My Name is Leo

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

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Location: Philadelphia area, Northeast, United States

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Six Month Mark

Today marks six months since the growth was discovered on Leo's jaw. It was January 23, 2006 when a dental x-ray showing a "gnarly-looking" (vet's words) lower left jawbone sent us off on an adventure none of us asked for.

Some might call Leo a lucky cat -- if his tumor was SCC (anecdotally, it's the most common type of feline oral cancer) he'd most likely be gone by now. Judging mostly from internet stories, many kitties with SCC only have weeks after diagnosis, or if they're lucky maybe 3 or 4 months. Although it wasn't biopsied, we think Leo's tumor is an osteosarcoma or a fibrosarcoma.

Six months later...well, sometimes I think Leo's good luck is my bad luck. Not that I don't still adore him, not that I would want him gone... but the stress of caring for him is becoming a bit overwhelming these past couple months as the drooling has gotten much worse and the eating situation more tenuous.

Leo's condition has been stable the last couple weeks. Two weeks ago, during a non-eating bout, I was praying I wouldn't have to put him to sleep on my daughter's birthday a few days later. But he rallied and has been able to carry on some semblance of normal cat life since.

But it hasn't been easy on the humans. The stinky drool is seemingly everywhere. Often nowadays it is bloody, stinky drool. I spend so much of my day lately cleaning drooled-goo off the floor, changing the towels covering his sleeping spots, changing my shirts because my cuddling Leo has slimed them, and washing my hands, oh 30 times a day at least.

Not to mention all the time coaxing Leo to eat -- he wants to eat (much more frequently than his old twice a day, because he can't eat as much at one shot) so I feel I must do everything I can to help him do so.

But he'll meow at me to feed him and then turn his nose up at what I offer him -- so I heat it up, then open another can to try a new flavor, and another can...until, as an ultimate last resort, I take a baby spoon and force some food into his mouth -- which pisses him off for about 5 seconds until he realized that, oh yeah, this tastes good, and then he will start to eat. My dog-and-pony show (Kitties! Watch your human scurry about humorously doing all sorts of tricks to get you to eat!) eventually works, at least for now.

Sometimes he seems as if he may be nauseous (crouching, closing his eyes) when he is refusing to eat. But five minutes later, he's chowing down...

But did I mention that sometimes he will eat right away? I never know what to expect. But I do know that I'm spending about an hour total per day just feeding him. And often watching him eat is a painful experience, as he stops to go up on his hind legs and vigorously rubs his front paws against the sides of his mouth to push wayward food out of the tumor part of his oral cavity. Food (and drool and blot clots) flies everywhere...

The medicating adventures continue too -- enough of the antibiotic drops seem to get into him since he's had no infections since his UTI in the beginning of June...and the pred pill seems to get down his throat eventually (my method now is to try and pill him when he's sleeping -- I have to actually put my fingers into his mouth to put the pill on is tongue and then push it as far back as I can) but I can't really tell he's actually swallowing it because the tumor inside his mouth (and the way it has pushed his tongue up and over) has blocked my view of his throat opening.

I should be editing myself (for brevity and non-whininess) but I just can't spare the time. (Oh, is that whining too?)

Some other of Leo's "different" behaviors lately -- when we're upstairs we notice he's been going in and out of our master bath. I thought he was thirsty, maybe trying to drink shower floor water or residual bath water. But I just found him lying on the shower floor yesterday and the other night he was lying on a damp bath mat. We think maybe the coolness is making him feel better -- is he having abdominal pain?

But here is why it's still not TIME: He still seems so very, very happy when I pet him, especially when I scratch the side of his face where the tumor is. We had a loud-purring-during-brushing session yesterday (although trying to pretty him up is like treading water, his fur gets all clumped and matty in a couple hours.)

Most of his day is spent stretched out in some favorite spot, gladly welcoming a scratch or a rub. He's not hiding, not avoiding, not growling, not meowing that "I'm in pain" meow -- all of which he DID do way back six months ago -- which was why I brought him to the vet in the first place.

He doesn't look like my old Leo -- my beautiful no-smell guy is gone -- until he's in my arms and he looks at me the way he always has (yeah, this sounds goofy -- but he does stare into my eyes...honestly, I'm not a weird cat lady...)

The Six-Months-Past-Diagnosis version of Leo's Look of Love -- ignore the bloody mouth -- as I have learned to do. He was purring so loud when I took this photo (A self-portrait. I'm wearing an old T-shirt I use when painting, which has now become a Leo drool-protection shirt.)

I see how much he trusts me (even after all the fingers in mouth and force-feeding and pulling dried goo off his fur.) He wants to live -- he loves life -- and I can't take that away from him until he gives up the fight.

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