These are the stories of my life, rescuing, socializing, and standing up for the rights of cats everywhere. It’s an amazing journey, one of inner and outer tribulation and triumph, of heartache and hope. As I struggle to make ends meet, get my Non-Profit cat rescue off the ground and simply find my way in the world; I extend my hand out and ask you to join me in my dream of finding a home for every cat and to stop the insanity of euthanizing adoptable animals as a way of population control.
And I do all that while caring for my own 8 cats who leave me somewhat cranky and perpetually Covered in Cat Hair.
Words fail me. I can’t eat. I lost 5 lbs in 4 days. I don’t have the brain-function to work. I can’t sleep. I’m terrified that I’m going to find my cat, Gracie dead.
Every morning I wonder if I’ll see Gracie lying strangely still on her heated bed in the living room, where she spends most of her day. Every morning I hope I'm wrong and that she’ll be okay, sitting up, hungry. Even better, will she be in the kitchen meowing at me to be fed? Or worse, will she be quietly sitting in a “meatloaf” position that tells me she’s in pain and doesn’t want to eat even though her last meal was so many hours ago.
The ups and downs of Gracie’s health crisis are taking a toll, while Sam and I are working so hard to get a definitive diagnosis of what has been causing Gracie’s hemorrhaging and serious anemia. We’ve seen an oncologist, three general practitioners, and two Board Certified specialists. We thought we had a diagnosis of biliarycystadenoma and while that may be partially true, it wouldn’t cause Gracie’s other issues.
A week ago Gracie wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, so I brought her in to see Dr. Larry. Her blood work showed the anemia was back and Dr. Larry could feel that Gracie’s liver still felt enlarged. I was shocked and scared. He asked if we could do yet another ultrasound to find out what was going on. I was reluctant because I didn’t think we’d find anything out, but he reminded me that we’d see if the bleeding was worse and if the liver looked bigger or smaller. We had to act fast, but I was already exhausted and couldn’t face the idea of making the hour-long drive. Sam had worked all night to make up for all the time he’s been on Vet runs with me and unable to work. How could we make this happen?
Super-Deb and I made calls, trying to find a place to do the ultrasound. In the end I realized we had to go see Dr. Sean, who did Gracie’s previous procedure. I was able to get an appointment two days later, but what I wasn’t ready for was that we ended up being at the hospital all day.
Gracie’s appointment went quickly, but Dr. Sean strongly felt we needed to meet with an Internist to discuss his findings. It was 11:30 AM, but she couldn’t see us until 3:00 PM. Did we want to wait? Neither of us wanted to drive over an hour back home, turn around and come back so we opted to wait. Sitting in a waiting room with nothing but a blaring TV and patients with their pets in different states of decline was not my idea of a good time. Sam and I both just wanted to sleep. Gracie was in her carrier between us. We had the top unzipped and we were both gently petting her. I knew she wasn’t strong enough to run off, so we each took turns closing our eyes for a few minutes at a time.
Dr. Carolyn finally came to get us a little after 3 PM. She seemed very clever and was eager to give us her take on what she thought was Gracie’s issue. We were all looking at Gracie’s liver, but no one bothered with the fact that Gracie’s spleen also had a strange shape that was seen on ultrasound. Something was wrong with it, too and no one had even considered it as part of the equation. Dr. G carefully described how Mast Cell cancer could be in the spleen and be the culprit. Gracie could also have hemolytic anemia or a portal shunt that basically meant something was blocking blood flow from Gracie’s digestive tract into her liver.
She further explained that she’d like to do another blood test on Gracie to make sure she could clot, that she’d do another type of blood test (I forget what it’s called) that measures her blood differently and would tell us if she had the hemolytic anemia. Lastly she wanted to do a needle aspirate of Gracie’s spleen to rule cancer in or out. I was having a bad flashback to a few weeks prior when we’d done the needle aspirate of Gracie’s liver and Gracie was in terrible shape afterwards.
Dr. Carolyn added that Gracie should get a transfusion and stay overnight with the theory that the new blood would help her feel better and give us more time to find out what was going on. Once again we’d have to wait until the following Monday for the results. We just had to keep her going until we had more information.
We decided it all made sense and agreed to let her take Gracie. The bill for that day was $1600.00.
The traffic was terrible going home and we didn’t arrive until nearly 7 PM, to a house full of anxious cats who needed to be fed right away. We finally got everyone settled when my phone rang. It was Dr. Carolyn-
My gut hit the floor and I tried to choke back the tears. I told her to go; to take care of Gracie and not bother with me on the phone. I hung up and told Sam the bad news. What made it unbearable is that we just did what we promised we would NOT do to Gracie—let her die alone, without us, surrounded by strangers. I asked Sam if we should drive back to Middletown, to Gracie, to be there for her. I knew that even if we left right away, odds are we’d be too late. If she survived, they’d want to keep her there overnight so we decided to stay home.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My sweet girl.
Less than an hour later, Dr. Carolyn called. Gracie had bounced back and was eating and up on her feet! Sam looked at me while I got the news. I gave him the thumbs up sign while I tried to choke back the tears, telling Dr. Carolyn to please give Gracie a kiss from us and that we’d see her in the morning.
Gracie didn’t come home the next morning. Dr. Carolyn wanted to keep her longer so we picked her up that night. Gracie seemed perkier and even ate for me when we got her home. I hoped the effects of the transfusion would last, but I also knew that Gracie’s updated blood work showed she didn’t bounce back as well as Dr. Carolyn would have hoped. I have the paperwork but I don’t have the heart to even look at it. Knowing what that number is didn’t change that Gracie survived the procedure. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could take much more. I just wanted to sleep and feel certain that when I woke up Gracie would still be with us.
