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.