Today we lost our tomcat. He died of cancer at the young age of about six. This post is for my children to remember their first encounter with death, disease and also their kitty.
(I will warn you right now that this will be lengthy post for my kids. What we did with our kids, worked with our kids. Both came out at the end fine. Last warning: I'm very medically curious. Therefore a sense of what others may find gross sometimes eludes me. This post will have lots of descriptions of what the cancer did to Twig's body. If you have a weak stomach, do not read.)
Twig came to us shortly before Abigail was born. Our first tomcat, Jake, "the best cat ever" as Dave lovingly called him, passed away. That was really hard on me. I did what any thoughtful, patient and rational person would do, went straight to the shelter and got another cat three days later. One reason we got Twig was because he looked so much like Jake. He is a white Siamese mix with an orange flame-point pattern. Twig had blue eyes as well whereas Jake had green ones. Twig also was talkative, a Siamese trait.
Twig was named after a character in a book that David was reading to little (about 14-months old) Nathan. The cat very quickly was unwelcomed by our older cat Daisy. My inclination that Daisy was lonely after Jake's death couldn't have been more wrong. Poor Twig had more surgeries and trips to the vet in the first few months of his life than any other cat in our house. That quickly stopped when he grew to a respectable size and showed Daisy that she wasn't going to push him around anymore. Twig chose David as his main person and spent all his days in the office where David worked. He was equally friendly to all other members of our household, but David who he liked to "hang" with (pun intended, see above picture).
He also had the bad habit of laying on my freshly ironed tablecloths or runners... Another bad habit: He ate paper and plastic and anything made of foam. He deflated quite a few toys.
My mom will kill me for posting this picture of her. :-) Twig LOVED people. Anyone who would take the time. He didn't care who. [Well, except for Mandy who made his paws bloody playing so hard with him..... :-) - just kidding, he loved Mandy and Matze.]
Beautiful blue Siamese eyes.
Twig was quite the cuddler. He was a people cat. He loved getting pet and could get quite pushy requesting his fair share of love. He was good with all the kids. Very patient with them.
Here he is talking. Also loved his "ringtail".
Twig loved chicken and really, any other table scraps. Too much would upset his tummy though. (Not that you would ever know looking at this giant cat.)
Yep, Twig was a big boy.
He'd been to the vet many times. Seemed he was sickly from the beginning. Daisy has been to the vet only a few times. Really, only once for a health issue. Twig and Jake were well known at the vet's office. I don't know if their breed is more susceptible to infections and the likes?
Either way, one night while petting Twig, I noticed a fairly large bump by his right hind leg. Almost the size of a golf ball. How had we not noticed such a big bump before? The vet looked at it the next day and gave us a hopeful prognosis as the lump seemed to be loose and not attached to any muscles, bones, etc. The thought was that it was a growth of some sort, maybe a cyst. They would remove it and then do a biopsy. After the surgery the vet called. By the tone of voice, I knew it was cancer. They had not done a biopsy yet and it would take a few days. But what they had found was a growth that had huge tentacles. They had not been able to remove them all as they had already gone into the stomach and organs.
After a few days, the diagnosis came back and it was an intensively aggressive cancer. Life expectancy was 3 weeks to 1 year at the most. A good indicator would be how soon the growth would grow back. Surely enough, after only 2 months Twig had a huge growth again. Further surgery was not recommended based on where the cancer had been found already and how aggressive it was. This also took into account how poorly Twig reacted to antibiotics and anesthesia (days of vomiting afterwards).
The next few weeks passed and the cancer was definitely growing, this time tightly attached to his hind leg. Twig seemed to be doing well with small amounts of pain meds and he was a happy kitty. His cancer swelled up to about the size of three soft balls. Or so we thought. Until one night the biggest abscess I have ever seen exploded. It literally exploded. David noticed it first and called me. All we saw was bloody liquid all over our floor. There was a trail and I followed it, heart-pounding. To be honest, I did not expect to find Twig alive. There was so much of it. He couldn't possibly be alive. Plus, we did not know at the time what the liquid was. It was clear with definite blood in it and somewhat thick. Peeking around the corner he was on the bathroom floor. He had a hole the size of a golf ball on top of his tumor. It was 5:30am in the morning and we whisked him off to the nearby 24-hour vet. Was this it? Was this how he was going to go? I didn't want to do this visit. To my surprise, the vet explained that abscesses are normal with cancer and given the finality of his disease, they would let it drain and give him antibiotics. We decided to keep Twig in our bathroom for the time being. He is definitely a social cat and this was torture for him, to be locked up there. We tried to visit him often and also encouraged the kids to do so. At that point a lot of questions came up about why is Twig dying. We explained that death was not God's original plan. Adam and Eve were given life in the garden with God. But sin brought death, suffering and pain. We explained to them that this is why God warns us about sin. Not only does it affect the sinner, the people we sin against, but also all of creation, animals included.
