Sunday, November 22, 2015

Day One - A Small Pink Ribbon

Day One of the Avon Walk comes early as we drag ourselves out of bed at Oh Dark Early.

Like soldiers preparing for battle we assemble our gear, making sure we are prepared for this arduous day of walking 26 miles on a sunny but cold New York day:

Fanny Pack - check.
Water Bottle - check.
Cap - check.
Cat Ears - check.
Cat Tail - check.
Gloves - check.
Chapstick - check.
Moleskin - check.
Advil - check.
Charged Cell Phone - check.
Extra Socks - check.
Space Blanket - check.
Bling - check.

And then there are our mementos. Wristbands, pins, posters, and signs showing who we are remembering or honoring. I carry Sugar's sign and 100 pink ribbons.

The ribbons are small, 1/2" x 2", but their significance is enormous. Each has a  name on it, the name of a warrior, a person or pet who did something I've never done, faced and fought cancer.

They occupy a small physical space, but their place in my heart is huge. Carrying these ribbons is a sacred trust, a way for these brave souls to matter, to be honored, to be remembered for their strength and courage. It is a privilege to carry them.

We assemble in the lobby for a team photo, then ride the bus to the pier and gratefully sip hot coffee as we wait for the opening ceremonies.

Just as it becomes light, we are off. We walk, we talk, now and then we shed tears. We stop at our pit stops to eat a snack, refill our water bottles, and use the port-a-potties. People ask me about Sugar's sign and I share her story; most are amazed that a cat can get breast cancer.

I meet one of Sugar's followers from the Sugar Rub! Facebook page.

Seth, the MooCow Guy is everywhere! He hands out Cow Tales candies. He cheers us on!

We walk across the Brooklyn Bride and see Angie, our personal team cheerleader. Soon, we stop for lunch.

We walk through Brooklyn and back to Manhattan. It's getting colder and some of our team members gratefully wrap up in the space blankets provided by my husband.

Finally we reach Randall's Island. The last two miles are brutal in the cold and relentless wind. But finally, we are there!
After a quick dinner in the freezing cold food tent, we ride the bus back to our hotel. We gratefully take hot showers, take some Advil, and hop into our warm and comfy beds.

And so Day One has ended. We are tired, cold, and sore. Our hearts are full, and we are happy that we only have to walk 13 miles tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Arriving in New York for the Avon Walk

My flight from San Francisco to New York was very pleasant and the flight attendants were kind enough to let Sugar ride in the First Class closet. I worked on my memorial and honorary ribbons during the flight. As I left the plane, the flight attendants assured me that Sugar had been a very good traveler.

My roomie, Tomi, found Sugar and me at the luggage carousel and off we went to our hotel in midtown Manhattan. Unfortunately Tomi's luggage wasn't with us, but it did arrive the next morning.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at a close-by restaurant and were joined by another team-mate, Julia, and Anne, another cat lady who lives in New York. We had all known each other online for a quite a few years, so it was a real treat to finally meet in person.

The next day we walked to Ground Zero. None of us had seen the completed 9/11 memorial and it was a very sobering experience. It was meaningful to see the name of the woman who's name is on the bracelet I purchased at the gift shop several years ago on one of my visits to Ground Zero. 

That night, Julia, Tomi, and I had dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant, Gato. Where else would three cat ladies on the prowl eat in Manhattan? We had a wonderful time and appreciated the attentive service of Luciano.

On Friday, we took a short walk in Central Park, then went to the Avon Walk registration where we met up with our remaining Trekkin' for Ta-Tas team-mates, Laura, Andrea, Sue Lyn, and Gina. I also had the pleasure of meeting Seth, the MooCow Guy, and we found that we have **many** things in common! He immediately fell in love with Sugar, but then who wouldn't? Just look at her sweet tabby face!

Friday night the team went to dinner and we were joined by Andrea's husband Barry, and two more cat ladies, Angie and Carol. 

Because we knew we had to be up early for the walk the next day, we called it a night around 9 pm. 

