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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 5. Dare to Dream.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3 and 4)

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?

VCC interior
©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.

The Tech got Gracie’s history, even though they had copies of her records. I told them my thoughts that Gracie getting so sick right after her dental told me that the dental had something to do with it. She’d been given FOUR different antibiotics before and after her procedure. We’d done it because she lost her appetite and we thought the meds were the culprit, not the possibility that the meds were destroying her liver because it was full of cysts. It couldn’t handle the load from the sedation, pain-killers, antibiotics and appetite stimulants she’d been given. To me it added up to be cysts, not cancer, but I was just a mom worried about her cat and cysts weren’t something cats died from so that’s what I hoped it would be.

A vcc with gracie
©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.

Insta gracie r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Hello, Gracie!

So Gracie might REALLY REALLY REALLY NOT have CANCER. The 10% chance it was cysts just became more like 90%.

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.

We waited.

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.

In the past four days I’d had four Vets tell me that Gracie either needed to be put down or that she wasn’t going to be with us much longer and to prepare. We could have gone that route and let her go, but we stayed strong. We looked into our cat’s vivid green eyes and we asked her what she wanted. She was critically ill, near death, but she was still Gracie. The flame of life still flickered in her eyes. It took a toll on my health to see her through this, but for the first time in weeks I finally had hope again and this time I could imagine the possibility of better days to come.

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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.

Sleeping on mama
©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.

This morning Gracie was very perky. She had her breakfast, then walked over to the sofa where Sam and I were sitting. She looked like she wanted to jump up so I carefully lifted her, placing her next to me. She tried to make herself comfortable by putting her front paws on my leg, half sitting on me and half on the sofa. In her 12 years with me she was never brave enough to sit on my lap. I eased a blanket over my bare legs, then gently lifted her, placing her on my chest. She laid down and rested her head on my chest. She only weighs a little over 8 pounds. I could feel the heat begin to expand between our bodies as Gracie relaxed. I put my head back on the sofa and closed my eyes. In that moment everything I ever dreamed of for Gracie was happening. She was comfortable. She was happy. She was safe.

She was alive.

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 4. The 10 Percent Chance.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3)

Monday morning I got up at 5 AM. I didn’t bother Sam, deciding to let him sleep. I walked downstairs, my stomach in a tight knot. I looked around the corner and saw Gracie. She was sitting up. She meowed at me. She was HUNGRY.

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.

Gracie Eating
©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 think. It was a joke to try to work and I was working on a design project that may be one of the highlights of my career. The pressure of not tending to my job wasn’t enough to get me into gear. If I had to give up this project, so be it. How could I be creative when my cat was in the next room dying?

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:

“The hepatocytes [liver tissue] present are minimally pleomorphic [bacteria that alter their shape and size in response to environmental conditions], and well-differentiated, with no evidence of neoplasia (benign or malignant cancer).”

Neoplasia=CANCER. NO EVIDENCE OF CANCER.

Pages from Gracie Cytology Results 2

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.

I was torn in two. I was so glad we didn’t have to let Gracie go, but I still had no answers. It might be a few more days and maybe we were just dragging out the inevitable. That said, every day I could give Gracie meant something even if I was having a hard time handling it. This was not about me. It was about my cat.

Tuesday

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.

He said that although Dr. Sean had gotten a great sample and there was no sign of cancer, that based on her abdominal fluid, the blood in her belly, the many cysts seen on ultrasound that it was likely that this was something very bad. Paraphrasing his conversation he said that Dr. Sean was feeling it was 90% chance it was cancer and 10% chance it was benign cysts. Dr. Larry, always my friend, gave me as much hope as he dared. He said he was 75% sure and maybe only 25% chance it wasn’t malignant.

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.

Wednesday

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.

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 3. And Back.

(Continued from Parts 1 and 2)

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.

Gracie did not like to be pilled, but we had to make it happen. I tried all my tricks but we had to hold her down and struggle to get the medications into her. I felt like I was betraying her by treating her roughly. Immediately after we pilled her I insisted that we spend time brushing her, which she loved, and simply being gentle and loving with her make up for what we’d just done. Gracie seemed to relax and appreciate our efforts.

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.

Tough I couldn’t imagine this not being cancer, I also didn’t want to give up. That’s not me, but I was so beat down I needed that push to keep going. I’d even made an appointment for Gracie to see the oncologist, Dr. Gerald Post, on the following Wednesday, just in case things didn’t go as I feared. We had to keep trying.

