My Name is Leo

An adored cat deals gracefully with a jaw tumor while his owner quietly falls apart.

My Photo
Location: Philadelphia area, Northeast, United States

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Sweetest Photos

Like the past nine months were just a bad dream...and now Leo will always be the sweet guy in these photos.

They were taken in January 2006, just a couple days before I began this blog, and about a week after the dental extraction that led to the discovery of his tumor.

They have never appeared before (in small part because my vanity doesn't usually allow for posting makeup-less photos :)

Mostly, I held them back with this posthumous moment in mind, because the pictures are just so "Leo" - I wanted them to linger here as a testament to all that he was.

Which was: a furry creature that loved to just pour himself all over a person. A cat who would actually rest his head on your shoulder.

A big, fuzzy, loving thing that seemed like a favorite stuffed animal come to life.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Journey Ends

(Con't from last post...)

The unfortunate part of a long illness is that one has too long to contemplate its resolution. In other words, I had spent way too much mental energy imagining Leo's demise. And my reaction to it -- which was to be anguish, a breakdown in the car ride home, uncontrollable tears (with maybe a little gnashing of teeth thrown in for good measure) which would continue for days and days.

Imagine my surprise when my main reaction after the euthanasia was: relief. As well as I can remember at this point, my tears stopped with Leo's pain. My peace came with his peace.

In all my mental conjuring, I had never once dared picture his passing as being so easy, so uneventful, so perfectly graceful.

So, there we were, with our furry guy's body in his carrier placed carefully in the back of our vehicle, on our way home. And somehow, everything seemed okay.

First order of business once home was to phone my parents and inform them of the morning's events. My mom told our girls, who had been expecting this and took it in stride.

Strangely, I was able to tell my mother the sad news in a normal matter-of-fact tone, and it was she who became choked up during our conversation. Everyone knows how much I loved Leo, how close we were, and she felt deeply for me.

Plus, Leo was the kind of cat who wanted to make friends with any human who entered his territory. Pre-illness, any family gathering would be an occasion for him to strut into a crowded room and make the rounds as if to say, "Feel free to adore my gorgeousness at your leisure!"

Once the phone call ended, my husband and I wordlessly (yet somewhat simultaneously) launched into clearing the house of the signs of Leo's illness -- the towels covering the furniture, the medications, the stacks of unopened Fancy Feast cans - bought just a week before, when Leo had been eating furiously.

It was with great pleasure and gusto that I threw the dreaded piller into the trash, in Leo's honor.

Through the process, I found lame excuses to go into the garage...and I would check on Leo in the carrier. Sounds morbid, but I needed to acknowledge his presence, that his body was still there. We had put the carrier on the floor of the garage, so it was easy to just stop by and say hello (yeah, weird grieving thing.) His eyes had remained open after the euthanasia, but since he was on his side, you couldn't see it just looked like he was sleeping.

At one point in our cleaning, I came across Leo's favorite catnip toy. It was perhaps the only catnip toy every purchased that actually held its scent, and so I would put it in a plastic bag between uses. That toy hadn't been touched for many months, as Leo had long since lost interest in playing.

But I just couldn't throw it out. And so I placed the toy in the carrier with him. At first, on top of the towel covering his body. But another visit to the garage prompted me to open the carrier, lift the towel blanketing him, and place the toy between his front paws, just as he would have held it in life (in a stoned-catnip state.)

Just one of those strange gestures...that somehow seemed appropriate. Even so, I approached him gingerly, apprehensively, quickly re-covering him; not wanting to disturb his body in its repose.

Okay, now the weirdest part of my story: then my husband and I went shopping. We had errands we needed to do before heading back to my parents with Leo.

When we climbed into the car, I said something along the lines of "See ya, buddy" to Leo. To which my husband said (gently) "I don't know why you're talking to him -- he's not there. He was hovering over you when you threw out the piller." Which I thought was just the sweetest thing to say -- because I had thrown it out in Leo's name, and I hope he knew somehow that I hated harassing him with that thing so many times a day.

Anyway, somehow my husband and I managed to go out and shop and have a perfectly pleasant time.

I hope this doesn't sound callous. In fact, my reality was anything other than normal, what with functioning on one hour of sleep and not a bite of food thus far. (We did pick up a couple of grande frappuccinos, does that count as food?)

But I was happy to have my husband/best friend with me to support me (he was just wonderful throughout the weekend) and I had such a sense of everything being right now.

Errands completed, I had one more thing I wanted to do for Leo. To write a note to be buried with him along with some photos (the ones I posted the day he died on this blog)...just in case his body was ever unearthed. Just another way to ease my mind, and to mark his significance in my life.

And I placed these photos and this note in multiple plastic baggies, with some vague hope that this would protect the contents from the elements. Maybe not the most practical idea, but at least I tried.

And then it was time to take Leo home. Carefully, he was put back into our vehicle and somehow the mood during the hour-plus ride to my parents' house wasn't oppressive or gloomy. I suppose we were both trying to forget what was going on, as we listened to and discussed the music playing.

As we got closer and closer it all felt more and more right.

And then...a spot was chosen on a woody hill. The sun shone through the trees as my husband dug, with Leo in his carrier nearby.

And I was happy. Happy? An irrepressible happiness I can't explain, except to hope that it was Leo's spirit joining with mine. If there were tears, they felt more like tears of joy than sadness.

I gave the girls the option to be present during the burial. The 10-year-old did not want to, but the seven-year-old was extremely curious and wanted to see Leo.

When the hole was dug, I brought her out. "He looks just like he did before, like he's sleeping," I said. She looked into the carrier, said something nonchalantly like, "Oh, okay" and then went happily bouncing down the hill leaving an "I'm going back to watch TV..." trailing behind her.

Morbid or not, I did take some photos. I present them here, in an effort to show the beauty of the day, of the moment.

The hill, as my husband digs

The view

Leo's body, waiting

My husband and I were alone as I placed Leo into the ground. When I lifted Leo out of the carrier, using the towel underneath him as a sling, it was obvious that rigor mortis had set in over the course of the 8 hours or so since our vet visit that morning. Forgive me for noting this morbid detail, but it only served to reinforce the notion that this was no longer our Leo, just the vessel that used to hold him.

Still, once in the hole, I couldn't stop from lifting the top towel over his head to cover his face, and pull it down to cover a bit of bushy tail that had snuck out of the bottom. I didn't want the dirt to touch his fur.

And then I placed my plastic package on top of the towel. The note inside read:



MAY 1993 – OCTOBER 8, 2006

If one should ever uncover these remains in the future, I would like to tell you a bit about the cat that once occupied this body.

Leo was born on my grandparents’ property next door to this property. A stray cat gave birth there, and luck (or fate) brought Leo into my life.

He was adopted as a tiny six-week kitten and spent the first 2 years of his life in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, with humans Cindy & Denise *.

In 1995, Leo moved to Southern New Jersey, and lived out the rest of his thirteen years with Cindy & Randy *.

He was a most loving and affectionate cat. Intelligent and well-behaved. Vocal in his pleasure and displeasure – the loudest purr and a wide range of “talking” to communicate his needs.

He was extremely personable, enjoying the company and attention of his humans, who adored him beyond the scope of the words that grace this page.

Leo was a most singular and unique spirit, the likes of which I doubt I will meet again in cat form.

He battled an oral tumor for nearly nine months before losing his battle on October 8, 2006.

The property on which he is buried is the property where I grew up – a place he would have loved to explore endlessly (if he had ever been permitted to in life!)

He will be missed most sorely, and never forgotten.

Cindy *

(* surnames were present in the note, but omitted here for privacy's sake.)

My husband filled in the hole, and we pressed the dirt down to protect the body below. I had brought an empty jar of baby food to mark the spot, so I would be able to find it in a future visit, which I filled with dirt and then pressed into the ground, leaving just the lid showing. More logically, my husband picked up a nearby field-stone and set it on its end as a more visible monument.