Part 7 is next...where we have to make a life or death decision for Gracie and I sure could use some advice on what to do.
I thought a lot about Karma last week when Sam and I decided we had to call an exterminator to rid our house of a nest of social wasps. They’d built a home under the siding over the summer and although I knew they would perish naturally in a few weeks, there were so many of them swarming outside that I worried they’d be chewing through the walls breaking inside the house next.
As a Buddhist I am told to consider every living being in the same way as I would think of my mother. Every fly is my mother. Every spider is my mother. Each creature has a precious life and to take even one on purpose is definitely not something you want to do.
Joe, the exterminator arrived. He has a Brooklyn accent and a friendly demeanor. When I told him my concerns he said that the wasps would have to go because they really could case a great deal of damage. In my own defense, last year they built a big nest on the underside of a bird feeder so we just didn’t go out on the deck much and the birds got fed elsewhere.
Joe explained the process. It was a powder. It was safe for us. It would work pretty fast. I didn’t want to see the wasps die but it was happening right outside my office window. As he applied the powder I heard the wasps making a familiar “tick” sound inside the wall. They were moving around trying to get out. Some were trying to get in because the alarm, sent via hormones through the air, had gone out and the wasps who were outside were coming back to save the Queen…but it was already too late.
I said a silent prayer. I said I was sorry to the dead wasps. They aren’t just bugs. They are part of the natural world and now they were gone.
Joe said that we should be all set and wished us well. I tried not to dwell on it and went back to fussing with Gracie, trying to get her to eat.
Until that night when Fluff Daddy knocked over a lamp.
It’s funny how quickly things can change. I went from pure remorse to hyper-protection-mode. I had to get the cats away from the wasps and I had to get the wasps OUT of the house, fast.
I ran for the vacuum and Sam and I spent a few minutes sucking up every one we could find. We managed to take a very few of them outside, but there were too many. We decided to leave the vacuum out because we didn’t know if there’d be any more. A few minutes later the cats would go crazy, signaling that there was another…and another...all in the same room by the front door. But where were they coming in from?
We looked around and found nothing. Only the front room had wasps so it had to be from that room. I flashed back to a day when we found a mouse in the house. I figured out it came in from inside the coat closet by the front door. The sheet rock from the back of the closet didn’t go all the way to the floor. There was no molding at the end of the sheet rock so anything inside the walls could get into the house. It took me until the next morning to figure out that was the problem.
Creative Commons. Wasp. Thanks to Richard Bartz.
Joe treated the areas and he took another look around. We thought that things were settled once and for all. Joe cautioned us that maybe we’d see one or two more wasps but they’d be heavy with the dust and too off-kilter to sting any of the cats.
It was late morning so I went upstairs to the foster room. I began doing the daily cleanup when I noticed Piglet playing with something. It was a dead wasp. Their room is directly next to where the nest was in the wall. Joe told us there was no way they could get into the ducts and fly into the rooms so I couldn’t understand where this lone wasp came from.
I had shut the window when the spraying was going on so I decided it was okay to open it again. A few moments after opening the window about 10 wasps appeared in the foster room. I called out to Sam to bring me the vacuum quickly. I couldn’t risk the cats getting stung and these wasps were none too happy. Though I would have preferred to catch the wasps and let them go outside there was no time. I sucked up each one, then waited, then another would appear. I wondered if they, too, had an entrance route through the closet in that room.
It seemed as though I’d turn my head for a second and another would appear, but it couldn’t be from the vent, right?
I decided to put a flashlight on the vent. I turned it on knowing it would attract the wasps. A moment later, a wasp appeared IN the vent. I called for Joe yet again. The receptionist was stunned when I told her, no it wasn’t just one or two wasps, it was over a dozen. She told me to cover the vent with a doubled over garbage bag, to seal each edge of the bag perfectly because wasps can slip through a space the thickness of a piece of paper. She promised me that Joe would return, but not until the next day. I was to cover up the vents near the nest and report back if it got worse.
The next morning Joe returned, a bit embarrassed. He’d never seen wasps get into duct work, but we have a cheaply built house so I’m not surprised. He told us to simply leave the vents in my office and the foster cat room sealed shut for the next few weeks. Any remaining wasps would die once it got cold enough outside. He did not want to put any chemicals into the duct, nor did I want him to do so.
He re-inspected the area outside the house and declared that the siege of wasps was over and this time he was right.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a crappy re-birth over this, but at least I don't hear buzzing.
I truly believe that sooner or later every cat will find their forever home. In some cases it's taken months and in two rare cases it's taken more than a year. Typically I'd expect it to take longer when we have an adult since without a brick and mortar shelter for people to come visit, the cat would have to be very appealing to cause someone to come over to my house to meet them (after the person goes through our screening process first). It's not ideal, but I also want to make certain the match is a good one, one that lasts a lifetime.
Enter Woody Jackson.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Mia after giving birth. What a great mama!
Woody was born on the last day of March in 2014 to a feral mom named Mia. Mia was toughing it out on the grounds of an apartment building where we were told they were going to start poisoning the feral cats to get rid of them. Mia, swollen with her unborn kittens would have perished if not for the efforts of a small team of very caring people. Once in our program, foster mom, Moe got to work preparing a space for Mia to safely give birth.