Comforting Gracie

©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.

Once again I was hoping for something-that the fluid was clear, not full of blood. It made me sad to think that the longer this went on, the less I could hope for. I just hoped to give my cat comfort in her final few days.

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.

We got Gracie home and I cried yet again. That was it. All hope was lost.

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.

Do we put her down now
©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.

I think she was listening.

Part 4 is next...Cytology results and the 10% chance it's not what we think it is.

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 2. To Hell.

(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.

Gracie would not eat. I even went against my own nutritional beliefs and offered Gracie dry food moistened with some water. She half-heartedly lapped at it but as with whatever I offered, most of it remained on the plate. Gracie would barely even get up any more so was so weak. I knew she was likely dying and I didn’t think she’d even make it to Monday. I called to make yet another appointment for her with Dr. Larry. I thought we should repeat her CBC to find out if she had an infection brewing or if there was something else we might learn from testing her blood. The appetite stimulant wasn’t working at all. Maybe there was something else we could do.

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.

IMG 4764

©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. :-(

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 1.

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.

A little over two weeks ago, my vet, Dr. Larry, was very concerned about Gracie’s liver. He urged me to get an ultrasound done as soon as possible. It would give us a better idea of why Gracie’s liver looked strange on x-ray. The problem was that the vet who came to his office once a week and performed the ultrasound diagnostics was booked up for weeks.

2014 and 2015 Xrays copy
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.

Gracie at larrys copy
©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.

Going to Pieper
©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.

Dr. Sean entered and took a seat. I could read by his body language that the news was not good. He proceeded to tell us that Gracie’s liver was full of cysts and she had fluid in her abdomen. It was likely it was cancer, but to make certain it wasn’t just cysts, he wanted to insert a needle into one of the cysts to take a biopsy (called cytology). I asked about the costs and it wasn’t going to break the bank so I agreed. I asked if we could hope for it to be cysts and he said yes, but that it was unlikely. Of course he’d seen things like this before so I had to accept the fact that maybe this was the end of the road for our cat.

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.

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©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.

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The Night Before the News About My Cat, Gracie.

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?

 

This is a key part of what I realized today: Learn to trust your gut instincts. Don’t second guess. Don’t ignore them. We all have, maybe it’s magical, but at least it’s an inherent insight about what is the truth of a situation. The problem is how to have confidence to take action based on your gut feeling and to not fear that your choice was wrong and what you really should have done was made a list or asked ten friends their opinion, when you knew the truth all along.

 

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©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.

The Mighty Huntress
©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).

 

I spent two years trying to find the solution to Gracie’s skin issues. Along the way we found a single cancerous growth on her belly. Dr. Larry removed it and said it was the type that did not spread and was considered excised. Of course I think about that now and wonder if that truly was the case or if it was a dark passenger all these years and now it’s blossoming full of poison inside Gracie.

 

Mind if I sit here
©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.

The Girls
©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.

 

This morning I returned to the Vet. It was our third visit in a week, but this time I knew it wasn’t the dental that caused Gracie’s problem. She’d gone almost two weeks with barely eating a thing. The dental was a red herring. Something else had caused the inappetence. We just found the dental because it was the obvious problem. Dr. Larry felt Gracie’s abdomen and she let out a small cry when he palpated it. I’ve known Dr. Larry for about 18 years and the slightest change in his expression told me everything.

 

Oh Misery sm
©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.

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©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.

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©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. My poor, sweet girl.

 

If I hadn’t pushed about something being wrong, Gracie would have even less of a chance to survive. Maybe her time is already up. I can’t believe that is the case. I don’t want to believe it, but at least I knew I had to keep fighting for her because something was WRONG. I knew it back then and I know it now.

 

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.

Birthday Week Begins with our Tiniest Treasure, Piglet.

Piglet's first year is a story about “almosts.” In fact her story was almost over before it had a chance to begin. One year ago today, Piglet's very young mother, Winnie, began contractions. It was her first litter so there was a lot of concern about how she'd handle being a mother. Our intrepid foster mom, Moe, was there watching and ready to help, but the first kitten born showed no signs of life. Perhaps being less than a year old, herself and very likely inbred, what chance did Winnie's offspring have to survive?

Piglet 3 oz with balm MS
©2014 Kitten Associates. (thanks to foster mom, Moe). Almost didn't make it. Our first glimpse of Piglet.

