On Friday night, I was that person crying in the waiting room at the vet. The one that your eyes are drawn to, though you know you shouldn’t. The one trying to have their last fifteen minutes together with their loved one while the vet tends to your pet in between diagnosis & reality slap.
The one holding my cat, tears streaming down my face, whispering to her that I love her, wishing it was enough.
Shadow had cancer. She’d had it in the form of Mast Cell skin tumors since she was about two years old. Originally, we’d thought the bump on her head was from where she would constantly hit it on the underside of the coffee table when she leapt onto the sofa. When it changed shape & size, we realised differently. The vet cut out that one, the one below her eye & the one on her ear (which he found after searching, when the biopsy came back as cancer). He was amazing. She shouldn’t have had either organ survive, but his cutting & sewing was second to none. The specialist she saw at age eight at Murdoch said it was the best she’d ever seen. Even the scarring was minimal.
We had the diagnosis just before Christmas that there were mast cells present in her blood, which indicated that it may have spread to her spleen. Surgery was on the cards as a hopeful, but life situations took a drastic turn & she was under too much stress & upheaval with our sudden move from the house, & not having a permanent residence since January, to put through the stress of major surgery. She’d not have survived it.
She went a number of days refusing to eat at all. Her weight dropped completely & she was almost skin & bone. It was frightening. Finally she started eating again, & she had a small belly to her. Like a snake after a big meal. At Easter, she & I finally moved into a permanent home. She purred a lot more, we spent hours lazing on the bed or the sofa while I wasn’t allowed to walk. She’d prove that she could take up more space than I could & that physical size meant nothing.
For the past week, she’d only eat when I was there. Sometimes only if I sat on the floor in the kitchen beside her. She was drinking a lot of water. That belly had increased dramatically but she wasn’t putting weight on anywhere else. Changing her diet to better food (she moved up to her favourite roo steak as a daily instead of special treat) didn’t help much other than her coat & her enthusiasm. I would still wake to see her face in front of me, & she was still jumping up to the bed, sofa & window sill, but she was lying down more than she was doing anything else.
On Friday we read a book together. Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage. I was lying in bed, she was lying against my thigh, on her back with her front paws flopped & crossed over. She was purring & occasionally demanding ear scratches. When the sun moved, we moved to the sofa & she lay against my shoulder & snored. I couldn’t ignore the small noise of pain she tried to hide when she got up to move from the bedroom to the loungeroom though. I was glad she had the appointment that night. I was hopeful that now that things were settled, she could go in for that surgery.
There were complications. The belly was a tumor that was going to be very difficult to operate on successfully; the vet believed it was in her intestine. There was also a fairly high chance that it was also in her spine & her shoulder muscles. Despite all the water she was drinking, she was dehydrated. We knew her thyroid was fine from recent tests, which lead to a diagnosis of an imminent liver or kidney failure being on the cards. She’d also developed a heart murmur. The vet was amazed that she was so perky & inquisitive with all this. She’d jumped down from the table & was exploring the room. But we noticed something else – Shadow had started doing all of that after the tears started welling in my eyes. Before that, she had sat quietly.
Shadow was three years old when I was in that car accident that changed my life. She had sat by my side through some of the most hellish times of my life. When I was bed bound & in the neck brace, she slept curled up in the crook of my arm as though keeping silent guard. She watched while I pushed the pain away & ignored it to get things done & to help others. Now, here she was, doing the same. Pretending she was alright so that she was there for me.
There was a very obvious ticking clock for when she wasn’t going to be able to function on her own at all. Before she couldn’t ignore the pain that she was in. Surgery was off the cards. So I had fifteen minutes with my beautiful, selfless, destroyer of rooms, before I had to say a final goodbye.
Fifteen minutes isn’t a very long time when you have everything to say & no idea how or where to start. I love you doesn’t scratch the surface. Not when you’re talking to a cat who put her own discomfort aside to be there for you. Eleven years together. Fifteen minutes to tell her everything. To show her everything. I held her & we were silly. I cried & laughed at the same time. She let me hold her. She lay in my lap & purred. If you knew her, you’d know she didn’t do that. Shadow would sit beside you, lean against you, but she was no lap cat.
We went back in & they shaved her paw. She gave me a look & I had to hold her again. Then she was back on the table & our noses & foreheads were touching.
I told her, “I love you.”
Then she was gone.
It’s been three days & I’m still breaking into tears at random things. Not being woken up by her is killing me. Sitting down to the computer & she isn’t beside me. She isn’t wrapping her tail around my wrist or pushing the mouse mat out of her way. She isn’t at the window sill when I come home & she isn’t on the sofa. She hasn’t opened any of my cupboard’s drawers to lie on my tshirts & she hasn’t pushed my shoes out of the way to sleep behind my long coats. I have eleven years of her being here, by my side, to adjust to no longer having.
I know that I made the right decision. That I allowed her to go with her dignity, before she was in too much pain or her organs failed.
But I still feel like I’ve had part of my soul torn away. A part that, despite its small size, takes up all the space.