We were lucky in that Mia didn't lose a single kitten when she gave birth just two days after being rescued. Her kittens were a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. We reached out to some friends and asked them to name the kittens so their names would be as varied as they were.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. I am born. Baby Woody.
This family was like many of our others, but what was better was that they were quite a bit healthier and more robust. The months passed as the kittens grew, opening their eyes, taking their first steps, being weaned, getting their vetting done, learning to be confident kitties of the world.
The only problem with this family was Mia. She was too wild to be a pet, but I couldn't just leave her behind when it was time for her kittens to join the 1100 mile transport to my home. My job is to find the forever homes for the kittens AND mom, but what if mom wasn't adoptable?
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Woody Jackson, named in honor of Jackson Galaxy, the stunning white cat we rescued in 2012 who passed away a few days before Woody was born.
I knew it would potentially cause me many problems to have a cat I couldn't handle mixed with friendly kittens who were ready be adopted. I also knew I couldn't work with Mia if she was with the kittens, so they needed to be adopted first.
It didn't take long before Ivy got adopted. Not long after the start of the New Year, I met a family who was interested in adopting Snickers, Woody or Greta or some combination of the three. Not everyone in the family was ready to adopt three cats, though they'd had as many as four in the past. They'd set their sights on Woody, but as they agonized over which ones to take, my hopes that Woody would be chosen began to fade.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Ivy (bottom left), Greta (tortie), Woody (center), Fernando (top center), Lil' Snickers (center right).
It took a few more months before Fernando was adopted. He went with Astro, who was one of Celeste's offspring. I'm glad to report that they're doing very well together.
That left Woody and Mia.
As Woody's first birthday approached, I began to worry that his home might not be out there. After nine months of living with me I'd never even gotten ONE adoption application for him. I couldn't understand it because Woody is a gem. The cat is friendly, handsome, maybe a bit too chatty, but smart. He either had an elephant head or a heart in the cow pattern on his back. What's not to love?
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Woody and Snickers were very close. We hoped they'd be adopted together but that didn't come to pass.
I had fifteen more cats coming and needed to make room for them. Woody and Mia had to be moved to the small blue bathroom, which is where I normally have a mom and kittens. This year I couldn't rescue any pregnant cats or nursing queens because there was simply no room.
I began allowing Woody a break from being confined to one room to explore the rest of the house. He slowly began to meet some of my cats. The first two friends he made were Freya and Fluff Daddy. He was particularly close to Freya. Each night I'd let Woody out of his room. He'd start meowing frantically since he'd been bored being shut up all day. He'd race around the upstairs and play Tag with Freya. Eventually, Woody made himself a place on a soft bench next to the bed and slept near me every night.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody vs Freya.
Most every morning, around 4 or 5 AM, he'd also wake me up, crying to be let back into the blue bathroom so he could be with his mom. Mia was his world now and each day that passed meant it would be that much harder for him to be separated from her.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. BFFs.
I even tried to get Mia into a situation by herself where she might become socialized but it didn't work out. After two weeks Mia returned. Woody was delighted to see her again, but I knew that it meant Mia might never leave us and both cats would be here for years. I had to do something.
But I got sick and my heart was acting wonky. Then my cat Gracie got sick. Planning an adoption event or even getting Woody's photo in the local paper just seemed to be too much to do. It was August 2015. Woody was almost a year and a half old. He wasn't getting along well with all my cats. He even began to protect the bedroom as his space, which was going to be a big problem since my other cats wouldn't tolerate that. I knew that we'd possibly start having inappropriate elimination issues crop up in the bedroom, or cat fights in the middle of the night. I couldn't come up with a solution.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Handsome young man.
One day I was going through email and one stood out to me. The subject message said "Woody." I opened it up. It was from the husband of the family who adopted Great and Snickers. He said they were ready to take Woody and when could they come get him. Nine MONTHS had passed since their adoption and just now it was time for Woody? I couldn't believe it.
It took some time before I could talk to his wife. I wanted to be sure this was a family decision. It was. Not only that, but even their two children had been asking about Woody all these months. They'd never forgotten him and they all knew that the only thing that made sense was to reunite the kittens with their brother. I couldn't have been more pleased. If Woody was adopted, then maybe I could work with Mia, at last and maybe there was a chance that Mia could eventually be ready to be adopted one day, too.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. What do you make of the patten on Woody's back? Micky Mouse elephant?
Friday night Woody's new mom came to get him. I expected to be a wreck having to let him go after all this time. I loved Woody dearly and considered him part of my family, but I also knew it was grossly unfair for him to be in a small room for a better part of the day and not be with people who would love him, play with him and give him the chance to be with his siblings again. I knew it wouldn't be effortless to reunite them. It would still take some time, but I also hoped that it would be fairly easy for them to remember each other, even after all these months.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody always helps with the laundry.
Sam and I packed Woody up into his new cat carrier. I gave him his blanket that smelled like his mom. I kissed him goodbye but I did not cry. I was happy for Woody because now he could really have fun in ways that I could not provide for him. As I said goodbye to his new mom, she told me if Mia came around to let her know. I couldn't imagine her being reunited with her kittens, but heck, maybe anything is possible if you give it enough time?
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody with his beloved mother, Mia.
It's strangely quiet with Woody gone and sadly, the only sound I can hear is of Mia. She's crying. In all the time she's been here I've only heard her hiss. She's looking for Woody. I wish I could tell her how sorry I was and that I'd like to be her friend. I knew this would be the terrible part of the adoption process, but if Mia is to have any chance at being socialized it had to be done.