It was a wonderful time and in my next blog post you will hear all about the walk itself!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cat Lady Walks

In just two days I leave for New York to participate in Avon 39 - The Walk to End Breast Cancer. This is my fifth breast cancer walk and my third since Sugar's feline mammary cancer diagnosis.

For me, October 17 - 18 is the culmination of four months and hundreds of miles of training walks, as well as raising over $2000 in donations. Along with my team-mates and a few thousand people, I will walk 26 miles on Saturday and 13 miles on Sunday. It is no small thing.

Why do we do it?

If you ask 100 people, you'll get 100 different answers. Each individual has their reasons for walking. I walk in memory of Sugar and to raise awareness that pets get breast cancer too. But united we all walk for one purpose - to end this hideous disease.

This weekend, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, please take a moment to think of those of us who are walking in New York. Wish us well or send us some positive energy. Heck you can even wear something pink!

If you're in New York City, come out and cheer us on along the route at one of the many cheering stations. Your encouragement is the best fuel to help us along the way. NYC Cheering Stations

If you're not in New York and you'd like to follow along, just check back here on my blog as I document our pink journey. Feel free to make an encouraging comment here and it will be shared and appreciated by our team.

And finally, if you haven't done it this month, give yourself a breast exam. And if you have pets, give them one too.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Angels Among Us

Many, many years ago, when I had my first kitty, Misty, she was in a freak accident and broke her leg. I was barely making it financially, living paycheck to paycheck, and had no resources for the surgery she needed to repair her leg.

Fortunately for me, a friend loaned me the money and said, "Pay me back when you can." I truly don't know what I would have done without her assistance. She was an angel to do that for me and to this day I feel immense gratitude toward her.

I guess that is a major reason why I am so passionate about the mission of The Murphee and Sugar Angel Foundation - helping others with the financial costs of pets who are critically ill.

The Foundation has helped quite a few pets in the past year. We've contributed toward life-saving surgery, helped with the cost of medications for manageable illnesses such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, and more than once we've helped when it is time to end the pain and suffering of a seriously ill pet. Helping others through the Foundation is both heartbreaking and rewarding, and it is always gratifying.

But the reality is this - my co-founder Kate and I cannot achieve the Foundation's mission alone - we need your help.

100% of your donations go to help others. Kate and I cover all Foundation expenses personally and we do not take a dime from the Foundation.

So, please, be an angel and join us for Sugar's Birthday Celebration by sending $1 and sharing this post. The first $1400 will be matched by me and one of our board members.

Not everyone has a angel who can do what my friend did for Misty and me. And who knows, you may need an angel yourself someday - we all know how uncertain life can be. With your help now, Murphee and Sugar can be there for you and others, just like my angel was there for Misty and me all of those years ago.

We Believe in Angels. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Before Sugar was diagnosed with mammary cancer, my cats had never needed anything more serious than a dental cleaning. Then  I heard those horrible words, "Your cat has cancer" and my world changed forever.

First, I cried until I didn't think I had any tears left. Then I put on my big girl panties and I began to navigate the waters of having a seriously ill pet. I scoured the internet for information. I talked to people I knew who had experience with feline mammary cancer.  I began to speak a new language  - the language of cancer; it includes words like "margins", "malignant", "chemo", "remission", "recurrence", "oncologist".

As I swam through this turbulent and foreign sea, I tried to stay afloat. We took Sugar to a veterinary oncologist and there were decisions to be made. How bad is this? Should we do the mastectomy? Should we do chemo? What about diet, supplements? How long will Sugar live? Can she be cured?

Unfortunately, when it comes to feline mammary cancer, the answers are few. It's aggressive, we know that. But beyond that, we don't know much. And that is true of many other feline cancers because there has been a lot more research done on canine cancer than on feline cancer.

So we learn as we go. We put our trust in our veterinarians. We watch our kitties like hawks. We talk to others dealing with this relentless and hateful disease. Some of us reach out to animal communicators, some of us pray to our higher power for a miracle. In short, we do the best we can with what we know and what we have to work with.

