The Buddhists are half-right. They believe that life is suffering, and from what I have experienced, that is entirely true. I began to suffer the moment I entered my conscious life (“conscious” pertaining to the point at which I began to form memories I can recall so many years later).
But the Buddhists are also half-wrong. They believe that the endless suffering we experience is due to our dependence upon–and attachment to–material possessions. Perhaps this is true for some, maybe even ourselves, to a degree. But the greatest suffering I’ve ever experienced comes from the missing of, longing for, or loss of a loved one.
Maybe my experience so far is quite typical of those around me, but it seems like I am always grieving. I’m always longing for dear friends or family who live far away. I’m always remembering a relative, friend, or fur-kid who has passed. I’ve lost a brother, a grandparent, two uncles, two good friends, several fur-kids, and a childhood babysitter who was also a friend of the family. I live far away from most of my family and most of my close friends. It seems as though after only short periods of reprieve, another opportunity to grieve presents itself, often coming in waves of several within short periods of time.
And sometimes, you grieve for the loss of someone who has not yet passed on. This is known as “pre-grieving”. And another round of pre-grief has begun.
Yesterday evening, I stared at the single sheet of paper, a one-page fax of the results of Maddie’s recent biopsy. The single word “malignant” hit me like a bullet through the ribs. It was cancer after all. Not “maybe”, not “possibly”, not “could be”, but “is”.
It’s a gastrointestinal lymphoma, of which there are several types: localized versus diffuse, and large cell versus small cell. In cats, unlike humans, the large cell is the more aggressive, whereas the small cell is less so. They could not determine which type she has, and my gut intuition is no further help.
Cancer?? Not our cat. She has only been given organic food, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, clean water (except when she insists on drinking from the running faucet), and a smoke-free home. She has never had the unresolved emotional disturbances I’ve seen in all people with cancer. She has never had any vaccinations except for the SPCA standard initial shots and the legally-required rabies shot every 3 years.
So the diagnosis hit us like a ton of bricks.
I read up on lymphoma last night and realized it’s quite common in cats. Other peoples’ cats, maybe, because they feed them crap food and tap water. So I’m not surprised that cancer is common in fur-kids. But again, not our cat.
Denial is futile, of course. So is going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning hoping yesterday’s events were all part of a cruel dream. So is going to the office and attempting to work on a day like today (I’m far too unstable for that this morning, and I’m grateful for the upcoming holiday weekend).
Part of me is angry. Here was the Athlete, the picture of health with endless bounding energy. We actually received compliments from more than one vet on how healthy she is. So why in God(dess)’s name are we dealing with cancer?
But anger is futile, too. It solves nothing. At the end, there is only sadness and acceptance. It’s not necessarily an voluntary choice, but rather the fatigued remains of a process of elimination.
So at this time–and all there is is time–we keep doing what we’ve been doing. She has responded remarkably well to natural remedies like curcumin (the pigment of turmeric) and Vitamin B12 injections. We’ll throw a few others into the mix, like resveratrol and perhaps folic acid. It’s not like we’re going to shrug our shoulders and give up.
The movie “Terms of Endearment” taught me an approach I’ve used all my life. When Emma is dying of cancer, her doctor tells her family to “hope for the best, and prepare for the worst”. In theory, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
I do believe in miracles, and I’m not-so-secretly hoping for one. But I also understand the laws of biophysics, the limitations of matter, and the cruel confines of reality. I’m optimistic that she’ll see her 11th birthday (which is in about 3 weeks). Beyond that, the fog intensifies; I don’t know if she’ll make it to 12.
What I will not do is allow her to suffer. As long as she is purring and happy, as long as there is light and spark and spirit in her eyes, I will not give up on her. As long as there is a chance, an option unexplored, I will not give in. She has been one of the most intelligent and decisive cats I’ve ever known, and I truly believe that she’s ready to depart this earth, she will let us know. I don’t know how, but I know she’ll find a way. When that happens, we’ll hold up our end of the bargain and let her go with dignity.
Until then, we will uphold our other end of the bargain, and that is to give her the best quality of life she could ask for. With lots of good food, quality supplemental herbs and nutrients, and most importantly, a waterfall of love. I hold her frail, skeletal, 4.5-lb frame against me and she purrs in my warmth and love, and I feel such a tsunami of love for her that it borders on emotional pain. I now know what it’s like to love someone so much it hurts, and it’s not a simple cliche.
As the Simply Red song goes, “I’ll keep holding on.”