And then we went inside and had dinner.

It only occurred to me later that the catnip toy I had somewhat impulsively placed with Leo earlier that day was a rainbow. As in the "rainbow bridge." Whether or not I believe in such a thing didn't seem to matter as much as it just seemed another piece of the picture that had glided gently into place.

As I was packing up the car to go home, I walked to the top of the hill and looked towards the stone upright that marked the spot where my Leo rested.

An incredible joy filled my being, and I couldn't help my myself -- I threw my arms out, like a child playing airplane, and ran down the hill gleefully with a huge smile on my face. Unseen by any other being, except perhaps the spirit of a fuzzy orange cat.

Wanted to just stay there and do it over and over again... just as I could see Leo in my mind's eye, romping through the trees and leaves and bounding down the hill beside me.

But, it was time to be a sensible grown-up. So, I skipped (very maturely) across the driveway back to the house.

It was right. It was good. And Leo will always be there, running free and happy, just as he was meant to be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Final Hours

(Continuing from the last post...)

I finally managed to get to bed at 6 AM Sunday morning. At 7 AM, I was jarred from my sleep by the sickening sound of Leo's body hitting the floor (twice) and his plaintive cries.

I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to find him two rooms away from where I had left him. He was at the top of the basement steps, probably in a last-ditch effort to visit his litter boxes (even though I had brought one upstairs, he was a good kitty that wanted to go in the usual place.)

Didn't mention in the last post that Leo had so little control during the night that he had peed twice in the spots where he had been lying.

If there was any bright side to the heartbreak of the past twelve hours, it was that there was absolutely no doubt that it was "time." I told my husband we had to go now, and he quickly dressed. I apologized for needing him to go with me -- I had taken our other cat to be euthanized by myself, but with Leo (who I was so much closer to) I was really afraid I wouldn't be able to drive through the tears.

Since it was Sunday, our only option was an emergency vet. Luckily, I had found one online that was less than 10 minutes from our house.

That settled, my husband and I had a discussion that I had been dreading. What to do with Leo's body. It's something I had given a lot of thought to.

When Leo's brother Zeke had to be euthanized last year, our vet had simply asked if we wanted a communal cremation or for him to be cremated alone. Since I had no intention of taking ashes (I respect any individual's wishes, but pet cremains don't appeal to me) I opted for the communal cremation.

When I returned home from Zeke's last vet visit, I was extremely disturbed to see the term "bagged pet" used on the forms I had signed for his "disposal." My tortured mind saw this equating him with a bag of trash that would be tossed on a heap of other remains.

Sure, probably not the case. But my imagination haunted me, with the question of whether his body was treated with respect.

And this is what I dreaded most when I had contemplated Leo's demise through the course of his illness.

Sometime in the past months, I had asked my husband about burying Leo in our backyard. He looked at me as if a second head had suddenly sprouted on my shoulder...or, "Who is this woman pretending to be my (practical) wife?"

My husband believes that the body is just a shell, and once life leaves, the body has no significance (except maybe to gross him out.)

Subsequently, I had begun to wonder about burying Leo on my parent's rural property. A number of my childhood pets were buried in the woods there. But that would require driving an hour-and-a-quarter with a dead animal in the back. I couldn't imagine being composed enough myself to drive that journey safely.

But on this Sunday, my husband and I were already going back to my parents' place to pick up our girls. And I had mentioned something to my dad the day before, expecting his resistance. Instead, he said that he thought that it would be a perfect final resting place for Leo.

So, before we left for the emergency vet, my husband and I needed to discuss what we were going to do. He kindly volunteered to do whatever I wanted, even bury Leo in our back yard. What a guy.

But in my previous ruminations, I hadn't been able to think of a decent place in our small suburban yard where I could be assured that Leo's remains would not be disturbed by future landscaping, fence replacement, etc.

And he had been born outside, next door to my parent's house. In effect, Leo would be going home.

We didn't even know if New Jersey allows people to take their deceased pets (after all, my regular vet office didn't even ask me with Zeke.) It was agreed that we wouldn't push the issue, but would take Leo if allowed.

7:50 AM -- Even in his weakened state, Leo wasn't crazy about being put into the carrier. Luckily, we have a large-door-on-top model, so I could place him inside, lying down, with little effort.

He did meow his usual car-ride scared cry when we first set off, and struggled a bit inside the carrier, but soon settled down and was quiet for the ride.

Animal Emergency Service of South Jersey operates out of Mt. Laurel Animal Hospital. The lobby of the building has skylights, and the morning sun shone through into the room when we arrived.

As we stood at the reception desk, it seemed as if a ray of light was shining down right onto Leo's carrier. I felt good about this place.

We were asked if we wanted Leo to see a vet for an exam, or just proceed with the euthanasia. Was there anything to be gained by a vet exam? No. There was no recovery for Leo, and an exam would not likely give us any definitive answers anyway.

Meanwhile, Leo had been crying in the carrier. All I wanted was for his suffering to be over.

And then, we were asked if we wanted to take the body or use their cremation services. So thankful that this was an option that we didn't even have to ask about. Relieved that we didn't have to leave Leo behind.

We were shown to a quiet room. A vet tech took Leo into the back to have a catheter inserted into his leg. My husband and I made casual conversation, sitting on a wooden bench in the room, both trying to stay composed.

I expected Leo to be sedated when he returned.

Instead, he was carried back a few minutes later lying on a thick sheepskin-esque pad, in the same state of consciousness as when he left.

In contrast, when Zeke was euthanized, his vet injected a sedative into the scruff of his neck (with me present) and then let me spend time alone with him, until they took him away for an IV euthanasia. I had opted not to be present for that final step, and the regret had stabbed at me in the days to follow...that I had not been present for Zeke when his spirit left his body.

Leo lay on his side with the IV port taped to his front leg. We pet him and tried to calm him, as he meowed sadly and made occasional futile efforts to get up.

I had to reach into the box of tissues on the counter more than once.

Then the vet entered the room. She introduced herself, but I can no more recall her name than I can remember her face. All I cared about was that she was there to end Leo's pain.

She explained that she was going to inject three syringes into the IV port. The first, a sedative and then a barbituate that would effectively OD Leo and cause his heart to stop. She explained that there could be a loss of bodily fluids, and that the body might twitch or shudder in the process.

The vet asked me to stand where Leo could see me (although I don't think I quite made it into his direct line of sight because the vet was in my way - oh well) and I stroked his head between his ears as the vet began the injections.

"Rest in in peace," she said softly as she inserted the first syringe of medication into the IV. And then, "No more more more pain," as she swiftly emptied the syringes in succession.

Just as quickly as it took me to type the previous paragraph, Leo was gone.

No shuddering, gasping or loss of bodily fluids. More importantly, no more pain.

And then, the most surprising part. Instead of collapsing into a puddle of grief, I was calm.

It was as if a huge crushing boulder had been removed from my heart. Leo's spirit had been set free -- awakened from the nightmare of his suffering.

I placed one of the towels from his carrier next to him, and gently slid his body on top, then wrapped the towel around his body. Carefully, lovingly, I lowered my friend's remains into the carrier. Still on his side, his little head exposed with the rest of his body covered.

We felt no need to remain in this place any longer. We walked outside...where the sun was bright and warm, the air fall-crisp and the morning seemed as beautiful as the night had seemed cruel.

(The end of the journey to follow...)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Leo's Final Days

For the first time in 13 years, I am without a pet.

My darling Leo left his earthly body behind Sunday morning, with the help of a caring vet...his favorite humans at his side.

It only seems right to finish telling his saga. Picking the story up from after my Thursday afternoon post. At that point, I was fairly certain I would be taking Leo to be euthanized the next day.

But then, something surprising happened.


