Hello everyone, Rochester here. First, I want to apologize for taking so long to write. It’s been a tumultuous time here lately. Today I had my first look at Itchmo in quite a while, and I read a wonderful tribute written by Jennifer Moore about her feline friend, Grimalkyn. Jennifer’s willingness to share her loss encouraged me to let you folks know why I’ve been so quiet lately.
To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, I’m terminally ill.
Of course, I knew something was wrong long before the staff did. They didn’t pick up on it until I started to have trouble chewing, especially large pieces of food and stringy things. Because I’d been given a clean bill of health at my “annual” during the summer, the staff believed it was a straightforward dental problem, and they made an appointment for me to have my teeth checked. The examination revealed something far more serious, and a biopsy confirmed that I have a squamous cell carcinoma. I won’t go into the gory details… suffice it to say that the outlook is grim.
I don’t wish to sound conceited, but I doubt that anyone would argue when I state that I’ve handled my situation with all the natural dignity of my species. There is, however, a certain irony in the fact that this malady has taken a lot of the joy out of my most favored pastime… eating. Still, it’s an ill wind that blows no good — weight loss has lessened my arthritis symptoms a bit. My morning walks are actually more enjoyable now, and I can jump onto things that required a boost from a staff member not very long ago.
The staff is doing their best to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on with their day-to-day duties, but they aren’t always up to the task. My personal assistant has been unrelentingly fussbudget-y. Of course, it falls to her to see that I get my medications and I’ve never been cooperative about things like that. It seems particularly absurd at this point to submit to food that’s been adulterated with all manner of additives, but she’s determined to manage my pain and keep me regular of bowel. There seems to be no way to discourage her.
Fond as I am of my personal assistant, these days I prefer to spend the bulk of my time with my personal chef/chauffeur. He doesn’t fuss. I lie on his bed, watch his television, and take the occasional nap. The only deviation from the norm he’s made in consideration of my illness is that if I’m feeling particularly lonesome, he allows me to spend the night with him. This is a major concession because I am an unabashed bed hog. I could bunk in with my personal assistant, but the Stupid Baby is usually tucked up there.
There is one other staffer in residence… she’s actually retired, but I let her stay on here. After all, you can’t sling them into the gutter after years of faithful service, can you? At any rate, I visit her regularly because we’re both of a certain age and I find her companionship restful. I also take a perverse pleasure in knocking things off of her night tables and bookcases, and watching the other staffers pick them up. That’s what qualifies as entertainment in this household.
I’m not what you’d call the introspective sort, but a cat in my circumstances does tend to look back to sunnier times. I’ve been doing that a bit lately. Moving to this place is probably the best decision I ever made. I remember how strange it seemed at first. I’d always been a town cat, and living in the woods was a revelation to me. For the first time in my life, I was able to go outside. I can’t begin to tell you how empowering it is to chase a deer out of the yard. Doing that made me feel a kinship with lions, my wild African cousins. On my little patch of ground, I am truly King of Beasts. I do sentry duty on the “mouse patrol”. I leap about in piles of fallen oak leaves. I pretend to stalk the chickens. I would never actually attack a chicken, because they are scrappy creatures with sharp beaks, but it’s fun to slither in the grass and hide behind trees.
These are my last days and I intend to enjoy them. My doctor has instructed the staff to spoil me rotten, and I’ve used those instructions to get a lot of my dietary restrictions lifted. Last week, I demanded and actually received a piece of pepperoni pizza. Last night, I commandeered a breast of fried chicken right off a staffer’s plate. My pain medication comes mixed with whipped cream. I get roast beef, I get turkey, and I get my favorite sugar-coated jelly doughnuts. Unless it’s actually poisonous, I’m now permitted to eat it.
A word about doctors here. I’ve never been a fan, but I count myself lucky to have a vet with a darn good cat-side manner. My doctor recognizes that he’s treating the staff as much as he’s treating me. He’s been candid without being too clinical and sympathetic without being syrupy. He has prepared my staff to respond appropriately to any changes in my condition, and every concern they have about my welfare, including my final hours, has been addressed. Having a doctor I can depend on helps us all feel more secure.
This is a sad time for us, but it’s also a sweet time. We go through our daily rituals and we savor them because we know they are finite. I now have almost unlimited freedom to make my own decisions about where I go and when I go there. It was freezing here a couple of days ago, and in normal circumstances I would have been compelled to stay inside, but these aren’t normal circumstances. I wanted to feel the cold permeate my fur. I wanted to feel the frost under my paws. I wanted to smell the salty sea air. I rolled around in the frozen dust, just to get dirty and to have the pleasure of being brushed clean. Yes my friends, it’s a sweet life.
I know that mortality is a touchy subject for humans, and I wouldn’t dream of forcing my personal philosophies on other cats and their staff members. However, for the record I will say that in my opinion I have been a good cat and an honorable employer. I am entitled to enjoy my last days, and I’m also entitled to a gentle end. The staff has my criteria defining what is an acceptable quality of life for me and what is not. They have their instructions and I trust them to carry out their respective duties at the appropriate time.
I’d intended to write many more pieces for Itchmo, but I will leave that to my personal assistant now. The Stupid Baby might want to help. He’s not really a baby, and he’s certainly not stupid… I just call him that to tease him. He’s an ex-feral, which means he has his own story to tell, and he’s also a chronic renal failure cat, so he’s no stranger to medical issues.
In my nearly twenty-one years among people, I’ve learned a lot of human language. This is one of my favorite quotes:
This river flows from dark to light,
So I will say adieu, my friends.
If my ship sails from your sight,
It doesn’t mean the journey ends,
But simply that the river bends.
– J. Enoch Powell
Thank you, Itchmo readers, for allowing me to share my experiences with you.