Now I can focus on her and hope that one day her story will have as happy an ending as Woody's. I've already gotten an update that Woody is a love-bug and doing well. His new family is overjoyed to have him where he was meant to be all along.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Ever the rascal. Our last night together.
©2015 Robin AF Olson.
If you'd like to read more about Mia and her family you can read
Mia's Very Long Road Part 1 and
The Veterinary Cancer Center is enormous, clean, elegant with a sophisticated interior design. It’s the biggest facility of its kind in the country. We're so lucky to live nearby. The staff is impeccably dressed, smart, capable. You clearly get what you pay for because you can feel that this is “the place” to be if your pet is sick. It was nearly 3pm, the time of our appointment. The door opened and I looked up. There was Katherine, standing in the doorway with a silly smirk on her face.
I went over to her and gave her a big hug. It had been months since we’d last seen each other. She and Sam said their hellos, then she bent down and met Gracie, who looked up at her and meowed softly. Having a friend there helped me forget to be scared. We made jokes, as we often do when we’re worried or having a bad time. She agreed that Gracie didn’t look “that bad” but we all knew how cats can hide illness. At that point I’d take any positive news. Did I dare hope for any more?
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Interior of VCC.
The Tech came to escort us into Exam Room 3 so we bid Katherine farewell with a promise to update her as soon as we had news. The last time we’d been in that exam room was with Fred. I didn’t want to think about that again.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting to see Dr. Post.
Dr. Post entered the room with a second Vet at his side. Clearly she was observing while he did his thing. Dr. Post examined Gracie and spoke with us about her history. He nodded his head as he listened. When I told him about how the Vet would not do the transfusion he made the most sour-puss expression I’ve ever seen. He was far too refined to say the Vet was a jerk, but you could tell that Gracie SHOULD have been transfused. He said it WOULD have helped her and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t done.
Before my blood could boil he moved on, saying that he wrote the paper on something called biliarycystadenoma, so he knows them well. That he felt aside from the fluid in her abdomen, that she was presenting as cystic, not a cat with cancer.
Depending on the cysts they usually did surgery to remove them, but if they were too diffuse they wouldn’t. He couldn’t be 100% certain just now, but wanted to do a quick check of Gracie’s hematocrit to see if she was still seriously anemic, then devise a plan after that.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Hello, Gracie!
Sam and I looked at each other and smiled, too stunned to say a word. I gave the okay to do the test. We were told to wait in the lobby and they’d be with us shortly. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
Dr. Post came out with his posse. He greeted us warmly and said that Gracie’s hematocrit was up to 20. I threw my arms up and yelled YES! Dr. Post was taken aback by my outburst, but I was thrilled. In three days Gracie’s body was producing enough blood cells to stave off the anemia. She still had a way to go to be normal but this was a VERY GOOD SIGN. Dr. Post asked us to come back in two weeks. We’d do another CBC and re-evaluate her then. Did we have a diagnosis? No, but we were getting closer.
All I knew was, Gracie was alive and Gracie was probably going to live another two weeks.
Nine Days Later
The knot in my gut is gone, but I admit I’m on episode 87 of Frasier to keep myself calm. I started working again and getting my life back on track. Though we’ve had some downs, Gracie has mostly been on the up and up. She still sleeps in one small area of the living room on the big oriental rug, but she’s getting on her feet more and more, even meeting me at the door one day, meowing at me to be fed.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My darling, Gracie.
Her appetite is not 100% but she’s eating as long as we keep her on her daily meds of Prednisilone and Zofran. She’s purring, grooming herself, using her litter pan, meowing complaints (as she used to do). Yesterday she trotted into the kitchen, tail held high. She carefully jumped onto the bench, then up onto the kitchen table. It was the first jump she’d made in two weeks.
She was alive.
I raced over to the kitchen and put some food on a plate, warmed it and added some water so she would stay hydrated. I sat next to her holding the plate in my hands. I noticed she seemed too painful bending over so I held the plate up high and she did better eating that way. The problem was she ate very slowly so I began to cramp up hunched over holding the plate. I didn’t care. She was eating. I knew it was likely just the medication making her do that but I couldn’t help but think that “every bite is a victory.” I knew that good nutrition would possibly help her recover from the anemia and that would go a long way to helping her be comfortable.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie laps at her food.
I got Gracie brushed, gave her fresh water, and cleaned her litter pan. I found she was ready to eat a small amount every 5 hours or so and I was determined to keep her fed. Whatever she wanted she was going to get. The more she ate, the better for her anemia.
Meanwhile, I was falling apart.
I couldn’t concentrate, so reading was out of the question. I didn’t answer emails. I didn’t want to go on Facebook and see more sad stories. I had to force myself to eat something-scrambled eggs was all I could choke down. I couldn’t sit by the TV and eat. Gracie was right there. I couldn’t look at my cat and eat breakfast and I didn’t want the sound of the TV to bother her. I went upstairs and grabbed my old iPad. I sat on the bed with my eggs and started watching Fraiser, a TV-show from the early 1990s. It didn’t require any effort to watch the episodes and there were over 200 of them in the queue. I could zone out and let Kelsey Grammer help me forget about how terrible things were for 22 minutes, though nothing loosened the knot in my gut.
