(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12)
A week ago Gracie gave me a gift by jumping onto a bench and sitting on my friend Kendra’s lap. In and of itself, it wasn’t a particularly magical moment, but if you consider that Gracie was very ill and hadn’t jumped onto anything in weeks and that she was normally too shy to sit in anyone’s lap, then this truly was a milestone.
A few days after the gift, I was finally able to get Dr. Larry, Gracie’s G.P., Dr. Gerald, Gracie’s oncologist and Dr. Carolyn, Gracie’s internist to talk to each other and discuss what the next steps in Gracie’s treatment. I knew that the Myelodysplasia was a secondary reaction to something much deeper, darker, more terrifying, but what it was could not be determined by the three tests we’d already done.
For the past two plus months there were no firm answers. We’d have to accept that we’d never really know what was going on and only be able to do so much before we ran out of options.
I’d just arrived at Dr. Larry’s office to pick up a refill of one of Gracie’s medications. One of the Techs invited me to come into an exam room because Dr. Larry wanted to speak with me. This was the moment I’d been waiting for since Gracie first became mysteriously ill after coming home from a dental in August. Dr. Larry entered and looked grim. He went on to tell me that all the Vets had agreed that Gracie must have a very serious cancer, possibly biliary cystadenocarcinoma. Whatever it was, there were no more treatments, no type of chemo, just to continue on with what we were doing and keep Gracie comfortable.
He said that Gracie probably only had a few weeks, if we were lucky, a few months left to live.
I nodded that I understood, too upset to say more. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Gracie had had her ups and downs so many times. We were told to put her down in August and here it was nearly November and she was still with us. Even with all the stress and heartache I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything, but now even those challenging days were coming to an end, no matter what I did.
I stood at the counter, to pay for Gracie’s prescription, trying to hold back tears and failing miserably. I just wanted to go home, to be with Gracie. I just wanted to go home and have this not be happening at all...
...but I had to face the truth that after all this time, all the tests, all the medications, nothing could beat down what was going on inside her body and it was going to take her life.
There were very clear signs of decline over the past two weeks. The hardest one to witness is called Cancer cachexia. It’s basically the metabolism’s shift to provide nutrients to the cancer instead of the cat so even though I was creating high calorie food to syringe-feed Gracie, none of it was helping put any weight back on her bones. Her belly was huge and bloated from fluid, but her skin was tight against her bones all along her back and her hips. I kept hoping every time I pet her that I’d feel a tiny bit MORE padding, instead of less. Not only did she lose weight but she lost muscle mass, too, so she was getting weaker. Even with all that going against her Gracie would still get up, walk around the sofa to the litter pan there and use it over using one that was closer. She would still fuss if Sam or I had to medicate her. She was still fighting to live and I wanted to give her every chance to have every day she could.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Getting creative making cat food blends I thought Gracie would like.
I tried to find a way to get nutrition into Gracie that would make a difference but I couldn’t find a solution. I read that vitamin B12 is something cancer cats often get as another way to help keep them going. I asked if we could give that to Gracie and was told it was safe. Gracie had become more and more reluctant to eat much on her own. Even though I was supplementing her to make sure she got enough, normally she’d eat a least an ounce of food. I broke my own rules and gave her what I consider crap food-something she really liked, but yesterday she wouldn’t even bother with that.
The demands of caring for Gracie have been very great. Between her medication schedule, her feeding schedule and just routine cleaning and care, a good part of my day was spent providing for her. It was vital that her bedding be clean because of her falling white blood cell count and that her litter pan constantly scooped, her water bowl refreshed and washed because she drank a good bit of water throughout the day.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another feeding time.
The most important part of her care was simple; just sit with her and let her know she was loved. It was something I did every night before we went to bed. I told Gracie I loved her, that she was a good girl, to make new red blood cells, to make platelets, to make white blood cells, to feel better, that I would see her in the morning. I’d kiss her head and tell her I loved her a second time, often while I listened to her purring. I couldn't take it for granted that I's see her in the morning, so every goodnight was our last.
Yesterday it was clear that the B-12 shot had worked. Gracie was up, wobbly, but walking, all over the house. She wouldn’t rest. She was restless. She would cry in a voice I didn’t recognize. She was uncomfortable. She kept wanting us to sit with her (which we did). I’d sit on the floor and she’d climb into my lap, almost falling over to get herself settled. Then she’d lay still. Her breathing was a bit rapid and it sounded raspy. I knew she was in trouble, but thought perhaps all I needed to do was help her manage her pain.
I couldn’t do a thing all day because Gracie was up and moving around so much. She began to hide. I knew it was a very bad sign. She couldn’t go too far without having to stop and rest so I never lost sight of her. After she rested and was up again, I decided to create a hiding place for her near her bed in the living room. Once I did that she entered her little space and laid there quietly, but only for a few minutes and was up again roaming around the house searching for something or some place to go.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My very sick sweetheart.
Late in the afternoon I caught Gracie walking over to where her daughter Petunia spends her day. Gracie was tired so I sat on the floor and she climbed into my lap. I edged myself close to the low kitty condo where Petunia was sitting. I petted Petunia and petted Gracie, mixing their scents together. Petunia drooled as I petted her, the droplets narrowly missing Gracie’s forehead. The two seemed content to be together after months of separation. Petunia was too scared to cross the living room and Gracie was too tired to make the trip herself.
We sat there until Gracie fussed and had to get up again, but the moment wasn’t lost on me that perhaps this was the final time they’d be together.
Sam and I took turns keeping an eye on her. We continued her feeding routines and medications but she was not doing well at all. I called my friend Katherine that night and asked her about giving Gracie buprenex, which is an opiate-based pain medication. I thought it would relax her enough so that she COULD rest, but the problem was, as with EVERY conversation we had about Gracie, we didn’t know what we should do. I can’t tell you how many times every single day I’d ask Sam his opinion on what we should do about feeding Gracie, when to give her medications, IF we should give her the medications, which vet I should call and what I should ask. We never found answers to be simple because we didn’t know what was going on inside her.
