying better, it is likely, very likely, almost certain that had we focused on the dying, we would have blamed ourselves for not trying harder to support living even though the quality of living was compromised. As people, in general, we may be focused on hanging on to life, on hoping against hope, and when hope fails us, we wish we had chosen "reality" because the hope interfered with a gentle dying; yet, somehow, we (at least some of us) simply do not know how not to hope!
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For more posts on cancer in general, click HERE.
For more Cancer Diary posts, click HERE.
For more information on cancer, check out Carl's Cancer Compendium on the MSI Press website.
Blog editor's note: As a memorial to Carl, and simply because it is truly needed, MSI is now hosting a web page, Carl's Cancer Compendium, as a one-stop starting point for all things cancer (human and animal), to make it easier for those with cancer to find answers to questions that can otherwise take hours to track down on the Internet and/or from professionals. The web page is in its infancy but expected to expand into robustness; updates and additional information are added every week.
As part of this effort, each week, on Monday, this blog will carry an informative, cancer-related story, "Cancer Diary," which will also be open to guest posts.