Gracie’s Cytology Report Arrives
I forced myself to check my email inbox. There was a message from Pieper Memorial waiting to be read. I knew it was Gracie’s ultrasound report. I didn’t want to read it, but I had no choice. I opened the file and began to read. Other than words like “and” or “the” all the other words were very long, technical jargon. I believed it said that basically there was a good sample of a cyst taken. That there was activity indicating a reaction to possibly some sort of thing…infection maybe? That a cyst or more had ruptured and was bleeding.
What grabbed me was the following:
I showed the report to Connie, to Katherine, to Warren, to Sam, to the folks on the SmallCell Lymphoma Board and they all said the same thing. No cancer is NO CANCER. Could it be true?!
By Monday evening Gracie continued to show signs of perking up. She sat up a little more, looked a little more comfortable. She wasn’t eating a lot but I stopped syringe-feeding her. We had to decide what to do about Tuesday’s appointment. Gracie seemed a bit better but maybe we were kidding ourselves and we still had to do what needed to be done.
Dr. Larry called to go over the cytology results with me. I was so excited that it wasn’t cancer until he said that he HAD to speak with Dr. Sean before he could feel like we were out of the woods and that Gracie had cysts in her liver that weren’t cancer. My joy quickly faded when he said that Dr. Sean might feel his sample wasn’t perfect or that even WITH a good sample that there was still a cancer diagnosis hanging over us. He needed more time to reach Dr. Sean and since Gracie seemed stable, though weak, he would NOT put her down, not if she was showing improvement. She wasn’t ready to leave us just yet.
Tuesday at 2pm arrived. I was sitting with Gracie, watching her take dainty licks at her food instead of watching Dr. Larry put her down. Starting from this moment on was “bonus time” for us both. I wanted to see her get better. I wanted a WIN! I didn’t want my cat to die soon, but I also didn’t have a lot of hope.
Dr. Larry called again later that day. He’d reached Dr. Sean. Before he said much, I already knew it was bad news. I could tell from Dr. Larry’s tone of voice. He wasn’t his usual jovial self. He was very serious-deadly serious.
I asked if we should keep our appointment with the oncologist and he said YES. We needed a diagnosis and Dr. Post was the guy to give that to us. We HAD to keep trying as long as Gracie was stable.
It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I wasn’t surprised, either. Though I hold Dr. Post in VERY high regard, I knew we also had to be prepared for the costs to put us in a place where we couldn’t afford to care for Gracie. I checked all my accounts and decided I could stitch something together. If I had to, I’d take the last bits out of my retirement account, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to go there. I couldn’t be reckless, but I could provide more for a little while longer.
The Veterinary Cancer Center is an hour west, near where my rescue-friend Katherine lives. She and my other dear rescue-friend, Connie had been in contact with me every day, checking on Gracie, offering advice. I told Katherine about our appointment, in case she wanted to meet us at the cancer center. I needed all my friends more than ever as we were about to get the news I’d been dreading for a week.
Part 5 is next. Yes, this is a long story, but imagine having to live through it! And this final chapter is the one where as a writer you dream of being able to write an ending like this.
Later that day, I reached out to my friend Warren, who put me in touch with the folks on the Feline SmallCell Lymphoma Yahoo Message Group. They told me to try a combo of two different anti-emetic drugs that many cancer cats respond well to and that help them regain their appetite. The problem is that they both effect the liver. I called Dr. Larry’s office yet again, asking for more medications. I went back and had a long talk with Dr. Mary, explaining to her why I wanted these drugs, but that I also respected her advice about how dangerous they might be. I knew the folks on the Board focused on cats with cancer and what they were saying made sense. One of the meds, Zofran, had questionable results, but of the two, the other being Cerenia, we decided it would be safer. I can’t tell you how man medications we almost gave Gracie or did give Gracie. I kept a log so I could keep it straight. I was sleeping very little and had completely lost my appetite I was so stressed out. I tried not to second-guess what I was being told, but I had to make sure it made sense. I don’t like to give my cats any drugs and here I was loading Gracie up with them.
That night I got a text from a friend. I was feeling so down and lost. I’d given up. She gave me a kick in the behind, reminding me that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to try getting a transfusion done. We’d promised to keep Gracie going for a few more days and it would certainly help her feel so much better. I feared the costs, but knew she was right. If Gracie didn’t make it to Monday and we got the test results and it WAS something treatable I’d never forgive myself.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for the results while Sam comforts her.
Poor Sam. He was scrambling to get some work done and I’d already taken up some much of his time, but I was so buoyed by my friend’s advice that I had to talk to him about getting the transfusion done. I called over to our ER Vet and asked about costs. If I took a few dollars from here and used a credit card or two I could make it happen. We decided to give it one last try.
I called my dear friend Connie who’s had transfusions done on a few of her cats. She told me what to expect and that it could make a big difference. She also said that it might take the full night, into the next morning to have it done and did I want to give up that precious time to Gracie being at the vet or did I want her to be home? She explained that it WOULD help her feel better and that the reason it took so long was that some of the time was spent in cross-matching and typing Gracie’s blood and that sometimes they used a blood donor who is on site at the hospital and it takes time to get the blood from the other cat. I realized that meant another cat was going to help my cat survive. Even though we have Gracie’s daughter here, Petunia is too skittish to sit still for a multi-hour procedure. As I gathered Gracie’s vet records I grabbed a new catnip banana toy. I decided that the donor cat should have a token of my appreciation. You can’t have enough good Karma.