Sadly, the second kitten arrived was also stillborn. Winnie continued to pant, another kitten was going to be born. She was restless and upset. Were we to lose this one, too?

Happy on the Socks MS
©2014 Kitten Associates. (thanks to foster mom, Moe). After all the heartbreak, Winnie finally begins to relax as she rests on rice filled socks that are nice and warm from being microwaved.

The last kitten arrived; a tiny, white creature only half the size she should be. Her siblings had been much bigger, yet she was the one who was who survived. In honor of her Mother, Winnie and siblings who were named Eeyore and Tigger; the sole survivor was named Piglet. (though at the time we though SHE was a HE.) Piglet was barely the size of a lip balm.

Tired mama Laney
©2014 Kitten Associates. (thanks to foster mom, Moe). Grandma will never give up on little Piglet.

 

The thing that scares most rescuers is what might happen next. Would Winnie care for her kitten? If not, what would become of this fragile creature?

 

Piglet definitely had a furry Guardian Angel looking out for her. Her name was Laney. Laney was Winnie's mother and Laney was also pregnant. Being family we had them all in the same room. I'd never known if it was safe to have two mamas together and now we'd find out if it was a good idea or not.

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©2014 Kitten Associates. (thanks to foster mom, Moe). A wonderful portrait of Winnie and Piglet.

 

From what Moe told me I believe that Winnie was distraught from losing her kittens. She didn't want to care for Piglet and perhaps maybe she knew something was terribly wrong with her and that she wasn't going to make it, either. The next day was going to be key. If Winnie didn't step up, Piglet would surely die.

But Laney stepped in. Laney was close to giving birth, herself, and it was Laney who began to care for Piglet; cleaning her and feeding her while Winnie mourned. Laney was so attached to Piglet that even as she began to give birth a week later, Laney HAD to be near Piglet to comfort her while she herself was in labor.

Piglet 12 2014
©2014 Kitten Associates. (thanks to foster mom, Moe). Now we see what an elegant your lady she's turning out to be.

After some time Winnie began to care for her kitten, too. Now Piglet had two mothers and was gaining weight, though still tiny compared to her new nephews and nieces who were a week younger than she was. It didn't stop Piglet. No matter what size she was, she was part of one very big family.

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©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. With Jelly Belly, who is easily twice her size.

Piglet began to thrive and we could finally stop worrying about her, though we did put off spaying her until she was much bigger, just to be on the safe side. All that had to happen now was for Piglet and family to come north to my home, but the problem was I just couldn't seem to do enough adoptions to make room for them fast enough so they were stuck in limbo in Georgia—which also meant their kittenhood and most adoptable age was going to pass by and I couldn't do a thing about it.

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©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Growing up fast.

In March the family finally arrived. I figured Piglet would be adopted quickly, but I didn't want the others to be ignored so I put them up for adoption first. I'll go into more detail in my next post about her family, but let's just say there are a lot of them and they aren't flame point siamese mix cats who can get adopted quickly.

Piglet by humidifier
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Running the humidifier helped Piglet overcome her illness. Thankfully, she often sat right next to it to get the most benefit of the moist air.

 

But with in a few days of arriving it was clear that Piglet and her family was quite sick. It was a nightmare for a few weeks and Piglet was hit the hardest. She had a number of vet visits because we'd always been a lot more careful with her. Her other family members were easily twice her size and though sick, were not nearly as ill as she was.

 

Once again I worried that Piglet was going to die- this time if her upper respiratory tract infection turned into pneumonia. Thankfully, with a lot of TLC she began to regain her health.

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©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Not feeling well, Piglet goes to Grandma and Mama for comfort.

I finally decided to put Piglet up for adoption and, no surprise, I got a lot of applications for her. The problem was, most of them were from adopters who were too far out of state for me to do a home visit and I just couldn't let her go without knowing her home was right for her.

Game for Cats photobomb R Olson 450
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Game for Cats is all that!

Then one Thursday I got an application that looked very promising. I began to follow up with the adopter and that became our next "almost." The almost time when Piglet found her forever home.

Piggie and Winnie R OlsonRT
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Piglet and proud mama, Winnie.

 

The adopter, let's just say, pulled the wool over my eyes. The adoption turned into a nightmare and I wrote a 3700 word rant about what happened. I don't dare post it here because I fear backlash, but the person was definitely mentally ill, a poser who pretended she knew about cats and who, in the end, treated Piglet like a sweater that just wasn't the right shade of blue after all.