Here's what I wrote in a couple of e-mails to concerned friends:

"What's wrong and what finally prompted him to eat - don't know. I came over with a spoon of ice cream at about 5:30 PM to where he had been laying all afternoon (staring into space) and he licked a little, didn't want more. But then he got up and went into the kitchen and started eating baby food from his dish. Ate just a little, but then came back for more later."

"Leo did eat a little tonight, so I'm hoping to put off any decision until after the weekend.
He still isn't normal, but as long as he is eating something and not meowing or seeming to be in pain, I don't feel bad about waiting at least until after my birthday."

Yes, all this was happening just days before my birthday. Out of 365 days in a year. Bad timing, indeed.

Even after eating nearly a jar of baby food, he went back to lying on my daughter's bathrobe at the bottom of the stairs. (As in photo from Thursday post.) It wasn't one of his usual resting spots, but from there he could monitor the comings and goings of the family.

He wanted to part of the family activity, even as he was feeling lousy.


We woke up to discover Leo had made it upstairs and was waiting for us outside our bedroom door (his usual early morning routine.) Just the fact that he made it up the steps made me optimistic, since he had seemed too wobbly to do so the night before.

He licked at the various flavors of baby food I put out for him, but didn't really get anything into his system. Milk was offered as well. Still, he seemed more normal, and I went about my business that morning with the thought that maybe whatever had been bothering him was passing and by the end of the day he would be back to eating normally.


Leo took a turn for the worse Friday afternoon (of course, our vet office closes early on Fridays.) I really didn't want to have him put to sleep in a strange office...but he didn't look good.

He seemed to want me to be with him - crying when I wasn't in sight, calming down when I came to him.

So, I spent several hours off and on Friday evening lying next to him at the bottom of the stairs. At times I would cradle his head in the palm of my hand, or rub his paw.

Both seemed to help him relax and at times I was sure he was dreaming as I saw his nose and ear twitch, even as one eye was always slightly opened. I was hoping he was thinking about his time in the back yard the day before and dreaming of romping through the grass.

Every once in a while, he would get up and try to walk into the kitchen, but his legs were so wobbly that he stumbled more than walked. So, I would pick him up and bring him into the kitchen to see if he wanted to drink or eat.

I brought a litter box up from the basement, because he was in no state to go up and down the basement stairs. I put him in the box, but he was unable to go.

After each excursion, he would wobble back to lie down at the bottom of the stairs. And I would join him there. All the while wondering if I should be finding an emergency vet to take him to.

Maybe it was a product of hours lying half-asleep on a hardwood floor, but as I stroked his fur, I imagined he was telling me, "I'm okay. I'm not in pain. I want to stay here with you." His breathing was even - not labored or shallow. He just seemed exhausted and weak, but not suffering in any way. I really felt as if he was telling me not to worry and just "be" with him.

But it did seem as if his body was beginning to shut down.

Eventually, Leo did settle down enough that I was able to go to bed. By the time I got to sleep, it was past midnight and thus officially "my birthday." And I just didn't know how I was going to manage to do any sort of celebrating.

We had arranged to take the kids to my parents for the weekend -- something that only happens a couple times a year -- and reservations had been made for a family lunch with my parents.

Not to mention that I owed to my children and husband to put on a happy face for my birthday, since they had spent hours Friday working on birthday cards, banners and wrapping gifts.

My sweet, well-meaning oldest daughter kept saying to me Friday evening, "I hope Leo makes it past your birthday...I hope Leo doesn't go on your birthday..." this during my moments away from Leo, when I was doing laundry and bathing her, until I finally had to tell her to please stop reminding me about that possibility. Then I realized she was just trying to work through her own feelings about Leo's imminent death and that she was worried about me.

She had discovered me crying quietly as I lay with Leo on the floor earlier that evening, and had tried to cheer me up with funny faces. My kids don't normally see me cry... and she is a very sensitive soul.

So many emotions took their turns with me as I curled up facing Leo that night. Sadness turned to wistfulness turned to peace as we both catnapped together, just as we had so many years ago when he was the tiny kitten who stole my heart.


Sometime during the night, Leo had left his "sickbed" and my husband found him Saturday morning perched on the back of the couch, one of his normal night-time spots. This was a good sign, and basically all I needed to give him another chance at recovery. And maybe salvage my birthday.

Plus, he had used the litter box overnight.

Call me the eternal optimist, but Leo had knocked on death's door before and then come back as if nothing had happened. Maybe this was another one of those times.

So, I opened gifts from the girls and then we went off on our journey out-of-state to deposit the children with my parents. Somehow I got though the family lunch without feeling too anxious about the cat left behind.


Husband and I returned home Saturday evening, and as soon as we opened the door we heard Leo calling out to us with a thin meow. He was under the dining room loveseat -- another normal spot, but one usually reserved for times he wanted to be left alone.

I pulled him out from under the loveseat, and it was painfully obvious that he was in terrible shape. That it was only a matter of time.

My next twelve hours would be spent by his side. (So much for a romantic birthday evening without the kids.)

There was a short time when he calmed down and slept about 11 PM -- long enough for my husband to give me his gifts...but the mood was definitely less than optimal. Around midnight, it seemed as if I might be able to get to bed.

But pretty much as soon as my head touched the pillow, I heard Leo calling out. I left my husband sleeping, and went downstairs.

The hours that followed can only be called "tragic." Over and over, Leo would lie nearly motionless as I tried to comfort him and then would startle and struggle to get up, only to collapse onto his side a few inches away from where he started.

I gave him his pain med, hoping it would help him as it had the night before.

When he seemed to go to sleep around 2 AM, I tried to go back to bed, only to hear him calling out to me again before I could even lie down.

Through the earliest morning hours, he seemed only to want me near him. A few times, he let me hold him and settled down in my arms. And I heard the faintest whisper of a purr.

About 4 AM, I tried to help him drink water, holding him up by his dish... since it seemed he had been trying to get into the kitchen. But he struggled away from my grasp and collapsed on the floor.

As he lay on his side there, I took his med eyedropper and dripped water into his mouth.

Then I put a bit of baby food on the dropper and he lapped it down. Perhaps reflexively, but I got at least a little food into him mouth. I repeated the process over and over, hoping that it would give him enough strength to at least allow him to stand without falling.

Instead, I think it gave him just enough energy to be really pissed at me for forcing the food into him. From then on, he became more agitated.

Each time he tried to walk and failed, he would meow in the saddest way possible. Not an "in pain" meow, but more like the meow he would use on the way to the vet. Frightened.

When he fell over, I would pick him up, and I felt his heart racing. It was at these times that he let me hold him for a few moments and he calmed down in my arms. But little time would pass before he was twisting to get down.

He wanted me near him, but petting and rubbing him wasn't comforting him anymore.

He struggled to bring himself the bottom of the stairs, so I carried him up. I think his intention was to get into my bedroom, but I didn't want to disturb my husband.

In the upstairs hall, I saw Leo become even more frustrated as he tried to go into the upstairs bath, only to slide down onto his side on the floor.

Even as he was too weak to stand, Leo never stopped trying. He was so determined and relentless. It was heartbreaking. It was horrifying.

And it was my fault.

The tears came relentlessly, as guilt overwhelmed me. Why didn't I end this yesterday? "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I told Leo.

Later, after I had carried him back downstairs, he managed to struggle upright, wobbled and bounced off the walls, fell down and got up - several times in a row -- all to make his way from the front hallway to underneath our grand piano in the next room.

I was ready to give him time alone (since it seemed he had purposely deposited himself in a remote corner) but when I got left the room he started crying out.

The crying stopped when I rejoined him. But when I went under the piano to pet him, he got up again...stumbled into the dining room and went back to another of his "spots" next to the loveseat.

I think it was about 4:30 or 5 AM at this point. I started surfing the net (on my laptop in the same room as Leo) looking for an emergency vet that we could bring him to first thing in the morning.

And then I heard Leo throwing up. His body was rejecting the little bit of food I had managed to get into him.

There was absolutely no doubt that this had to end. Soon.

