Update: Since the below blog post was made, Calvin has passed away.
Those following me on social media will have been spammed with pictures and other updates regarding my two cats Quentin (male) and Calvin (female). Yup, Jo’s become a crazy cat lady. These two moggies are at the centre of my life, and have helped me through tough times in a way that I could never have thought of when they entered my life nearly 15 years ago.
And for all my resilience in work and life, when something’s up with either or both of them, I’m a mess.
A few years ago, when I found a lump in my breast, I didn’t panic; I just went to the doctor who arranged referral to a wonderful consultant who removed it so neatly I don’t even show a visible scar. However, when Quentin had a lump several years before that, I was an emotional wreck, worried I might lose him. Thankfully, the tumour was successfully removed and turned out to be perfectly harmless.
When about a week ago Calvin developed a large growth on her lower jaw, my mind was calm but my emotions were all over the place. My rational brain was calm and composed: Calvin drools from time to time, so it was probably just a blocked salivary gland that would resolve itself after a visit to the vet who’d probably give her an injection of sorts. Emotionally, however, I was a nervous wreck, because Calvin just wasn’t acting like herself and the growth felt hard as bone.
Either way, a visit to the vet was needed. I rolled off my usual warning of Calv’s ‘assertiveness’, having watched her scratch and bite vets in the past. But this time she didn’t even spit or growl.
The vet’s initial diagnosis came as a shock, even to my emotional side: she said she was 90% sure it was an aggressive form of cancer, with a prognosis of at most three months and with the warning that most cats will be put to sleep well before that to spare them the suffering.
We agreed on bringing in Calvin in for surgery two days later, to remove a number of teeth to access the tumour and perform a biopsy to be sure if the bleak diagnosis was indeed the correct one. In the meantime, Calv received medication to take away any pain and infection; she perked up from that and, in terms of behaviour, became her old self again.
Calv’s apparent ‘recovery’ continued post-surgery; she still shows a healthy appetite for the soft paté she gets (chewing has become difficult now she’s had several teeth removed and the paté mixes well with her liquid medication), eats well, drinks well, grooms herself as usual.
So I got my hopes up, which perhaps I shouldn’t have.
Two days after surgery the phone call with the lab results came, and it was confirmed that Calvin does indeed have an aggressive, terminal form of cancer. Her prognosis was adjusted to 4-6 weeks.
Her behaviour doesn’t suggest she is a kitty on her proverbial ‘death bed’.
Calv, as yet, is still her prima donna self who makes clear when madame needs fresh water, affection or a clean toilet. She still grabs her brother when she feels he is in need of a wash, and even though he’s twice her size he obeys. Going by the picture, if lady Calvin could type, she would be posting on here herself.
But I can’t ignore the signs of discomfort or even pain she has started to show in recent days, retching and pawing at her mouth. Nor can I ignore the speed at which this tumour appears to be growing.
So while my principle agreement with the vet to not let her suffer unnecessarily seemed easy and straightforward, putting it into practice proves more difficult and heartbreaking.
Because how I decide whether or when her discomfort is greater than her zest for life? She is still so lively and lovely, yet she’s clearly suffering to some extent – am I putting her through too much unnecessary suffering already or would I be cutting her life unnecessarily short if I asked the vet to end it sooner rather than later?
Though I rather face the hurt of losing her than watch her hurting, I have no idea how to determine what is right by her or how to decide at what point to let her go.
Calv’s next appointment with the vet is in two days and I really hope she’ll be able to provide me some guidance, as I feel truly lost right now.