 

Piglet and Winnie R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. I love my mama, 4ever.

She never took responsibility for her actions, only tried to palm off every little problem on being my fault or the world's fault or Google Maps fault for not displaying the name of a road that has been a major artery from CT to NY for over 100 years (and it IS on the map). I never met someone who lied with such conviction. Piglet had a “home” for 10 days and when she returned she just wasn't the same.

Piglet Meets Fluff R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Perhaps Piglet isn't too fond of another cat (Fluff Daddy) wearing the same outfit that she does.

 

It took Piglet a long time to recover from the stress of her failed adoption. I was glad to have her home and so was her family. They accepted her back right away and I know that made a big difference in her recovery. It was then I realized that I could never let Piglet go unless she was adopted with her mom or with her grandma-Laney. I knew it would make her adoption a lot harder, but I had to do what was right for Piglet.

 

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©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Recovering from the turmoil of her failed adoption, Piglet finally relaxes.

Last month I thought Piglet and Winnie were going to be adopted, at last! I really liked the couple, but then I got sick. Between doctors visits, tests and flat out feeling lousy, I couldn't get my act together to get the adoption done. The other issue was that this couple wanted a pair who would be fine in the car since they took annual trips to Florida and I couldn't see Piglet handling that very well.

In the end, it worked out for the best. The couple adopted a pair of much younger cats who they can take for practice runs in the car. They were really nice guys and I know they'll be happier with their choice, but sadly that leaves me with Piglet still waiting to find her forever home.

Piglet 8 2015 R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Happy First Birthday, sweet Piglet.

For a cat who almost didn't make it past her first day of life, to a cat who almost died from being sick and who almost found, but lost her forever home, I'm hoping the last almost is that it's almost time for her true family to find her.

If you'd like to read more about Piglet's life you can check out these stories:

The Neglected Kittens. Ch 1. This Miserable Life.

Birth, Death and Everything in Between

The Neglected. Love Is. Ch 2.

Let it Ride.

Culture of Killers. The Death of Lions at the Hwange National Park.

Note: As of this writing the initial reports that Cecil’s brother, Jericho was also murdered, are untrue. Sadly what IS likely is a second lion was murdered from Zimbabwe’s biggest park a few days after Cecil was killed. Regardless of which lion died, the death of any creature, especially ones that are endangered, purely for sport, is unconscionable.

Over the past week I’ve barely been able to look at Facebook because it seems almost every status update carries a link to a story about Cecil the Lion, who was murdered by a Minnesotan Dentist named Walter Palmer. Like so many others, I was outraged to learn the King of the Jungle’s death was completely senseless beyond how morally reprehensible it was. With each image I saw of Cecil, laying bloodied and dead at the feet of a psychotically-smiling Palmer, I felt an all too familiar rage boiling inside me towards yet another person causing death to an innocent creature.

There’s no need to re-hash Cecil’s story here, and in truth, I had no intention of writing about it; but with breaking news, the almost incomprehensible news, that a second lion was killed by poachers a few days after Cecil drives me to say something about it now.

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Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park in 2010.

I have to ask: what is the point of their deaths? Was it to feed a starving family or to simply stroke the ego of a heartless bastard, who had to turn tail and run off leaving his or her trophy behind?

As someone who respects all life and who works to help others I can never understand what would drive someone to kill animals for sport. I realize some of us eat meat and those animals are killed so we can live, but to spend an outrageous amount of money to go to another country and purposely kill an animal who is part of a group of animals that are struggling to survive is beyond comprehension.

What makes a person like this grow into an adult who feels they have the right to take life and who is PROUD of their ability to do so? It seems as though Death is their Champion—their supreme ruler. They are the ones who deal the “kill shot.” They are the ones who act like a God deciding which animal lives or dies. It’s sickening.

Walter Palmer s clinic

Raul654. Used with permission. Walter Palmer's dental clinic.

I have to wonder if these same people struggle to stay on the “right side” of a fragile line between showing their true nature and using hunting as a smoke screen for what they really want to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d rather be serial killers, but maybe they’re sane enough to know that posing as hunters of animals is still acceptable in society. Who’s to say their repeated killing of big game animals isn’t just a cover up. In the least they're sadists. If they didn’t have the outlet of killing a rare beast would they have turned to killing humans? Perhaps that’s how the dentist can fit in with society by masking his true desires.