After about 14 days in the bathroom, (with various days out in between but the abscess opening up and draining more again), Twig was finally allowed back in our bedroom. He stayed there for 3 days until he was able to come out completely. I'm not sure if the days in the bathroom broke his spirit somewhat or if the disease just progressed but he was deteriorating quickly after that.
The picture above is a few days before Twig died. He could barely walk two days before he did (the first day he couldn't anymore), so David took him into the office and put him on a quilt underneath his desk. Twig definitely fought this to the last minute. We had taken both our other cats to the vet in their final days. But for Twig, we went day by day, hour by hour. He continued to acknowledge anyone coming to him, even the last time we pet him. The last day he could no longer get up but yet he robbed himself across a little bit of floor and waited in front of the door for someone to get him. So we couldn't bear to take him to the place where he utterly hated it. Every time we picked him up, he winced in pain. So we let him lay on the floor where he had placed himself. Toward the end of the night, we put him into a large laundry basket so that we could take him around with us without hurting him. He was with us while we watched TV and was where he had always been. Something happened the last two days with his voice and he could no longer meow. But he always opened his mouth and made a very low sound when we pet him.
Throughout his disease, we talked to the kids often and made them realize that Twig could die any day, any time. However, yesterday morning we knew he didn't have much time. For the first time, he did not lift his head when he saw us and just stared into space. He still made his familiar sound when we came to pet him. He did not move around. His eyes were a different color and he seemed very cold. We just knew. We told the kids and when they came in and saw him, it was obvious to them as well. Nathan started to cry. Abigail was compassionate but obviously too young to understand. We had long talks with Nathan why it would be better for Twig to pass than to hold on to the pain and suffering that he had here. I think Nathan understood in the end. But still, this was his first confrontation with death. I told him how my first two pets died and how hard it was. We reminded him that we feel so sad is because we know that this is wrong, unfair. It is not what God wanted. That is why it makes us cry. It's wrong. We spent a good evening with Twig, trying to comfort him, as that was all we could do. And just be with him. Throughout the day, the kids and us would be around him a lot. Nathan even by himself laid with Twig for a while, just talking to him.
This was toward the evening. Nathan had given Twig a little pillow, to make him more comfortable.
You can see Nathan's emotion in this picture.
Abigail trying to make Twig more comfortable. Her and Nathan came up with an idea to decorate the room for Twig. So they put Abigail's necklaces and bracelets all over the room.
Nathan hates to read. It is painful making him do his homework. He picked up this book about a porcupine and read the whole book to Twig. He was obviously moved.
After the kids went to sleep, we put Twig in the laundry basket so we could easily bring him downstairs with us. When we went to sleep, we put him on the night stand next to our bed so we could hear him if he made noise. We were up most of the night due to a badly teething baby, another kitty making all kinds of ruckus and a little boy with growing pains. I'm not sure at what point he passed away. I had taken Isabelle in the bed with us and when I woke up, I just knew. Even though it was best for him, I didn't really want to have that reality. For selfish reasons obviously. Kept my eyes closed and just laid there thinking, listening. I turned my head over to the laundry basket. It was obvious. Not wanting to ignore him with my ignorance, I had to make sure that he was truly dead and touched him. Rigor mortis had set in. To be sure, I asked David make his own conclusion. He agreed. He woke up the kids to let them know. Beforehand we had decided to let them make the decision whether or not they wanted to see Twig again and even touch him. From my own experience, the first time I felt a dead animal that I had only known alive, it made me truly realize what the breath of God means to our bodies. Nathan came in and did indeed touch him. Surprisingly, he was happy for Twig. He understood the pain Twig had been in and that he was free of that pain now. That was good. I myself wrestled with the sadness of death and didn't want to disturb his rightful trust in God. Abigail also came in to see Twig. She wanted to pet him once more. And so she did. Putting her little finger on the bottom of his nose, rubbing it all the way to the top in a straight line, up to the height of his ears. Just the way he loved it.