I contemplated waking my husband up and going then and there, but we had a long drive back to PA later that day, and he needed at least a modest amount of sleep for safety's sake.

At 6 AM, Leo had fallen asleep (or was too weak to move) on the dining room floor. He seemed peaceful enough that I felt okay with trying to sneak in a little sleep.

After all, I had been up all night and I had a daunting day ahead.

(Due to the extreme length of this post, I'll finish this later...things can only get better from here folks...)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

May 6, 1993 - October 8, 2006

LEO "Fluffmeister Von Kittycat"


Friday, October 06, 2006

Just A Glimmer Of get through the weekend.

Picked up the eyeshadow in the supermarket last night. Drawn by the colors, and then I saw the word. Hope. Is there? Dare I?

Leo has a will that is stronger than his body should allow, and a spirit that will endure even after his body ceases to be.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Darkness and Light

Our fearless hero is not looking good today, folks.

He basically hasn't eaten since Tuesday -- nearly two days without substantial food. And he looks weak and sad and all the things one looks for when one is answering the questions about quality of life.

This morning I tried a/d food (which he hasn't had in a few weeks.) He was very excited as I opened the can, and prepared it for him...but then just licked a little and turned away. Same story for every thing else I've tried -- baby food, pureed Fancy Feast.

Reminds me very much of the situation when his brother Zeke had kidney failure last year. With Zeke, we didn't realize how dire it was -- I made a vet appointment to have him checked, and by the morning of the appointment, Zeke was so weak that he had lost control of his bladder and couldn't stand.

I don't want Leo to get to that point.

I had promised myself that, if the end seemed near, I would take Leo out to the back yard -- a place he's desperately wanted to explore these 11 years we've been in this house -- but he hasn't been allowed outside for 13 years -- since the day I took him home from outside my grandparent's house, where his mom had shown up one day (from who knows where) to give birth.

So, I carried him out this morning...walked barefoot in the dewy grass and placed Leo down. He was not frightened, as I thought he might be. He did not freeze (as he had the couple times he had managed to sneak out the back door onto the back steps during his lifetime.

Instead, he strolled around, smelling the trees and plants and walking the periphery of the fence. Occasionally, he would brush past me in that way that cats do to say hello.

I wondered, is this like a dream to him? To finally walk the ground that he had stared out at for so many years. To sniff up close the grass that he had only caught a whiff of on the breeze for oh, too, long.

Amazingly, even as he wobbled a bit, he never stopped exploring.

But he nearly fell as he jumped up on a side table, and he looked unsteady as he debated on how to get down.

So, I scooped him up and brought him back into the house. He purred loudly when back on the familiar carpet, but only moments later he walked to the screen door and let out one loud obvious wish to be able to roam freely again.

Since then, he's basically just been lying around, not making a sound. Occasionally venturing into the kitchen to sniff at the food I've left out (and I try to offer him anything I can think of to tempt him, to no avail.)

I did force feed him a little it before I began to write this -- pushing a baby spoon of baby food into his mouth and trying to get him to swallow. In the past, sometimes just tasting the food in his mouth would be enough to get him started eating.

But this time, he began to growl as I insisted in pushing another spoonful into his mouth. And so I let him go - literally. In the figurative sense, perhaps soon...

He doesn't seem to be in pain -- just weak and wobbly. I've been holding him off and on through the day -- sometimes he purrs loudly and other times he's just been staring, staring into my eyes.

The blank look I remember Zeke had in his final days.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

36 1/3 Weeks Post Diagnosis -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

(I had completed one of my typically wordy posts and was ready to upload photos when blogger crashed -- not that unusual -- but this time somehow I even lost my saved "draft" version. So, here is a less-well-written version, because I just don't have another hour to spend being eloquent.)


Leo ate tons last week - like 30 jars of baby food. I'm happy to see him start to fill out again. But it's expensive!

Friday, I dragged out a non-used mini Cuisinart and got Fancy Feast into the same consistency as the baby food -- and Leo loved it! We'll save money - Yay!

Out buying more Fancy Feast Saturday -- when we returned, I reached down to pet Leo -- his fur was ... Soft? Silky? It could only mean that somehow he was able to clean himself properly - which he hasn't done in months and months.

Happy kitty with clean fur -- and his Fancy Feast mush.

It was so wonderful to hold Leo and feel that soft, silky fur that I had loved for so long. Suddenly, all the crap he has been going through seemed worthwhile.

I really felt that things had made a major turn for the better, even as part of me wondered if this was just some sort of "last gift" of a short-lived nature.


Seems it was short-lived. Monday morning he wasn't too interested in food - just ate one dish, not the 3 dishes or so he had been tearing through at a sitting recently.

Gave him an extra midday 1/2 dose of pain med, which only seemed to make him more weird.

Meowing a lot (a "I want something" meow, not a "pain" meow. The same meow he uses when hungry, but he didn't want what I was offering.)

Did eat an entire jar of baby food Monday night, even though he seemed a bit shaky before doing so. I think he also finished up a Fancy Feast dish I had left out from earlier in the day. (Or maybe just finished an earlier baby food...can't remember...)

Before feeding, I looked down and was freaked by his eyes -- they seemed different in some way, but could be my vision (not the best closeup vision these days...)

He needed me to wipe food from his face again -- his miraculous cleaning abilities appear to have vanished with the weekend. But he's barely drooling at all nowadays.

Tuesday: Leo wanted to look out the window as the kids got on the bus (as usual) and I was holding him. I felt something crunchy under the skin of one of his back thighs. Can't explain better than "crunchy" -- except when he was put under anesthesia for his dental (when tumor was found) I felt that same crunchiness under his shoulder skin afterwards. He didn't like me rubbing there and jumped out of my arms. (I wouldn't attribute anything unusual to that necessarily -- he has never really liked his back legs/feet touched.)

Tuesday was his pred day -- wondering if that would perk him up. Didn't. Seemed even more uneasy afterwards. Hard to explain - he didn't seem to be in pain, but I wasn't seeing the happiness I had just two days ago. Not purring as much as usual when petted.

He meows for attention pretty much all day long, but I'm not sure why. Hungry? Ate some baby food, but not all of it in the morning. Ate an entire jar Tuesday night, but he had been eating 4 jars a day last week

Wednesday (today): has barely eaten. First offered Fancy Feast salmon (the flavor he had gone nuts for on Friday) -- didn't try it. Then offered baby food, but he licked a little and turned away.

This morning -- after rejecting food. Leo doesn't usually lie in the kitchen and this body position seemed a signal that something was wrong -- looked weak. But a few minutes later, he was walking around again and I took the photo below...

Last minute babysitting of my 5-year-old nephew sends Leo off into a self-imposed exile. He comes downstairs when nephew and I are eating tuna sandwiches. After we're done eating, I put a little mayo tuna mixture on my finger -- Leo licks it off quickly, happily. But doesn't want any more after the first tongue-full.


Don't know why -- but his eyes are not open to the same size. Not sure if the tumor side eye is smaller (due to tumor somehow pushing up fur) or if the lower eyelid on the other side got pulled down somehow (by my wiping or Leo's cleaning.) There seems to be more black showing along the lower eyelid on the larger eye.

Not really "UGLY" in comparison to his previous drool photos, but the asymmetry of his eyes gives me pause.

Whatever is happening with my little birthday is just a few days away, and the best gift I could receive is to not have anything tragic for Leo be tied to that date for eternity.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mixed Blessings

Leo's tumor has definitely gotten bigger over the past couple weeks...although it seems wrong to call it a tumor, since it's grown off into two separate areas -- the left side of lower jaw big round protrusion and the inside the mouth extravaganza (which seems to be at least two smaller lumps.)

The growth inside his mouth (popping up on the left side) had been pushing the tongue off to the side. In my last post I mentioned that Leo's tongue wasn't hanging out the side that day...

...and it hasn't hung out the side since.