But what is the root cause of this culture of killing? Entitled-elitists and those who cater to them. GREED. Right now you can book a trip to Texas to kill an ENDANGERED Arabian Oryx for $10,000.00 (of course 4-star accommodations are extra, but easily obtained if you're wealthy).

Have you noticed that killers like Palmer or Lindsey or the latest poor excuse for a human being, Sabrina Corgatelli , know exactly how many and of what type of animal they’ve killed? They love posing next to the dead animal proving they did it. They cut off parts of the animal and take it with them so they can look at it again and again to relive the few SECONDS it took them to slaughter an innocent animal. Palmer was quoted as bragging about killing Cecil and waving photos of his dead body as he tried to impress a waitress at a restaurant in Alexandria, MN. She was disgusted, saying Palmer was old enough to be her dad and his creepy way of flirting scared her badly. What kind of twisted mental disorder do these people suffer from?

The flip side of this is mankind is capable of so much brilliance and innovation, compassion and true bravery, but our legacy seems Hell-bent on shitting up the planet and murdering animals to the point where none will be left because the poaching “industry” is well into the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. Good luck stopping that. Good luck telling Asians especially in Viet Nam that rhino horn does not prove they are wealthy or give men an erection. They’ll still pay $60,000 for a kilo of ground rhino horn. How can we make it more worthwhile to keep those animals alive when there are such high prices on these animals when they're dead?

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I want to know why there’s an airport storage room in Denver with thousands of animal trophies confiscated from hunters trying to smuggle them into the country. Heads of tigers, bodies of lions, tusks of rhinos. And why is it OKAY that our country allows the importing of 440 lion carcasses a YEAR. How many other Cecils were destroyed, setting off a chain reaction of cub and lioness death? How many other animals considered “big game” are suffering the same fate when for FOUR YEARS there has been legislation on the books to ban the import of these items beyond the ivory ban that’s in place now.

I know what will happen next. Everyone who totes a gun around will wave it in the air and shout how it’s their right to have a gun and they can kill animals with it if they want to. Hunting is part of our culture and tradition—just for the “sport” of it, not to provide food for anyone. Just for bragging rights. They can go trophy hunting with a permit and kill animals with a bow and arrow. They can throw rocks at the animals. Who gives a shit about them. They just want their trophy and to feel like someone important, when in truth they are lower than pond scum.

Shame on all of you. Shame.

It’s not necessary to kill a lion to be a real man or to get a thrill. Crawl under an old house in the worst of summer heat. Carefully remove the tiny kittens out from under it who are dying from flea infestations. Clean them off, while you’re covered in debris. Give them nourishment then slowly see the light come back in their faded eyes. Hold them close to your heart so they can feel your heartbeat and know they are loved and safe. Isn’t that a far better thrill?

Or do you stop being a big tough person if you can’t KILL another creature? Or is this about bloodlust? Maybe you need a therapist? Medication? Do you really know what being tough truly means? Do you have any idea how tough it is to care for a terminally ill kitten? How tough of a person you have to be to stay up for days straight trying to save the life of a tiny newborn kitten? With one heartbreak after another that very same person will go out and rescue MORE KITTENS. They will gladly suffer through more challenges involving just as much heartache so those animals have a chance to grow up and have a good life. THAT IS A TOUGH PERSON, not someone who hides behind a bow and arrow or a gun.

THAT IS ALSO A BRAVE PERSON. THAT IS A COMPASSIONATE PERSON. THAT IS A FEARLESS PERSON WHO LOOKS DEATH IN THE EYE AND SAYS. “NOT NOW. NOT ON MY WATCH.”

Mankind will be known for thousands of years of killing each other, animals, the planet. We’ll be known for our “1 percent” who greedily have it all and want more, when they know they could stop trophy hunting and paying outrageous sums for animal body parts and finally do something decent with all that money.

It is NEVER going to end until we ALL DIE from the effects of the greedy-entitled continuing to take and take and take---from aggression and inability to see the power of simple compassion and empathy. Then, at least Mother Nature will do what she does best. She will step in after we’ve trashed the place and the earth will go on without us and it will be far better off.