The latest problem we needed to solve was that the buprenex could kill Gracie because her liver was in such bad shape, but Gracie was feeling uncomfortable to the point where we needed to help her. It was not right to let it continue on.
Gracie was due for her steroid so we decided to give that to her first, wait an hour and see if she needed the burprenex after that. We’d give her a tiny dose to get her to the morning and then we’d think about what to do after that if it worked.
It was about 11 p.m. on Halloween Eve. It was the first time I didn’t decorate the house or give out candy to the kids. I hung up a sign by the front door NOT to ring the doorbell because of our sick kitty and we put out a box of candy with a second sign on it to take some, but leave some candy for others. That was all we were going to do. My favorite day of the year might as well have been any day of the year. It didn’t matter any more. There was no joy left in my heart for such things.
Gracie continued to roam the living room so Sam picked her up and I put a blanket on his lap. She settled in and he brushed and petted her. We sat quietly, the only sound was Gracie’s raspy breathing.
Gracie would often seem startled, then quickly get up and look around. She saw me and wobbled over to my lap. I was grateful to have her come to me, something she never did in over the decade she lived with us. She was always too shy to completely sit on my lap and here she was blossoming, letting go of her fear so we could connect in a way we never could before. I was so grateful to feel her warmth and silky soft fur. I sat as still as I could so she could rest, even if my legs fell asleep or I got a knot in my back. She’d move a bit here and there and I’d adjust myself to make it more comfortable for her. I prayed she’d just relax and sleep, but she could not.
Sam and I were both exhausted. We decided to set up a pen around Gracie’s hiding spot, heated bed, water dish and litter pan. That way we could get some sleep and not worry that she was going to hurt herself by falling down the stairs or hide where we couldn’t find her over night. I hated the idea of closing her off, but we knew it would only be for a few hours and in the morning we’d let her out to roam at will again.
No sooner than Sam placed her inside the pen, she collapsed. She laid down breathing rapidly. She was in distress. She cried, got up to try to make it to her litter pan, but ended up peeing onto the carpet. I scooped her into my lap and sat with her trying to soothe her. Sam got me paper towels so with one hand I cleaned up the mess while with the other I held onto Gracie trying to let her know it was all right and she was still a good girl.
I moved her over to her bed and she laid down. She couldn’t even lift her head. She was breathing quickly and moaning every so often. Sam unhooked the pen and put it away so we could both sit next to her softly petting her and talking to her as she began the last journey of her life. I tried not to cry because I wanted her to be at peace. The lights were low and the house was quiet. The cats were staying away and weren’t fighting for once. We all knew that this was Gracie’s time. We had to respect it and be there for her even though there was a strong desire to either run away or to yell at Gracie to FIGHT. Fight! LIVE! Please don’t die!
But I couldn’t do those things. As difficult as it was I had to be there for Gracie. This was when she needed us most. Bearing witness to these final moments was the price we paid for the years of unconditional love we had with her.
We sat with her for a long time and I noticed that Gracie was struggling more. I said to Sam that maybe we should bring Gracie to the emergency vet and have them help her. It was not something I wanted to say but I didn’t want Gracie to suffer any more than she already was. Here was the last, most difficult question we had to answer-quickly. We had promised ourselves that she would pass at home if possible but we couldn’t keep that promise if it meant Gracie was going to suffer so much.
It was difficult to make the choice, but I called the ER vet and said to expect us. I ran upstairs to get changed since I was wearing my pajamas. I had only started to dress when Sam called me to hurry and get back down stairs. I ran down the stairs with my PJs back on. He said that Gracie had stretched out, stiffened, then relaxed. I flashed back to my dear cat Bob. He’d done the same thing before he died. It was almost time.
We gave Gracie a few more minutes, then decided we need to get her some help. I dressed quickly and got my car out of the garage. I opened the passenger side door to make it easier for Sam to enter the car while he was carrying Gracie wrapped in a blanket in his arms.
I didn’t want to take her in the car. I didn’t want to go to the vet. I didn’t want any of this to happen. It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, not now, not in a cold, sterile vet exam room.
I carefully began the drive to the vet. It would only take about 10 minutes. The roads were strangely deserted considering it was a Saturday night and Halloween. As I drove along I asked Sam how she was doing and he’d give me an update. About halfway to the vet I asked about her again and he said in a very quiet tone; “I think she’s gone.”
I pulled over into a nearby parking lot and turned on the interior light. I looked down at her sweet face. It was clear that Gracie had passed away as Sam held her. I turned the light off and gasped hard, choking back tears.
Even though I knew what Sam would say I asked him what he wanted to do-“Go home.” was his answer. We knew that we had to bring Gracie home. The cats had to say goodbye. We needed time with her, too. I told Sam I would get us home safely. I would let myself fall apart later.
I realized with the Daylight Savings Time I didn’t know what day Gracie had died. It was just as Halloween was changing over to All Saints’ Day. It was just like Gracie to die even at a time we couldn’t make sense of. Nothing about any of the past few months made sense, yet here we were with our girl, lost to us forever.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.
Next up-a special look back at Gracie’s Wonderful Life, a memorial to one very special cat where I’ll be sharing never-before-seen photos, videos and stories about why she was so dear to us and so completely charming in everything she did.
Though her story ended with heartache far too soon, her life was filled with triumphs. I hope you’ll read on because I'm very proud of my girl and I want you all to know her as I did.
©2007 Robin AF Olson. We will always love you and never forget you, Gracie. Fly Free. 1/11/01—10/31/15.