Gracie was very weak and quiet. It only took a few minutes to get to the hospital and within a half hour or so we were seeing the ER Vet on call. We talked to him about our intentions-we just wanted to give our cat good quality of life so that she’d live a few more days-until the test result came in. That was it. We weren’t looking for a cure. We were looking for a way to give her ease her suffering. He agreed that it would help her, but he also was concerned about the fluid in her abdomen. He felt that if it was blood it would not make the transfusion worthwhile. He asked if he could take a sample of the fluid (since removing the fluid was dangerous because it could drop her blood pressure down too low. We could only take a small amount of fluid for that reason) and we agreed.
The ER Vet entered the room holding a vile. He held it out to us and showed us it was full of blood. Gracie was bleeding internally either from a ruptured cyst or from the needle biopsy done a few days before. The blood was fresh so that meant she was actively bleeding. He said a transfusion wouldn’t help her; that emergency surgery might stop the bleeding but if her liver was full of cancer, which we suspected, then it didn’t make sense to put her through that. He said that it might be best if we considered euthanizing her soon because she could either have a heart attack and die or because of the anemia she might simply become weaker and weaker and die in her sleep. He offered that they could “take care of her” in the back right now. Sam and I did not hesitate to answer NO. Gracie was coming home. I was going to syringe-feed her and we were going to stay strong-not just for our benefit. Gracie was still “Gracie.” No, she wasn’t eating, but she had enough quality of life that we knew it wasn’t time. We had to risk it and bring her home and not let her go in this sterile place.
I was so emotionally tapped that I took medication to help me calm down. I have a tiny stash of it to use for when I have to fly somewhere. It’s probably outdated but it was all I had. I could barely breathe I was so distraught, but I had to find a way to continue to be there for Gracie, and the meds let me do a better job.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. After we got the news we decided to bring Gracie home, even if it meant risking her passing away.
As I had on Saturday, on Sunday I syringe-fed Gracie. I liquefied raw chicken liver and added it to her food. I hoped the added iron would help her anemia. We gave her all her pills and she surprised us by grooming herself after she was fed. She was very tired and uncomfortable, but at least her belly was full. Sam and I set up shop in the living room, which was where she was resting. We did not leave her alone. I wanted to inflate our air mattress so I could sleep in the living room but I couldn’t find the pump or nozzles. I was so frustrated, but I also realized I had to get at least some sleep and our sofa is not comfortable for naps. I decided I would just sleep for a few hours and get up very early to check on her. I made Sam promise me that I wouldn’t have to go downstairs alone. I didn’t want to find Gracie dead on the floor.
Reluctantly, I dragged myself to bed Sunday night. Before I went upstairs I gave Gracie a kiss and told her I loved her and to not give up.
Part 4 is next...Cytology results and the 10% chance it's not what we think it is.
(continued from Part 1)
I’d already been tempting Gracie with smelly fish-based cat food or simply tuna water to get something into her. She often either refused or would lap delicately for a few seconds then jerk backward as if she wanted to eat, but it was too painful in her tummy to continue. I made another trip to Choice Pet, where I buy a lot of cat food. I know the manager, Scott, very well. As I drove along the tree-lined roads, I began to cry. Lately, I cried a lot while I was driving because I had time to think about Gracie, about her life, about how I may have failed her, about what might be coming far too soon and how was I going to handle it.
Though I was comforted by the familiar sight of Scott as I entered the store, it was hard not to cry again as I told him the news about Gracie. I asked him to help me find a good variety of food for her. As we read ingredient labels, he began to tell me stories of how his pets had died. I realized he was sharing his life and wanted me to know he understood, but I really didn’t want to hear that. I’d already gotten a number of messages from friends and supporters with similar tales. I couldn’t stand the idea of hearing more, but I had to politely listen, saying I was sorry, when inside I just wanted to scream to everyone to stop with the stories of cats dying tragically and leave me in peace.
I added what I got to my stash of chicken baby food, which is my go-to for sick cats. I knew to gently warm the food to improve the aroma, which would encourage Gracie to eat. I raced back to Dr. Larry’s to pick up appetite stimulants. He’d finally gotten his clinic moved to a new location but things were still in chaos. I hated that my first days at his new place would be marred by the memory of what was happening to Gracie. Would I be the first client to have my cat put down there? I yearned for his old place. It felt like home after being there for 16 years. I didn’t like the new place. It was cold and cavernous. The exam rooms had the same furniture as before. The walls were painted the same color. The doors were the same, but nothing felt right.
On Saturday morning we saw Dr. Mary because Dr. Larry was out of town. As much as I admire and like Dr. Mary, with Dr. Larry being gone, also felt like my lifeline was gone, too. If Gracie had to die, I wanted Dr. Larry to be there for her. I wanted him to come to our home and help her pass peacefully. It felt more like family to have him do it and now I was left to hope that Gracie would stay strong a few more days—the irony wasn’t missed. What little I had hoped for, just that my cat would live long enough to have her Vet put her down when he was back in town.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Home with Gracie, Mabel (center) and Nicky (top).
Dr. Mary ran the blood work and it came back with shockingly bad results. Gracie was anemic, very seriously so. Her hematocrit was down to 14.6, when a normal reading is 24-45. Her gums were pale. No wonder she was so weak. Gracie’s ALT, which measures her liver function, was elevated. It was at about 146, about three times normal. I’d seen 400-600 levels in my cat, Bob so I knew she could hang on, but that it wasn’t great news.