Or we can look at the deaths of Cecil and the second lion and the thousands of others and say; “No. We don’t need to do this any more. We don’t need to allow trophy hunting anywhere, any time. We don't need to raise lion cubs in captivity and later sell them to be slaughtered later by entitled losers who need to feel powerful over a "canned" hunting simulation under controlled circumstances. We can reward the people who put their lives on the line to keep poachers from killing the animals. We can create programs that support the economies of the regions who need help. We have technology that can increase the effectiveness of our ability to protect those animals. Let's get it where it's needed. We can let the voices of those who CHERISH what's left of the wildlife on this planet rise up over the desires of the rich. We can PROTECT the animals, not sell them to the highest bidder.”

I hope we can find a way to criminalize big game hunting throughout the world and give those animals a real chance to regain their numbers. If the good people of Africa and beyond need tourism to rule over big game hunters, then let’s all go visit. Let’s show our support for doing the right thing and let’s NEVER FORGET this lesson when the next big story hits the airwaves.

These animals have no voice. Maybe that’s the one thing we can do right-speak up. Tell your government official you agree with the Cecil Act which would disincentivize trophy killings. Sign the petition to extradite Palmer to Zimbabwe. Book a trip to Zimbabwe to take photos of those magnificent creatures. Donate to organizations who put their lives at risk to protect these animals from unscrupulous poachers. Let's find a way to work together so heartbreaking stories of wildlife being murdered can come to an end.

Rest in Peace, Cecil...

...and all the precious animals that are being lost to us in record numbers. Your death matters.

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A Big Thank You to Brawny Cat

It may be long overdue but it’s no less sincere: a BIG, BIG SHOUT OUT AND THANK YOU TO Andrew, master craftsman and design daddy behind the sublime line of cat scratcher/loungers called Brawny Cat.

Brawny cat logo

I’ve written about Brawny loungers before, but this lounger is different. It’s far bigger, bolder, utilizes exotic hardwoods and is completely hand built. It even had a tiny metal plaque on it that glints in the sun. It’s HUGE. It’s heavy. It’s built to last for a very long time. It’s called the Big Sleeky Comfort Throne and our little Freya is lucky enough to have one to call her own.

Freya mid Bath R Olson
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Little Freya not long after rescue.

This story began innocently enough. Last autumn I reached out to Andrew for advice. Freya hadn’t had her surgery yet and although she loved using corrugated cardboard scratchers, she keep soiling them to the point where I was replacing them every DAY. Clearly that was not a good use of resources so I thought there had to be a better way. I knew Andrew must have scraps of laminated cardboard so I hoped I could take some of it off his hands and use those.

Fluff in the Box R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Of course Fluff Daddy liked the box best.

Andrew chose to go above and beyond, telling me that although he was taking a short break from building cat loungers and didn’t have anything he could send me right away, that he would send me a little something later in the year. He did just that, shipping Freya a lounger that took our breath away. When a HUGE box arrived for Freya, I knew it was from Andrew. Inside the box was a breathtakingly GIGANTIC lounger, far bigger than Freya would ever need.

Freya on SLeeky in Shadow R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Freya's impressed!

Within less than a second of putting the lounger on the floor, Freya ran over to it, claiming it for her own. She must have known it was for her!

Freya on the Big S R Olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Lots of room to grow into-that is IF Freya grows beyond kitten-sized.

What’s not surprising is that our other ten cats have spent time on the lounger, too. Frankly, it’s rarely ever empty. That said, if Freya wants the lounger-end of discussion. She may be small, but that’s HER lounger and she’s not going to share. If she wanted to there’s plenty of room on it for two.

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©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitzen is a big fan!

Freya also likes to watch TV since the Throne is in view of her favorite shows. In the four months (yes, a very tardy thank you) we’ve had it, the cardboard is still in great shape and the lounger is a nice compliment to our furnishings.

Blitzen on Big S R OlsonD1
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitzen showing off his modeling chops.

We also have a few Sleeky Lounges, which are a very budget friendly version of the Throne. They wear well. It’s been nearly two years since we’ve gotten those loungers and they’re still going strong and are used every day. You can see more about them here.

As most of you know, Freya did have her surgery and is doing GREAT. I’m sure if she could talk she’d thank Andrew, too, for his generosity and for his compassion for cats-especially a little kitten who needed his help.

Watching TV R olson
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Freya watching the Secret Life of Cats-of course.

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The Crossroad. Chapter 3. What Lies Ahead.

