Thursday, October 8, 2015
Pavane for a Cat: Caesar, 2000-2015
Ever since I put that post on Facebook, people have been asking me what the heck happened to Caesar, anyway. Well, as you all know, he was not young, nor was he entirely well. But the real story of the life and death of Caesar the Cat actually goes back to before 2005, when he was just a young whippersnapper and I was still working for the Federal Government under the psuedonym "F. Mulder."
We'd had Seez for about three years at that point. He was a year old and homeless when he and his sister Chloe came to live with us. We got them from a cat rescue organization, and as usual, my only regret was that we couldn't take all of them. By 2005 Caesar had weathered the Big Move To Dallas (four days trapped in a car!! Howling at every 18-wheeler that went by!!) and had settled into a pleasant routine of long naps and extra snacks. However, we took him in for a routine checkup and found a lump on his leg.
The vet immediately sent us to a specialist to have a biopsy done. The biopsy confirmed what we'd suspected; Caesar had cancer, a kind of fibrosarcoma that is often correlated with the ingredients in kitty vaccines (though the link has never been proven). He also had the same kind of fibrosarcoma that had killed our previous cat, Uhura. However, unlike Uhura, Seez was only five years old, and healthy and strong, so he stood a good chance of beating this disease. I just didn't know how we were ever going to be able to get him to stop chasing his feather toy long enough for chemotherapy.
Turned out he didn't have to. Radiation therapy for cats had just become available. Yes, I said radiation therapy for cats. Presumably dogs, also, and iguanas and guinea pigs and who knows what. I had to be talked into it, because it seemed like a kind of crazy idea, but the oncologist was pretty confident that the radiation would do the trick. "You don't have to treat them like it's 1945 anymore," was basically what he said to me. So we decided to give it a try.
(Don't even ask how much this cost. I've spent my money on stupider things.)
Radiation therapy was breeze for Seez. As the oncologist put it, "He hops in a box, he goes to sleep, and when he wakes up he gets fed. What's not to like?" The hardest part was taking him in for treatment every other day for six weeks. Good thing I hadn't started swimming with the swim team back then because there's no way I could have done it. I would wrestle him into the kitty carrier in the morning, drop him off at the vet's on the way to work, pick him up on the way home and then do it all over again two days later. Of course, he got wise to the whole "being wrestled into the kitty carrier" part, so it got more and more interesting as the days went by. But he weathered the radiation therapy pretty well, even if he did glow in the dark a little at night.
After the radiation was over, Caesar had surgery. The oncologist removed the (mostly dead) tumor and found another tumor, also dying, underneath the first one. The margins were clear, as they say, and the oncologist was pretty sure he got all of it. If it wasn't a complete cure, it would at least buy him a lot of time.
At the time, all I really wanted was for Caesar to live a normal span of years. And he did. 16 is really getting old for a cat, though some cats live to be 20 and a very few have even made it to 30. As most of you know, he picked up an eating disorder along the way, and went through these phases of refusing to eat and dropping lots of weight. Toward the end of his life, I was sticking a vitamin supplement down his throat and giving him whipped cream every day to try to keep his weight up. It wasn't working very well, either, Also, we fed Seez on the counter so the other cats wouldn't get into his special food, and toward the last few weeks of his life he lost his ability to jump up there. He put up with being lifted, but you could tell he didn't like it.
Another thing--Caesar was gradually losing his position in the household. As the resident male, he was of course alpha kitty. He won the swatfests and disputes over treats that occasionally broke out. Or at least he used to win them. He had started losing face to Sparrow, the young upstart. Going from alpha kitty to beta kitty is not a good thing for a cat. A couple of times, Joan and I had the conversation about whether it was getting to be time. As long as he was eating at all, though, we were content to let him keep doing it.
Well, I took him to the vet two Saturdays ago for a routine weight check and maybe a blood test, and history repeated itself. Caesar had another lump, but this one was a big one. It stretched from the middle of his leg all the way up into the middle of his back. It was also hard, which the vet took to mean it was probably necrotic. It was right in the path of the old tumor. Which is weird, because did it really take eleven years to grow back? or was it something new and exciting? Why didn't we ever notice it? For that matter, why didn't the vet notice it, seeing as he was there for a weight check once a month? We'll probably never know. I called Joan to come down and we had him euthanized right there. No point in dragging it out and risking that he might be in pain. I got to hold him in his last moments, and that was an honor and a privilege. And it was so quick. One second he was there. The next, Caesar was gone.
Caesar was his own cat. Chloe is definitely my cat and Sparrow is Joan's cat without a doubt, but Caesar was Caesar's cat. He was calm and self-possessed, liked to sleep on my meditation cushion, and had a way of remaining Above It All, or at least above the other two. He was friendly, liked to be petted and have his ears rubbed, but he was a cat's cat. We are keeping his ashes on the mantle next to Uhura's. The household is a lot quieter with him gone, but it's certainly richer for his having been there.