Looks like the tumor must have grown, so now that it's not only next to his tongue, but also under his tongue.

Although that sounds bad, in fact, it has been very good. It's made his tongue move back more into its normal place.

Sleepy kitty! This photo shows how his tongue is back where it belongs. The arrow is pointing to where the tumor has also grown out on the side of his mouth.

When his tongue stuck out the side and he had to lap food up in a convoluted way from that side of his mouth. Now, he's back to lapping up in the front like a normal kitty.

Consequently, he's eating way faster -- and more! Maybe because it's easier now, he's just wanting to eat all day long.

Since the tongue moved back, I've been able to crush up pain med into mayo (yes, cats like mayonnaise) and let him lick it off my fingers. When I tried that with the side-tongue, I ended up having to just stick the mayo-mixture into his mouth and most of it ended up on his chin.

However, most of the time I'm still just pilling him the usual way, just to make sure it's all getting into his system.

On the negative side, his mouth was bloody this morning -- dark blood, so it was from overnight. He's hardly bled at all in the last few weeks since being put on the pain medication, so that was a surprise. However, it didn't bleed any more when I pilled him this morning or get any worse when he ate.

Also, yesterday I started back on the half-dose of antibiotic twice-a-day regime. Being a wily cat, Leo was managing to spit out quite a bit of the Clindamycin when given the full dropper's worth. This with me holding his head up, rubbing his throat and just waiting...waiting...until it seemed he must have swallowed the liquid. But he'd just be there biding his time with it pooled in the back of his throat and as soon as I'd let him go he'd shake the liquid of out his mouth.

So, at least with the half-dropper I can drip it in slower and he is getting most of it into his system.

Anyway, it's really all pretty good here, at least in comparison to a month ago. So much less slime drool! If I hadn't gotten Leo on the torbutrol (pain med) I don't think he'd be here today.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Eight Month Mark

Yesterday marked eight months since the tumor was found on Leo's lower jaw.

This will be a short post, but I wanted to update on his medications and his condition.

The puffiness under his chin I wrote about earlier (a week and a half ago?) went away by itself (with the help of his regular ongoing antibiotic.) And he has been eating well (mostly just meat varieties of baby food.) In fact, some days he's in and out of the kitchen all day lapping at food.

He's probably eating about 4 jars of baby food a day. I try and get him to eat a little a/d food to get cat-centric nutrition, but at this point, I'm just happy he can eat anything.

About 10 days ago I started making the intervals between his prednisolone doses longer. This was not under his vet's directive, but my own decision...and a few days ago I changed the dosing on his antibiotic as well.

Regarding the pred -- it's now just 5 mg every other day. He has seemed much less jumpy on this regime. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the tumor grew larger on the side of his mouth. And today, his tongue started hanging down in front (as opposed to its previous sassy hanging-out-the-side position.) I don't know if this is a new trend or just tongue position du jour.

He's got some bald spots on the right side of his face (non-tumor side) and underneath where the puffy spot was. The underneath part he scratched off himself(maybe it itched as the presumed infection healed) and the side bald part are mostly where I had to cut mats off his neck.

Anyway, it makes him look even more off-kilter, but he doesn't mind. He even likes me to rub where there is just bare skin. Actually, he's got a peach fuzz growing back in most of the spots.

Look at Leo's face (left side in photo) and you may notice his lack of fur on one side of jawline/neck.

Leo still looks pretty good from the back -- he even has a bit of a milk-mustache (beard?) going on here.

Regarding the antibiotic dosing: all along, the Clindamycin drops bottle states cat dosage as being once every 24 hours. For whatever reason, my vet had me giving Leo a half dosage twice a day. Maybe it is supposed to be easier on his system this way. I just started doing once per day about four or five days ago. It seems to be doing just fine in controlling any potential infection.

The rationale behind all this is multi-faceted, but I'll try and explain it in a way that doesn't make me seem irresponsible! Having to squirt/pill Leo five times a day was much stressful on both of us. So much so that I decided to eliminate as much as possible. With the new regime, we're down three meds one day and four the next.

The prednisone is meant to 1) control tumor growth and 2) provide pain relief. Since the pain medication (torbutrol) does a better job than the pred, pain relief wasn't effected by reducing his pred...and as far as #2 -- at this point, well, the tumor's been growing all along. And maybe faster is better than slower after eight months of this ordeal.

The benefits of reducing dosage: long-term steroid use isn't the best thing for any animal. All along it's been making him jumpy and he seems much happier in the last couple weeks and very affectionate.

And another side effect of pred is that it lowers the body's resistance to infection. So I am hoping that by reducing the pred I am reducing chances of infection in his mouth.

I was thinking of trying to get him off pred altogether, but the every other day seems to be working alright for us now, so I'm going to stick with that for a while. much for a short post!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Look Ma - No Drool!

Just a couple of photos taken today - hopefully, they show how Leo is looking much better since his pain medication (Torbutrol) has reduced his drooling and improved his eating.

It's all relative, but he looks pretty good to me. Not like his pre-tumor glamour days, but definitely an improvement from the Slime Machine of a month or so ago.

Leo's happy-cat-having-face-rubbed pose.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mea Culpa for the Cranky

Sorry if I was a bit cranky in my last post.

My kids are in the only school district in the nation - nay, the entire universe - that hasn't started the school year yet. And the parts for my non-functional washing machine have been "in the process of shipping" for two weeks now.


Yesterday I realized the Leo was really looking better. More like himself than he has in at least a month.

(This would be a good place for a photo, but I haven't gotten anything uploaded recently. Maybe tomorrow.)

Looking better aside, his sticky drool still has him smelling like a dank, damp, used handkerchief (if any of you reading this are old enough to remember when people used handkerchiefs instead of tissues and how bad they smelled.) His nickname's now "Mr. Stinky," although I mean it in the most affectionate way.

Smelly or not, Leo's been wolfing down meat varieties of baby food like...well...a really, really hungry baby that looks like a cat with a jaw tumor.

I've been offering a bit of the Hills a/d food watered down too - trying to get at least a little of the cat-specific nutrients into him every day.

So he's put on enough weight that he's more than just fur and bones.

And I can just plop the food in a bowl and he can eat without any assistance from me whatsoever and very little mess. So much easier than the Fancy Feast assisted-feeding routine that used to take hours every day.

And after two weeks since the addition of the pain med, he's getting used to the five times a day I have to insert stuff into his mouth -- he's been much less scared of me as far as the pilling (Pred and Torbutrol) and liquid meds (Clindamycin) are concerned. He knows he will get some sort of food afterwards, so that is his motivation for not fighting me as much.

Not that he still doesn't try and hide pills in his mouth and spit them out when he thinks I'm not looking...!

I also decided to wean him off his prednisone - down to 5 mg every other day. Started yesterday, and so far so good.

Whether the pred has been controlling the tumor growth in the past 7+ months - who knows? But I do know it's been making him a bit jumpy all along, and at this point I'm more interested in seeing if reducing the steroid in his system will make his last days/weeks/months? more comfortable.

We've had a good couple days anyway. Although most of the time I've got the Lisa Kudrow/Friends song "Smelly Cat" going through my head. Continuously.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

33 1/3 Weeks Past Diagnosis

Over the weekend, I noticed a soft spot under Leo's chin. About the size of a marble.

It seems a pretty obvious sign of infection, as his tumor is very hard. He'll let me press on the soft spot, but not for long. I'm pretty sure there was already a growth there, so it's probably just puffiness on top of part of the tumor.

Anyway...he's already on antibiotics and pain med, so I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. And the soft area hasn't progressed in size and Leo's been acting like nothing's wrong (well, other than the ongoing so-very-much-is-wrong stuff, like having a giant lump inside his mouth...)

Lately, I've felt more than a bit defensive about some well-meaning input I've gotten from some certainly caring individuals who have given me advice. This advice has ranged from "let him go" to suggestions of alternative treatments that might cure him.