(continued from part 2 and part 1)

Lisa was the Tech. She was a pretty blonde with a slight southern accent. I tried to chat with her but she was all business. The room was not much nicer than the waiting room and certainly not any more cheerful. There was a treadmill flanked by two computers with a hospital bed next to one of them. Lisa told me to remove everything on top and put on a smock with the front open. I balked, being shy, and said I wore a sports bra thinking that the underwire from my other bras would have caused a problem. She apologized and said everything had to go or it could interfere with the test.

I did as I was told, trying to have an out-of-the-body experience. I am not a fat girl, half naked in front of a stranger. It was bad enough having to be naked at all. I wished I was home, scooping one hundred litter pans over doing this.

I knew seeing my boobs was nothing of interest to Lisa because she’d seen a million bare breasts before mine. She was very careful to keep me covered as much as she could as she wiped my chest with rubbing alcohol so the suction cups attached to the leads on the ECG would stay in place. She did her job quickly and effectively, then asked me to lay on my left side so she could take a baseline ECG and ultrasound of my heart. The harness was bulky so I had to move slowly. Once I got into position she warned me that the gel might be a bit cold. I didn’t care. I just wanted to live through what was coming next.

As Lisa began to roll the ultrasound device into my flesh, I looked up at the screen and saw it moving in black and white…my heart. My little heart beating away reminded me of a Kissing Gouramis fish, gulping what looked like air, but I knew was blood. Very quietly I said; “Hello, heart” as tears filled my eyes.

And in that instant I fell in love. There was my faithful heart, pumping lifesaving blood throughout my body. I’d never given it much thought until now, yet there it was, doing its job, keeping me alive. I wanted to care for my heart, protect it. For the first time in my life I felt love for my body. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. I only hoped it wasn't too late.

Cardiac Dobutamine stress echo
I had no way to take a photo of the moment I saw my heart, but this is what a typical stress echo looks like.

Lisa explained that the cardiologist would be in soon to do the test. He would be monitoring me the entire time and that I shouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, she handed me some paperwork stating the inherent risks of the tests, including death, and would I sign it please.

Lisa left the room for a few minutes. I sat on the end of the bed noticing a readout on the wall. It was showing the beats per minute of my heart: 110. I didn’t need to see that to know I was in a panicked state. I tried to focus on my Buddhist training; settle your mind, let go of your thoughts. My heart slowed down to 89, but only for a moment before it returned north of 100. Pure adrenaline and terror pulsed through my veins with every beat. Not much was going to change that.

The doctor came in and said hello. I told him about my concerns and he told me in 30-something years only three people had been pushed into a heart attack and one died but they revived him. He must have told this to every patient because he was moving through the motions at a fast pace. He assured me not to worry and to step onto the treadmill. I was to walk at increasing speed and sharper angle to push my heart to a target zone. This was it. Make or break.

I started to walk and my heart felt all right. The doctor quickly increased the angle of the treadmill and I started to falter. I told him I had pain but it was coming from my gut and my lungs more than my heart. The aspirin had done a number on me and so had being sedentary for six weeks. I couldn’t do it. I broke out into a cold sweat and warned I was going to vomit. He asked me if I could go another 30 seconds. I did, but in the end I couldn’t reach my target heart rate. As directed earlier, I got off the treadmill as fast as I could and laid back down on the bed on my left side. I was panting, desperately angry at myself for not reaching the target heart rate, but glad I was still alive.

Lisa fumbled around, searching for a vessel for me to purge into while she mumbled about how she thought she had one somewhere. As I tried to keep everything down, she finally dug out a dusty rose colored plastic dish from the innards of a cabinet, placing it in my free hand that was out of the way of the wires of the harness. She quickly began moving the ultrasound device around my chest grabbing video of my heart. As she focused on her task, the doctor said, very matter-of-factly, as he left the room, that he didn’t see anything wrong with my heart and that everything looked good. He went to fetch Sam as I laid there clutching the dish, trying not throw up.

I heard the curtain move and I looked up. Sam gave me a small smile and sat down, not saying a word. He reached out and squeezed my toe. I tried to smile back while Lisa kept making records of my heart, switching back and forth from one computer screen to another. It took about five more minutes until she was done. She gave me a towel to clean up with and said we were all set and I could go home.

I was done. I was okay. I could go home and watch the next episode of The Bachelorette where Kaitlyn would continue to suck face with guy after guy; the romance of the show long gone. I used to love these trashy programs, but now I didn't care any more.

