My Grey Valentine

Oliver is my best friend and he is dying of cancer. There is a strong possibility that he will not make it to his eighth birthday next month. Mast cell tumors are growing and spreading all over his tiny body. He has his bad days and his good days. The bad days are starting to outnumber the good.

Oliver is a cat. A beautiful grey cat with bright green eyes, and the sweetest boy I have ever met. 

There was a point in my life, about ten years ago, where I thought I could be a normal, productive citizen. I dropped out of college and had to find a way to feign adulthood. I held a series of corporate jobs, been laid off twice, and fired three times. This track record doesn’t sound great on paper in bold black and white lettering; however, at the time, I tried really hard to be the best employee, best coworker, and best all-round gal about town. To have a modicum level of financial stability and social credibility was very important to my new identity. I needed something to define me, as I no longer had an academic career or a writing career. In fact, after I left college I stopped reading for roughly five years and only wrote shorthand bits of observational journal entries. Save for the rogue poem that had to come out for my own sanity. If you are a poet, you know what I mean, its like vomit; word vomit that cannot be stopped and often, violently surges out of your body.

Essentially, I was lying to others, and myself about the real me. No wonder those past friendships and relationships were superficial, empty, and devoid intimacy. It was easier to be neutral and perform normalcy than face the reality of my situation. One of my coworkers suggested I get a cat. The thought had never occurred to me. How could it? I was busy drinking my misery. She turned me on to petfinders.com and I found an adorable fluffy, grey kitten.

***

Three kittens were found under a dumpster in a Holiday Regions Bank. One of the tellers started to feed them and quickly learned that their mother had abandoned them. She took the three tiny cats home, nursed them to health, and had a vet give them boosters. But she couldn’t keep them and decided to put them up for adoption. I met Oliver first. A loud hiss escaped from his tiny body and he immediately ran away. His brother Simon, a tuxedo with a pink nose, welcomed me and lovingly rubbed my shoes. A week later I took them both home. I poured all my love and affection into two small animals. They were my furry babies. Sadly, I had no concept of what I would do when one of them would get extremely sick. Turns out, I would do anything to keep them alive, healthy, and happy – regardless, of my own wellbeing.

***

Mast cell tumors are nasty business. Ollie had a rather large growth on his belly that appeared seemingly overnight. It had to be removed and Oliver would be put under for the first time in his young life. It was a harrowing experience having to care for him after the surgery and the Frankenstein’s Creature-like suture, but he proved to be strong-willed and healed beautifully. I decided to be aggressive with his treatment and have an oncologist check him out. No cancer. I was thrilled and felt the worst was over. Both my vet and the kitty oncologist informed me that mast cell tumors recur and the only options would be either remove the tumor(s) or chemotherapy return. Fine. My cat is healthy and cancer-free, for now. I had no idea that I wound find six tiny tumors all over his body a mere month later. After Christmas, I took he back to the vet. Tumors were back and now the only option is chemotherapy. While cats deal with chemo better than most animals, Ollie would be put on special food, sanctioned to one room in the house (separated from his brother) and not allowed outside. The cost of this treatment is astronomical and would keep him alive for twelve to twenty-four months tops. Without this treatment he was given six months and if I thought for a minute, that his life would be better from a weekly dose of radiation, I would have done it. The cost and lack of quality of life for my baby boy was not worth it to me.

What happens when there is nothing else you can do to keep your pet alive? I will not let him suffer. I will do the right thing and let him go. I will not bury him in the backyard. I will have him cremated. His soul is not housed in an urn but his memory will live in my heart. And that is the whole truth.

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