I find myself pretty skeptical regarding alternatives remedies...since all the stories ultimately end the same sad way. I don't need to stretch this process any longer than the 7 1/2 months it's already been stretched. And my wallet cannot afford a wild goose chase for a cure.

As far as it being the time to let him go...believe me, there is nothing that would make me keep Leo alive a second longer if I thought he was suffering significantly. And I'd like to stress that I am not carrying this on for my benefit...because although Leo is still a purring machine, I'm not getting much out of the relationship at this point.

If anything, caring for him is so hard for me mentally, so time-consuming -- trying to keep him (and the house) relatively clean and dealing with his odor...

But I feel like I owe him for 12+ pre-tumor years of maintenance-free love he gave me.

At this point, the only motivation I have is to not rob him of life when he is still energetic, eating, and purring.

That said, I have decided to not take any extra measures to drag this on. If this soft lump under his chin progresses into something more...well...the white flag will be thrown.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

32 1/3 Weeks Post-Diagnosis

When I start using fractions in my post title, it's a sure sign I'm going nuts.

But in a good way now, I guess.

As I type this sitting on our family room couch, Leo is laying along the top of the cushion behind me. Just like the good old days.

Since my last post, the pain medication didn't seem to be doing the trick as well.

On Saturday, he went most of the morning without eating. It may just be that he's tired of the a/d food, but he didn't want any Fancy Feast either. But then he ate great that it was off and on...

His body language told me he wasn't always feeling as good as he had been when he first started the Torbutrol. Again, it was intermittent -- so a call to the vet could wait until the end of the holiday weekend.

Yesterday, the vet upped the dosage to 2.5 mg twice a day (up from 1 mg.) I halve a 5 mg pill, so it's only 1 pill per day, which saves some money too. This Torbutrol is much more expensive than Leo's prednisolone, which is only about $8 for an entire month. I don't have the receipt in front of me, but think it was about $20 for the 10 Torbutrol pills they gave me yesterday.

Anyway, back to Leo. I thought maybe when I upped the pain med today he would go back to eating ravenously again. Nah. He only wants to lick up watered down food.

I decided to step back regarding feeding...I will provide food for him 24/7, but I'm not going to force-feed him. And when he doesn't want to eat anymore, that will be the sign it's time to let go.

The good news is that the pain medication has significantly reduced the slimey drool. My guess is that some of the drool was due to irritation.

This is a huge plus -- I no longer need to hover over him as he eats to pull off strings of drool sliming out of his mouth.

Don't want to make it sound too sunny. Leo still pretty much always has a gooey chin, but the long drool strings dripping down aren't a constant anymore, and that is a major positive.

And because he's only lapping up food, he doesn't do that hitting himself in the face while he's eating anymore.

And his mouth has barely been bleeding lately. And the jaw/mouth tumor hasn't grown noticeably recently.

On the downside:

I probably spent about an hour today cutting mats out of his mane (is "ruff" the technical term?) Leo kinda liked it (when a mat was released, he purred happily), kinda tolerated it (knowing it would eventually make him feel better), and definitely was looking for an escape route as it dragged on and on.

So there's still a giant lump of knotted fur between his front legs. I really want to get it out, because the mats end up pulling so hard on his skin that he's got a few bald spots.

In addition to my annoying grooming, being medicated 5 times a day has made Leo run away when he sees me coming. Growling is commonplace as I pill him.

I'll admit to shedding a few tears over this. The cruel twist is that I'm working so hard to prolong his life only to have my efforts make him hate me.

In reality, it hasn't come to that.

Still, if he didn't seem to forgive me...didn't still flop down at my feet to be petted...well, I wouldn't be able to stand the pilling and the drops.

I do feel Leo's a little confused as to why his (formerly) nice human is annoying him so much. But I always follow up the nastiness with food or milk.

Which is probably why he's currently lying behind me, with his fluffy tail draped across my shoulder, purring loudly. (A combination that I believe is Cat for, "Feed me, please.")

Friday, September 01, 2006


I'm pleased to have some positive news -- Leo has been eating close to a normal amount the last couple days and actually doesn't feel skeletal at this point. Boney, yes. Skeletal, no.

He's been eating only Hills Prescription a/d food. Amazingly, he's not tired of it yet. I tried Fancy Feast yesterday, but he only gave it a half-hearted try.

The pain medication (Torbutrol) that he started Wednesday seems to get him a little high -- even at the low dosage of 1 mg twice a day. It's prompted him to push his nose into the food while eating, and kinda rest his face in the food from time to time....and he has seemed just the tiniest bit wobbly on his feet (a bit of sashaying while he walks) when the med first takes effect.

But he's jumping on and off things and going up and down stairs without any problems, so he's not too whacked.

Although he still doesn't seem to be sleeping his normal amount, he has returned to spending time alertly looking out the window. He hadn't done that for weeks -- which I didn't really notice until he went back to it again.

Anyway, for informational and amusement purposes (okay, just the first one is mildly amusing) here are some recent photos. Skip the last three if you're not interested in the inside of a cancer cat's mouth.


We've got one nice piece of seating in the house. True, it's a hand-me-down, but a gently-used hand-me-down. Leo showed no interest in it since its arrival about 9 months ago, so the seating surface was unprotected.

THEN, about a week ago, I found drool evidence on both the seat and the throw pillows that suddenly he was liking the loveseat.

So, I covered it in junk (theoretically temporarily) to break him of the habit...evidently, even newspaper couldn't discourage our determined friend.


From this angle, he looks just like his old self...


This photo is included to show how Leo's tongue is pushed up and over on his right (your left) side of mouth by the tumor.




I've included these simply because I've found very little in the way of pictures when searching for info on feline oral or jaw tumors.

Since I haven't had Leo biopsied, I suppose these are not as helpful as they would be if I knew if he had Osteosarcoma, Fibrosarcoma (vet thought it was one or the other) or whatever...

The only oral tumor that we can pretty much rule out is SCC (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) because everything I've read on that indicates that Leo would have been a goner by now. He's survived seven-plus months with this thing, and SCC seems to claim its victims in two to three months.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Turning Kitty into a Junkie

I just picked up a pain medication for Leo from the vet office. Torbutrol - 1 mg pills.

Can't believe they charged me $18.76 for a week's supply. Upon this realization, I said to the desk-person (in my nicest, most non-confrontational voice) "Wow - that's a lot for only a week's worth. I can't believe I'm going to have to come back here once a week..."

Plus, I had to ask her a ton of questions (which she really didn't have the answer for) because no one had discussed this med with me. I had just gotten a call yesterday at dinnertime saying there was pain med ready for me to pick up.

Suppose I should backtrack to make this make sense:

I had called the vet office yesterday to get Leo's other RXs refilled. I had asked about something to help his mouth pain while eating, but when I came in to pick up the med my request was misunderstood to mean, "What's best to feed him?" To which the answer was "Soft foods." Duh.

So, I told the woman at the desk yesterday that I was asking about pain med and that Leo "didn't have much longer." (In the hopes that sounding ominous would get some action.)

Sooooo....maybe that's why they only gave me a week's worth?

I also picked up some more a/d (high calorie) pet food from the vet. Leo actually ate a decent amount of it (nearly an entire 5.5 oz can) yesterday. It's more finely ground and seems to go down easier. He has these phases of liking and not liking stuff, and in July when I gave him the a/d he vomited. So, I hadn't tried it since then.

He seemed to be a little more like normal last night, hanging out on the back of the couch as I watched a DVD with the kids.

Anyway, back to present tense. It's been about 30 minutes since I forced the little Torbutrol pain pill down Leo's throat. He's sitting near me on the floor. Not sleeping, but looking moderately relaxed.

I'm less than thrilled with my vet office. If only that the process of asking questions via the front desk seems to lose so much in the translation. It would be SO much easier if a vet would have actually phoned me to discuss meds. There are a number of viable pain control options, and I really don't know why this one was chosen. And the kind woman at the desk didn't have much info to impart.