As I got dressed I held my breath. I felt shaky and stunned. I was certain my next stop was going to be Yale-New Haven hospital, not home. I didn’t say anything to Sam until we were back inside his car. Once seated and belted, Sam fired up the engine. I felt cool air blowing on my face. I looked up to see more geriatric patients entering the building, but I was leaving. I was going home. As the shock of the past few days began to wane, I felt my body slowly rock back and forth as tears ran down my cheeks.

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The next morning I got a call from my G.P.’s nurse. She said my heart looked fine so there was no need for our appointment on Thursday. I told her that I was still having chest pain so I was going to come in. After all this, I had no idea what was bothering me.

For the next few days I focused on my new eating “lifestyle.” I had to cut carbs very dramatically. I read that I should to try to keep it to about 50-55 grams per day. After a lifetime of eating a lot more than that. I had to work on portion control along with what I was eating. I never even gave myself a chance to say farewell to my favorite foods. I just stopped eating them.

I came up with a game plan. I’d work very hard to be careful for the next few months or however long it would take to lose enough weight to get out of the Diabetes-zone. I didn’t even know how much I had to lose. From what I’d read it would need to be a percentage of my weight and that would be a good bit of weight. Ideally I need to lose even more than that. The painful truth is I need to lose at least 30 pounds if not 50 pounds or more. I couldn’t look at it as one big number. I’d have to chip away at it. I’d do it reasonably and thoughtfully. I know I’d have bad and good days. I’d try to be as cutthroat as I could with carbs until I was out of danger, then slowly re-introduce SOME carbs back into my diet, as long as I was exercising (which I hate doing-yay!).

But what pained me more than changing my diet, was in trying to sort out who I was now. Eating is also a deeply social thing for me. I love to go out for breakfast with some of my rescue friends and we have a joke about how pancakes always soothe our souls. Now I can't eat pancakes.

I'm a "Foodie." I love go on road trips and discover out-of-the-way diners, little mom and pop restaurants where the locals like to eat. I also know I use food for neurotic reasons like boredom or anxiety and God knows running a rescue means preventing stress-related eating is going to be a BIG factor...oh and I LOVE to cook. What am I going to do?

The best I could aim for is that I could do this for a few months, then maybe try to go a year, then maybe it would become my new routine and it would be harder to go back down that path full of sugar and carbohydrates since now I see what it will do to me...but can I do it?

Thursday arrived. It marked one week since I’d been diagnosed. This time I was anxious for the nurse to weigh me because I felt thinner. I thought maybe I’d lost a few pounds, but I prepared myself for only a pound or two. I lost SEVEN pounds! Not only that but my blood sugar was normal. This was a very good sign that maybe I wasn’t too late.

I spoke at length to my doctor and she admitted she thought I had agina and she apologized to me that she hadn’t said something sooner. When I told her about taking so much aspirin she gasped. No wonder I’d been so sick. She can’t even tolerate one baby-sized aspirin. I asked her to not hold back any more and to just tell me what she was thinking about. Hiding things from me wasn’t working. I was figuring it out on my own.

We talked about the weird lung pain, gut pain, neck pain, back pain on walking up stairs or some other activities. She said she had no differential diagnosis unless it still was angina and that was something I was not ready to hear. My heart might still be in trouble.

Meter
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. My new BFF. Fortunately for me, I only have to test if I feel woozy to make sure I don't have hypoglycemia.

She told me that angina presents very oddly in women and that if not angina I might have some sort of problem with my stomach or esophagus. There’d be more tests to do, of course, but I was worried about doing too much and making things get worse. I told her that over the two months it wasn’t as bad as before and that maybe I should give it a week or two and see how I was feeling then. I did not want to take something to turn off the acid pumps in my stomach. I just wanted to give my body time to adjust. I prayed that maybe I’d luck out and it would go away because one treatment for angina is the same as diabetes—diet and exercise. That said, wondering if I have a ticking time bomb in my body is no comfort. I just want to be pain-free and well enough to begin exercising.

The problem is that I don't have a lot of faith in myself. As much as I love my heart (my new BFF) and treasure the health I have, I don't know if I can do this long term. I've already had dreams about eating carbs and repeated uncomfortable cravings. That said, I know what lies ahead for me if I don't do it.

I am NOT going to be a cliché: Middle-aged, fat, unhealthy, crazy-cat-lady. No. Get ready world. Some shit is goin' down in this town.

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