Dr. Mary suggested that sometimes these things progress very quickly. She said if money wasn’t an object that getting a transfusion would help Gracie feel better but that it wouldn’t solve the problem that Gracie had something bad going on inside her. She gently told us that we should prepare ourselves and that she didn’t feel it was likely that Gracie would be with us much longer—maybe a few more days. My heart sank and my knees felt like they were about to give out. There was no hope left. Sam and I had already agreed we didn’t want Gracie’s last days to be filled with poking and prodding, with fear, with trips in the car, to what avail? It was important for us to give Gracie dignity and respect and indeed if it was her time we had to respect that, even if we had no chance to prepare ourselves for this to happen.
We decided to take her home and start her on Prednisolone. Steroids can help a cat feel better and increase appetite. It was something we could do to help her have a happier final day or two. I asked Sam to take Gracie into the waiting room so I could stay behind and pay the bill for the day, but my focus was to make “the appointment” every cat parent dreads. I made the appointment to have Gracie euthanized at home on Tuesday August 25th at 2 PM, which was the soonest Dr. Larry was available. I tried not to cry but all I could think about was how this was so unfair and that Gracie was such a good girl, so sweet…how could we go on without her in our life any longer? The tears came, quick and hot. I put my sunglasses on to hide my grief. Dr. Mary patted my hand and told me I could contact her after hours if I needed something. She was so kind and compassionate, but all I wanted to do was to go home, hide under my bedcovers and cry some more.
Part 3 next...where as my Mother used to say "things get dark before they go totally black." Yeah, she was great at cheering me up. :-(
In my last post I wrote about trusting your gut instincts. My 14-year old cat, Gracie hadn’t been quite right after having a dental cleaning. She was barely eating and becoming less and less active. I kept taking her to see my vets, telling them something was still wrong. We all tried to sort out what was going on, but as often happens with cats, they’re great at hiding health issues until they’re in such bad shape that their life is in jeopardy.
Gracie's x-rays. Another good reason to do a baseline x-ray of your cat during a routine exam when they're seniors. (top) You can see how the center of Gracie's abdomen, where her liver is located, looks cloudy. That's the fluid buildup in her abdomen and her liver is enlarged. (Bottom) organs look more defined.
I knew we could get the ultrasound done at one of many emergency veterinary hospitals in the area, but Dr. Larry said he really wanted me to take Gracie to the one he considers top notch and that meant a trip to Pieper Memorial, which is over an hour drive away. Though other hospitals were closer, Dr. Larry trusted Dr. Sean’s expertise and he knew I'd do whatever was asked to get to the bottom of Gracie’s issues.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.
The thought of the trip gave me painful flashbacks to the last time I went to Pieper. It was in 2012 and I had Fred with me; a 10-month old kitten who had lost use of his back legs. Dr. Sean was to look for signs of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) because that was our fear. I remember pacing anxiously outside the hospital in their garden. It was early April and still cold, but I couldn’t stay inside and sit quietly waiting for the results. I prayed and prayed that Dr. Sean would tell me Fred was going to be okay. Ironically, he did tell me there were no signs of FIP, but sadly Fred did have it and died a few weeks later. I didn’t want to have the same experience now—a clean ultrasound and heartbreak later. I angrily wondered why even bother doing an ultrasound if the results are so questionable, but it was safer than doing exploratory surgery by far.
Sam had been working around-the-clock on a very challenging project and was exhausted. I was emotionally wiped out from worrying about Gracie and didn’t sleep the night before the test. I was going to take Gracie by myself so Sam could stay home and tend to the cats, but Sam somehow dragged himself out of bed, after very little sleep, and we both took Gracie to Pieper. I was so grateful he made the effort because frankly I didn’t want to be alone. I needed him to be with us.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A very sick girl on the way to Pieper.
It was a sunny morning and the commuters were out in full force. I sat with the cat carrier on my lap with the top unzipped so I could pet Gracie. She was not happy to be back in the car yet again, but she was comforted by my gentle caress. I felt sick to my stomach with worry, but we had to know what was going on and if there was a chance we could do something about it.
We didn’t have to wait long before a cheerful vet tech took Gracie from us. I stopped her before she could turn away and asked if didn’t Dr. Sean want to talk to us first and she said no, that he had all her notes. I found that odd and wondered if they didn’t value my observations. I’m not a vet so what do I know. Maybe it’s not necessary. All he’s doing is looking into her abdomen. Whatever I say won’t change what he finds.
I sat against the side of an austere hallway lined with chairs with Sam by my side. Sam was drinking coffee, trying to wake up and I was trying to be calm while my heart was pounding in my chest. I saw a lot of dogs with their parents. I tried to distract myself by people-watching. Did they match their pets? Not really. Did one of them have a really big behind when the rest of her body was tiny? Yes. Did I wonder if the golden retriever with the white mask of fur on his face was going to be around much longer. Yes.
A few minutes later, the tech arrived and said the Dr. Sean was ready to talk to us. My stomach did a flip-flop as I stood. I reached out to Sam for support as we entered a nearby exam room.
We thanked Dr. Sean and left him to do the test. I felt like my heart was going to explode. I wanted to run away. How the HELL did I miss my cat having CANCER? How is this happening? Just the day before all I thought I needed to do was fine tune Gracie’s medications so that we could get her eating better and now I’m thinking my cat is possibly terminally ill.
I needed to go outside. I didn’t want people to see me react to the news. I raced out the door back to the garden. I paced. I cried. I prayed for a glimmer of hope. Sam tried to comfort me but I couldn’t stand still. I wanted Gracie to be okay. I wasn’t ready for this to happen. My mind was swirling with dark visions of what the future held-if there was to be any future-for my girl.