Yes, I suppose a more assertive person would have already insisted to speak personally to a vet.

But I guess I'm overwhelmed -- not only by Leo's care but also day-to-day life. Like, my daughter's upcoming birthday and two parties to organize as a result. The washing machine is broken. School is starting almost two weeks later than usual (September 19th!) and as much as I love my children -- and they are wonderful beings -- we all need a break from 24/7 of each other.

Just went over to pet Leo. He doesn't seem the least bit drugged up (considering he got the smallest dose possible, I 'm not too surprised.) Followed me into the kitchen and he's currently eating his leftover breakfast food.

Wow -- good sign!

Okay, must go and start thinking about lunch for the humans in residence.

Monday, August 28, 2006

31 Weeks Post-diagnosis

In the past week, I've found myself pondering the definition of "suffering."

As in, how much does Leo need to suffer before it is cruel for me to let this continue?

And I am ANGRY -- my sweet, loving, well-behaved and spectacular cat did nothing to deserve this fate. He was never less than the coolest cat I'd ever known.

I pretty much lost it the other weekend. The stress of the time-consuming caring for Leo coupled with seven months of constant worry about his condition made me snap. Emotions were unleashed with a fury. I suppose I felt better afterwards, in a cathartic kind of way (although I can't say the same for the other members of my family.)

But the question remains -- am I am doing all this for Leo, or to save myself the guilt of an euthanasia decision?

During the past week or so, he has been acting as if he is not getting enough food into his system to satisfy his hunger. Even though there is always something out for him to eat. (I've thrown enough uneaten cat food down the drain in the past couple months to feed a small nation of felines.)

Instead of disappearing after his breakfast (an ordeal that takes up the good part of an hour) Leo has been hanging in the kitchen all morning (and sometimes into the afternoon) with that "feed me" look.

When he does wander off and lie down somewhere, I find him with eyes half-open...and he jumps up as soon as he sees me.

The problem is that he's not actually ingesting a significant quantity when he does eat - food falls out of his mouth without being swallowed during his pawing-at-his-face routine.

Although he starts out enthusiastically, he usually gives up after eating 1/4 to 1/2 of a tiny 3-oz can.

He has a hard time lapping up things too, so that doesn't make liquid nutrition much better of an option (although I did water down some Iams this afternoon, and that kept him off my back for at least an hour.)

He's drinking a ton of water during mealtime (I think he's using it to rinse out the food off his tumor area.)

On the positive side, he seems bright eyed and (literally) bushy tailed. He doesn't appear weakened and his only meowing is when I'm taking the milk out of the frig or feeding the kids something he'd like a bit of.

I take that back -- he just came into the room and announced himself with a low "I'm here so why aren't you attending to my needs?" mew.

My guess is that the tumor inside his mouth has grown (in the back where I can't see it) and in addition to the food irritating the tumor surface, it's making it harder for the food to actually get down his throat. Whether he'll figure out a way around this eventually (as he seems to have done in June) ...well...I'll just have to wait and see.

Or -- is all this just that I've been giving him milk off and on and he's hanging around trying to score some more?

His mouth also started bleeding a lot (drips of fresh blood) last night and this morning. And then it stopped just as suddenly. Leo's not expressing any pain through his facial expressions or body language when this is happening. (Mostly he's just expressing hunger.)

I wonder if it is cruel for me to allow him to be constantly hungry?

Is his hunger a suffering that warrants euthanasia?

But then I pick him up and he purrs loudly and rubs his face on my hands for me to scratch him in all the right spots.

He doesn't look like he's ready to give up. He seems energetic and he prances alongside me (and underfoot) as I walk around. He lies down and looks at me with the "Pet me" look (distinctly different from the "Feed Me!" look, btw.)

He's ragged, smelly, and skeleton-skinny. But his spirit rages on. What a guy.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cleanliness Is Next to Fluffiness

Post-bathing photos from Tuesday - AKA The Return of the Fluffy Tail.

Tail's still a bit damp, but definitely plume-ish.

His nose is wet, but otherwise Leo's looking pretty good.

A little later -- his face is dry, but the drool is back.

This is Leo's "Quit the pictures and give me milk already!" look.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Seven-Month Mark

Today is seven months since Leo's jaw tumor was discovered.

Since my last post, we've been having some eating issues, but I'm not sure if it's because his tumor got a little bigger or that I made the mistake of giving him milk one day and that's all he wants now.

He's been eating less of his food each meal - maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of the little Fancy Feast can. Plus he still has this finicky thing where I can't feed him the same flavor two meals in a row. And he currently hates his old favorite, Salmon.

But the good news: Leo is now tolerating having his face and front legs washed. I gave him milk one day after doing so, and now he is sitting through it without fighting because he wants the treat.

This is somewhat major, at least aesthetically, as it means I can actually pet him without feeling stiff, sticky fur where fluffy used to be.

He's been letting me wipe off his face after every meal (that I don't reward, and he actually purrs during this) and I washed his front legs three days in a row. His little heart is no longer racing when his leg (I do one at a time) is in the water. I also did his tail two days in a row and it was back to its full plume glory (albeit with a little bit of stuck-together on the ends.)

The legs and tail-washing do earn him a little saucer of milk. So far he hasn't had any lactose intolerance issues to make this a problem. I don't think he can actually get all that much into him anyway, since his tongue sticks out the side his lapping is hampered. (But he doesn't seem to mind.)

For anyone considering washing their unhappy-with-water cats -- here's my patented method. For the face I use a paper towel (Bounty, if that matters!) warm water and just a drop of liquid soap. Squeeze out all water until it's just damp. I can't think of a great way to describe this, but I fold the p.t. into my hand so it's not like a giant wet thing is coming out him. Just enough to go underneath a couple fingers...which I then stoke across his face. I start at his whiskers and wipe in the direction away from his nose. Then I rinse off the paper towel, or get a fresh one that I use just water on.

I used to avoid his whiskers, until I wondered if the reason he was being finicky was that there was old dried food in his whiskers. Once I tried wiping there, I found he actually liked it.

Needless to say, you want to stay away from the eyes..

For his legs, I fill up a plastic container (large takeout Chinese soup size) with warm water and dish detergent. Stick one leg in at a time and use my hand to wash up and down his leg and between his toes.

Yes, it's all a giant pain in the butt. But better than seeing kitty covered in goo and fossilizing cat food.

Leo would not tolerate any of this in the beginning. It's making me realize you can train a cat.

Still, you can't get near him with a dry tissue or paper towel. He runs in the opposite direction.

He has been behaving very badly as far as jumping on counters to try and get to people food. Probably always did this stuff at night when no one was around, but now he is getting bolder.

I took photos of the mostly-clean Leo to post, but time restrictions deem they will appear here another day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

29 Weeks Post Diagnosis

From the reaction I've gotten off-blog, I pretty much grossed everyone out with the photos in my last post.

Sorry about that.

Here's a nicer photo from this afternoon to make up for the last ones.

There have been questions as to whether he is suffering and the severity of the bleeding.

I don't believe the bleeding causes him any pain. It comes and goes - sometimes mixed in with the drool or a clot comes out of his mouth. Less often, fresh blood drips out of his mouth, but usually only a couple drops at any given time.

I can't tell where the blood is coming from in his mouth. It may be coming up from his jaw through his gum-line.

His antibiotic (Clindamycin) is specifically indicated for treating wounds, abscesses and dental infections - so whatever is bleeding should not get infected.

Honestly, if I thought he had no quality of life, I would have him euthanized. As much as I'm dreading that, and hoping that the decision will be taken out of my hands...I will not let him suffer.

It is said that cats are very good at hiding their pain, so as not to let their weakness show to predators (in our house, that would be the kids.) But I know Leo's body language (and meow language) very well. He would definitely let me know if there was anything significant bothering him.