We try not to think about what is going to happen; we try not to constantly worry about what we will do when "it" does. Will I find another lump? Has it spread to the lungs? Will it spread to the lungs or somewhere else?

Greeting the sun.
How do we cope when we are living every day with such uncertainty? Well, I took my cue from Sugar. Blessedly, she didn't know she had cancer. She lived each day to the fullest. She enjoyed her food, she napped in her favorite sunny spots. She watched birds. She sought out and received a million cheek rubs. She slept curled up next to the humans she loved so much. She stopped and smelled the flowers and rolled in the catnip patch. Sugar taught me how to live in the present, to appreciate each day for the gift that it is.

And ultimately, the day did come when "it" happened. The cancer was in Sugar's lungs and pleura and it was time to give her the most loving and unselfish gift that a parent can - a peaceful journey to her tenth life at the Rainbow Bridge.

After Sugar's crossing, I was consumed with grief and doubt.  Should I have done this or that? Would it have made a difference? Could I have done more, done something else?

But the reality is, I don't know and neither does anyone else. I can't rewind the tape and edit it. I can only replay it and learn from it. In my case, I share what I've learned with others through an online support group for parents of pets with cancer and the Sugar Rub! organization.

So I forgave myself. I took comfort in knowing that I did the best that I could based on the resources available to me at the time; that's really all that any of us can do.  And that my friends, is no small thing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Heart and Soul

A while back a friend said to me, "Everyday I try to be the man that my cats think I am".

It's not hard to understand why we love our pets so deeply. They give us so much and ask for so little in return. And if we let them, I believe that they make us better people.

Sugar was my heart kitty - our connection was very physical. Wherever I was, Sugar was right next to me. Whether I came in the front or the back door, she was there to greet me. When I worked on the computer, she was on the counter next to me. If I laid down on the sofa, she curled up on top of me. She slept next to me at night. When she went to the Rainbow Bridge, her physical absence was huge and a piece of my heart went with her.

Chai was my emotional anchor - my shelter from the storms of life. No matter how bad things were, stroking her silky fur, looking into her blue eyes, and hearing her purr made it better. She was a balm for my pain - a beautiful and serene presence, always there intuitively giving me what I needed. When she made her journey, a piece of my soul went with her.

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a deep love and devotion for all of my cats. Did I love Chai and Sugar more than my other kitties? No, I don't think so.

But each cat is different and so is the relationship. In Chai's case, the connection was a bond between souls. With Sugar, it was a bond between hearts.

Have Chai and Sugar made me a better person? I like to think so. Sugar inspired me to start Sugar Rub!, an organization to raise awareness about feline mammary cancer. And Chai motivates me to raise funds for the Murphee and Sugar Angel Foundation, so we can help others with seriously ill pets.

And they both taught me one of life's greatest lessons. Stay present and live for the moment. Things can change in the blink of an eye.

One word can change everything.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Monthly Sugar Rub! Could Save Your Pet's Life

We all know we're supposed to do a monthly breast exam on ourselves, but did you know that your pet needs one too? Feline mammary cancer is very aggressive and 90% of mammary tumors are malignant. For dogs, the odds are a little better at 50%.
Waiting for that annual vet visit could be far too late for your furkid. I found Sugar's first mammary tumor. I also found her second tumor just three weeks after her veterinarian had examined her. 
This was recently posted on the Sugar Rub! Facebook page: "Miri's lumps (one slightly larger than the other) were found by us 2 weeks ago. We brought her to the vet. It's because of Sugar Rub! that we found them." Miri had surgery and now has a chance to beat mammary cancer because her owners give their pets a Sugar Rub! every month.
So pick a day of the month to do your pet's Sugar Rub (breast exam) and circle it on your calendar. Not sure how to do a breast exam on your pet? Check out this page on our website. 
And when you finish your pet's breast exam, do one on yourself - humans get breast cancer too.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dear Sugar,

One year ago today, I held you in my arms for the last time.