It didn’t take long for the test to be done. One of the techs came outside to find us to tell us we could check out and take Gracie home. It being a Thursday meant that the results would probably not be ready until Monday. MONDAY?! I wondered if Gracie would be alive by Monday—and sadly I wasn’t wrong to worry about that.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie's little blankee area where she spends most of her day.
I’d set Gracie up inside a big dog crate with a cat bed and heated pad. She’d spent the last week on the bed, but now she wanted to lay on the cooler flat oriental rug near the crate. I imagined that her belly must have hurt based on how awkwardly she would lay down. I grabbed some soft blankets and made some bumpers for her to rest her head on and one where she could prop herself up. She’d sit up, stretching her abdomen, no doubt to give her enlarged liver and fluid build-up more space inside her. I wanted to keep her as comfortable as possible. I also had to figure out a way to get her to eat.
So began an all-too-familiar odyssey—trying to find the Holy Grail of cat nutrition to keep Gracie alive, at least for a few more days.
Part 2, to Hell and Back, next...and don't think you already know what's going to happen, because no one saw this coming.
It’s the night before; before I learn things that I don’t want to know. I can’t focus very well. I can’t think straight. I was going to write a post about how to get your cat to eat when they are sick because I have some different tips that you might not have sorted out on your own, but how can I write about that when one of my cats may be gravely ill?
©2003 Robin A.F. Olson. My first mama cat, Gracie.
My 14-year old cat Gracie is one of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle cats I’ve ever known. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. She was beaten by her former owner and threatened with death. A woman I used to do rescue with got her when she was pregnant and shortly after she had three kittens, Gracie became one of my very first foster cats.
Gracie was a great mom. Two of her kittens were adopted together and the remaining one, who was skittish from birth, I kept. Her name is Petunia. Gracie never seemed to find a home either and that was fine with me, so Gracie became my forever cat and we never looked back.
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. The Mighty Huntress.
I love Gracie’s bright green eyes and her luxurious coat, well, it once was luxurious, today it’s dull and somewhat sparse. Something happened to Gracie shortly after a dental many years ago. Her skin erupted in horrible lesions and we could not cure it no matter how many specialists, tests, treatments, biopsies and remedies we tried. Steroids worked for a short time but when faced with giving them to her for life-knowing it would shorten her life-I opted not to give them to her. I did, however get her comfortable and once she stopped barbering her fur off and itching, I knew she would be okay with slightly irritated skin (she stopped scratching at herself and her fur grew back to some degree by keeping her on a very clean diet).
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. In her most beautiful-before the dermatitis took her lovely fur.
My “spidey” sense kicked in a few weeks ago and I couldn't ignore it. Gracie had been eating VERY slowly-so slowly that the other cats would push her out of her food. I put a stop to that and tried to get her to eat more enthusiastically by sprinkling dehydrated chicken on her food or other treats she liked. It didn’t work. I knew something was wrong. I noticed she wasn’t biting at her food, just barely licking at it. I looked in her mouth and her teeth were covered in tartar. She just had a dental cleaning less than three years before and already her teeth were terrible. Surely that was the problem.
So two weeks ago Gracie had most of her remaining teeth removed, with the exception of her canine teeth and front teeth. The hope was that she’d get her appetite back now that her mouth didn’t hurt, but that didn’t happen.
Something was wrong. Gracie didn’t get better. Her appetite was still off. We blamed it on antibiotics and stopped giving them after getting the all clear from Dr Mary. We thought it was due to her age and mouth pain post-dental so we gave it more time, but I kept bringing her back to the Vet saying something is wrong.
©2008 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracie and her daughter, Petunia.
I hoped that the answer was the antibiotics had done a number on her gut and that feeling queasy would cause her to stop eating. I tried Pepcid, which is a common antacid remedy and it seemed to help her get some appetite back, but that did not last. I tried an appetite stimulant but it did nothing—though Gracie was difficult to “pill” and there is a chance it got stuck in her fur and we missed it.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. One of many baths we tried in hopes it would cure her bad skin. It never worked.
He felt “something” in her belly. He didn’t like it. He had Gracie taken in the back room to be x-rayed. I stayed behind and started to cry. There aren’t many things that can cause this sort of problem and as far as I know all of them are cancer.
The x-rays which I did not get to see, showed some sort of inflammation near/in the liver. They weren’t sure if it was a mass. The better way to know is through an ultrasound. They had x-rays from 9 months ago and those were different, clear of this inflammation. Something was changing and it was changing quickly. I know from having cats with cancer that 9 months can be the life expectancy of a cat with lymphomas..maybe it was already too late.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. InstaGracie.
What makes matters even worse is that my finances are in the toilet—worse than ever due to being sick for all of July and not working much at all and having to already spend a good deal of money for Gracie’s dental and Spencer’s big vet visit-and he has a dental that’s happening next week. I told Dr. Larry how broke I was when he told me what he wanted to do for Gracie next. It wasn’t his fault, but it really felt like being kicked when I’m already down, when I’ve already just had a pretty serious life crisis of my own and now I have to figure out a way to help my poor cat. I’m not complaining. Other people have it way worse than I do and I have to say that two of you guys, without me asking, have sent in some help to be used for Gracie and for that I am extremely grateful. I’ll get the tests done, whatever it takes. It’s just tough. You know how it is. I’m sure all of you have been there, too.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. My poor, sweet girl.
If you have a gut “feeling” about something, I hope you’ll pay heed and follow your gut. Trust it. Save a life with it. Make a better choice for YOUR LIFE with it...
Just don’t ignore it.