At this point, it's all about Leo, because, truly, the trial of taking care of him outweighs the joy he still is able to bring to my life.

But he does still bring joy to my life. Even though his new nickname is, "Mr. Stinky."

Last night when I came home from work, Leo did not appear by the door as he usually does. I was a little concerned, but sometimes he's sleeping and he doesn't make it down right away.

A few minutes later he appeared. Instead of coming over to greet me as usual, he headed in the other direction.

I assumed he wanted me to follow, as he usually does this when he's trying to lead me somewhere. But instead, he just walked a circle through the downstairs rooms. It was glaringly apparent that he was trying to get away from me (albeit with a casual air, in order to maintain his feline "cool.")

This was a first. But who can blame him? Especially when my next order of business was putting a big plastic tube with a pill down his throat.

He did seem to forgive me eventually, but I told my husband that I felt like I was torturing Leo and I was just going to give up on the washing except for once a week or so.

Cut to this morning: Since I hadn't cleaned Leo up at all last night, his face and front leg fur were completely stiff and covered with gook.

So, I went back on my no-washing vow and dunked his front legs after he ate his breakfast.

He was quite unhappy with the process, but when I went to towel his legs off, he actually started to purr.

The rest of the morning he wanted an uncharacteristic amount of attention, most of which seemed directed at getting me to feed him more.

I gave him a saucer of milk (now every time I take the milk out for the kids Leo thinks he's getting some) although he doesn't seem to really be able to lap it up anymore.

He kept swarming the kitchen, so I ended up opening another can of Fancy Feast. He didn't eat all that much, but it seemed to satisfy him enough that he went off to lie on my bed.

Still, he jumped off to greet me when I came upstairs later...let me comb him a bit and seemed happy about the procedure. Then it was off to the window seat (and the photo above.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In the "Worth a Thousand Words" Category (CAUTION: gross photos)

Here are some photos of the mess that Leo's eating creates. Mostly on him.

The slimey, bloody mucus-drool gets much worse when he's eating. It drips on his paws, mixing in with the food that falls out of his mouth. He rubs his paws on his face during eating...and when he's done, he grinds the mess in even further as he uses his legs to "clean" his face.

(I had a little slideshow, but it doesn't seem to work here on blogger - drat! Now you'll just have to deal with the photos individually)

Hopefully this shows how Leo has to stop constantly during eating and rub his face with his paws. (I believe it's because food gets onto the tumor in his mouth and that is irritating to him.)

The last photo also shows (kinda) how I have to constantly push his food into a mound while he eats. Otherwise, he can't get any into his mouth far enough for him to swallow.

I've taken to putting his front legs into mildly soapy water as soon as he finishes eating (before he can "clean" himself.) Theoretically, he will then be wiping less slime on his face.

Needless to say, he loves (she says, dripping with sarcasm) this process. Usually it ends up with one of us growling at the other.

I was hoping to do it only once a week or so, but lately it's been every other day. Otherwise, food and slime get ground into his leg fur and form stinky little rotting food lumps that are very hard to remove.

The evil plastic instrument of my cat torture, with it's post-washing dirty water inside.

Post-cleaning (mine and his) -- Leo's wet, but definitely less slimey. He always seems to forgive me...eventually.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Favorite Old Photos

Leo's condition hasn't changed since the last post - more than a week without any sort of crisis or major distress (besides the ongoing distress of medicating him three-times-a-day and my very-much-against-his-will dunking of Leo's front legs and tail into soapy water to temporarily ungunk him.)

Anyway, without any upheaval to distract me, I managed to scan a few old photos that hold special meaning for me.

Just a little more than Ten Years Ago...

1996 - Three-year-old Zeke and Leo observe the strange creature that entered the house a week earlier.

Leo, a mere three-years-old himself, goes is for a closer look.

A Few Years Later...

1999 - Six-year-old Leo sniffs two-day-old S.

More than anything, these photos demonstrate the difference between first and second children.

The first child is isolated from the cats until she's a week old.

You let the cats meet the second child the day she's home from the hospital. On the floor, no less.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Holding Position at 27 1/2 Weeks

The adventure continues...

Sometime between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, Leo threw up again. (The time-line uncertainty is due to the fact that the large puddle of regurgitated food was in the basement and not discovered until Monday midday.)

Leo's meds are just about out, so when I called the vet office this morning for the refill, I asked if there was anything that could be done about his excessive mucus drool.

Of course not. I should have known. I'm part of a feline cancer group...if there was anything available someone on that list would have been aware of it, I'm sure.

I think I've started to drive Leo nuts with trying to un-goo him. Probably spent an hour yesterday removing stuff from his fur. I had to cut his chest fur (formerly long and fluffy transformed into giant mats) because there was no way to get a comb or even my fingers into it.

He seems to like the grooming at first, and then get annoyed. So, between that and the medicating, he's started to run away from me when I approach him. Which bums me out terribly.

Oh, I also dunked his front legs into soapy water yesterday to uncake them (where he gets not only mucus drool but food ground in, as he rubs his paws across his face when he's eating.) And then tried to comb out the loosened pieces of food/mucus drool/dried blood.

So, he may have a good reason to avoid me, but it's disheartening when I'm just coming over to say hello. He does relax once he realizes I'm only going to scratch him and rub his head.

But it's so hard to resist pulling whatever out of his fur at the same time. And if I let the stuff stay there the matting gets worse and worse.

So, in the vein of a picture being worth a thousand words...

The masked kitty -- Kitty Libre!

This is what my guy looks like after eating. He does all the right cat cleaning-up-after-dinner things -- licking the side of his front legs and wiping them across his face. But in his current condition, it just rubs sticky slime on his face.

Half an hour later, his face is nearly dry. Then it's up to me to comb the stiffness out of his facial hair. He does like that, at least. Oh, if you look behind Leo you can see his splattered bloody drool on the baseboard. I clean this stuff up all day long...

This is actually the face of a happy cat -- and front legs AFTER being washed just a couple hours earlier. It is the definition of a losing battle.

After I took the photos we continued to have a nice little bonding session. I lay down on the floor and gently loosened up the fur between his front toes. He never let me touch his paws before this illness, so it must feel good. Then I just held his little paw in my fingers and we both started to fall asleep. (Aaaaw...)

Looking at him right now (he's lying on the dining room floor and didn't run away when I just went over to scratch his head) the fur on his one leg is completely matted down again. But overall, he looks pretty cute. (I'm to the point where I don't see the drool anymore.)

So I jump up to take photos. He actually rolled onto his side and posed for this one! He's always seemed to like having his picture taken. Or maybe he's just immune to the process after having me as his human for 13 years.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Week's News, in Pictures

Call me "The Blogger Who Cried Wolf." Again.

After thoroughly convincing me he was a goner all day Wednesday, Thursday found Leo back to his now-normal routine of drooling, bleeding and, ta da!, eating without vomiting.

I have no explanation for his recovery, just as I had no explanation for his malaise. (Repeat mantra: Expect the unexpected.)

So, I thought I'd share a few of his glorious moments of the past week. Be forewarned that there is blood involved.

Tuesday morning -- he had vomited repeatedly the night before.
I set out a typical kitty smorgasbord --
AKA: Please, Eat Something! Anything!
Notice his practiced nonchalance.

Wednesday morning.
Vomited, and no interest in food all morning.

Wednesday afternoon -- you can tell Leo was weak because he actually let me clean him up rather thoroughly.

Not in the tub though - that's just for lying on. No, the best I could do was painstakingly comb the goo out of his fur.

Actually, he was starting to feel better by the time I took this and I think he ate something soon afterwards. It's the best photo I've taken of him in a long time.

Thursday morning -- appearances are deceiving -- because this is Leo feeling better -- he actually ate a ton right after I took this photo.

Um, yeah, I did remove the blood clots from his mouth and chin first.

And so it goes...