We had a great last day together. I smelled your fur and listened to your soft meow. I felt your purr as you laid on top of me.  I scratched your chin and your whiskers brushed against my cheeks. You ate your favorite foods and you laid in the sweet grass under the geranium in  the backyard. You gave me lots of "sugar" and I kissed you at least a million times. We put a lot of love into that day.

And then, the time came and you  flew to the Rainbow Bridge, where there is no pain, no cancer, only love and light. As your spirit left your body, I stroked your fur and told you over and over, "I love you".

Some things have changed since you left. I have a new job, and I drive a new car.

We have two new kitties in our family. And Sugar, they are boy cats! Yes, boy cats! I think you would like them and I know they would love you.

Chai is no longer with us here on Earth, but then you know that. I know that your paws were the first to take hers as she left my arms and crossed the Rainbow Bridge in February.

Little Bit is the new counter kitty. Who knew? I know you're whispering in her ear because she does so many of the things that you used to do as she sits beside me every morning and evening. She walks across the keyboard and nudges my hand as I use the mouse, just like you did.

The princess trees in the backyard have grown even taller. And now a lovely windchime with your name on it hangs in one them among the beautiful purple flowers. It was a gift from dear friends who love you and miss you too. When I hear its lovely chime I know it's you letting me know that you are flying by on your angel wings.

The lavender bed is gone. It has been replaced by a catnip garden where memorial stones for Chai and you rest, side by side.

But one thing has not changed, my Sweet Brave Warrior. I love you today as much as I loved you a year ago. You are always with me, my heart kitty, because Love Wins. I think of you and I miss you every day.

Your legacy here on Earth continues. The Sugar Rub Feline Mammary Cancer Fund at Penn Vet is at over 50% of our goal and growing. I hope to see the study start next year.

Through Sugar Rub!, you are saving lives. Miracle's mom found her mammary tumor because she gives her kitties monthly Sugar Rubs. More than one kitty has been spayed before first heat, because her parent read on the Sugar Rub! Facebook page that it lowers the likelihood of mammary cancer by 90%.

In October, I will walk 39 miles in New York, in your memory. Your aunties and I will walk together in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk to end breast cancer and raise awareness that pets get breast cancer too. And once again, you will walk with me.

Although you no long live with us here on Earth, you are still doing extraordinary things, Sugar. You and your valiant fight against breast cancer have not been forgotten.

I love you Sugar Bear, now and forever. Give Misty and Chai a cheek rub from me OK?

Mama J

In Loving Memory of Sugar
9/27/2001 - 5/22/2014
Loved beyond words and missed beyond measure. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month

This is a fact of which I am painfully aware. We helped our Sweet Sugar to the Rainbow Bridge last May due to lung cancer that had spread from her mammary cancer. And just three months ago, our beloved Chai made her journey after an eighteen month battle with lymphoma.

In my humble opinion, every month is pet cancer awareness month. In fact every day is pet cancer awareness day. Because cancer doesn't wait until any particular month to strike. As pet parents, the more we know about the cancers that can affect our pets, the better equipped we are to recognize the signs and take action. 

Taking action does not necessarily mean surgery or chemotherapy. In fact it might mean nothing more than providing palliative care and giving the final gift of release from pain when it is time for your pet to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

But just like with us, the earlier you catch cancer, the better the odds of fighting it. As a pet parent who has fought the C Monster with everything I had, I encourage you to know the signs and be proactive in noticing them:

  • Give your pet a monthly Sugar Rub! to check for mammary tumors. 
  • Do an overall head to tail exam each month to feel for any lumps or bumps.
  • Do a visual examination - see anything suspicious on his/her skin, ears or nose? Notice any discharge or unusual odors from his/her nose, mouth or other body area? Are there any wounds that aren't healing?
  • Tune in to his/her physical activity - has it changed? Is s/he coughing or having difficulty breathing?
  • Has your pet lost weight? Weigh him/her monthly and record it in a notebook.
And what if you find something? Does it mean your pet has cancer? Maybe. But maybe not. All of these signs could be something else. And God help you, I hope it is something else. But you won't know if you don't get it checked out. Waiting won't make it better and you just might miss an opportunity to help your pet beat cancer.