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

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 them...so 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:



HERE LIES THE BODY OF LEO *

FELINE EXTRAORDINAIRE

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.

22 Comments:

Blogger Merujo said...

That was lovely, Cyn. I don't think Leo could have asked for a more wonderful human mom. :-) To quote one of my favorite songs ever: "There is a spirit here that won't be broken."

10/13/2006 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Ellen said...

My best wishes are with you

10/17/2006 7:31 AM  
Anonymous spencer said...

This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.

10/18/2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

We have discovered a large lump on our 20-year-old tortie Mishka's jaw. I came across your site by accident googling the words "cat" "cancer" "jaw" - I haven't finished reading yet - but as tears are in my eyes, I must say it is beautifully written. Mishka is unable to take up any food, no matter how liquid, and yet this final decision is so hard to make. Thanks for sharing. - Anna

9/17/2007 3:27 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

Anna, I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier. Your comment was so greatly appreciated. I hope your journey with Mishka resolved peacefully (at this point, I'm afraid that the journey must have ended, as sad as it makes me to write those words.) I hope this blog was able to help you in some small measure.

Spencer, Ellen, Merujo...a long overdue thank you. :-)

10/10/2007 7:58 AM  
Blogger MzSisyphus said...

I wanted to thank you for decumenting Leo's life. I just discovered a grotesquely large tumor that appears to be quite similar to Leo's. I'm grateful that I found your blog.

Otis is 15 years old, one of those "generic" black domestic short-hairs with a few strands of white hair on his chest.About two weeks ago, I noticed that he had lost some weight.There were no outward signs of illness, pain or difficulty eating. (he had never been a good eater, by the way).

Every vet trip had been traumatic for him in the past, so I thought it best to do what I could until there was some evidence that a disease process was in effect.

I set up a heated bed for him, offered warm water, cool water, tuna juice water, etc. to keep him hydrated, and he was really enjoying the cat treats he got to supplement his regular diet.

About a week ago, he looked much better: coat shiny, had put on about a pound, seemed to be more playful, etc.

Just today, I caught a glimpse of him in profile and was shocked to see that his head appeared misshapen, and his jaw huge.

I'll be bringing him to the vet tomorrow morning, and am trying not to feel so sad and (yes) guilty about not noticing this golfball sized mass earlier.

Again, the research you've done and offered for others in a similar predicament is a great gift you've given to other cats who are loved as much as Leo.

Kathy

12/28/2010 9:18 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

Hi Kathy,

It's a great gift for me to see comments like yours...although always tinged with melancholy, to hear of someone else going through this. With your Otis, I can only hope the past 10 days since you posted haven't been too difficult for him, or you.

Please set aside your guilt -- it's entirely possible that the swelling occurred very quickly. I also kept Leo's vet visits to a minimum because they were so stressful to him.

The optimistic side of me hopes Otis' diagnosis turned out to be something more benign, like a dental absess. Regardless, I can tell you care for him greatly, and in that respect, he is a fortunate cat.

My thoughts go out to you.

1/09/2011 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing your experiences in this blog. You helped me with such a difficult time, when all you can do when you find out is search and search.

10/07/2011 12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Leo's journey with us. I cried and laughed as I read your words. Today, my 11 year old cat, Sebastian, was diagnosed with, what we think, is the same cancer. I feel like we are going through exactly what you did in the early days of Leo's diagnosis. We were told he has 6 weeks, but your blog makes me wonder if we might have him around a little longer. He has the same "gnarly" tumor but pain meds seem to be helping. I'm sorry for your loss, but grateful you shared it. Leo was a lucky cat.

10/29/2011 12:00 AM  
Anonymous RD said...

Your writing about Leo's life is a brave and kind thing to do. It must have been hard to do but somewhat of a comfort for you also. I'm glad I found it even though it's hard for me to read. Our family recently found out that our 11 year old cat Joyee has a fast growing tumor in her left jaw. The inevitable outcome I already know. We are just trying to make her comfortable and happy. Joyee was a runt about 6 weeks old that a co worker found on the interstate. She weighed about 1 1/2 pounds and her left eye never opened, the vet had the cut the eyelid open later after she got well and she always had a cloud covering that eye. I asked if I could have her and took her straight to the vet. Vet said if she makes it thru the night she may be OK. Joyee is a petite cat with a smaill kitten like face and looks like she could be part squirrel, Grayish silver with white and a bushy tail. It's been about 6 years since we had to euthanize or cat Mr. Tipps 10 years old(he was cream colored with gray patches at the tips of his tail and paws) my wife would always tell him he was to pretty to be a boy. Tipps had 2 problems and the medications the vet prescribed would basically work against each other. The recent decline of Joyee's health just brought back all the feelings I went through with Tipps. I was present with him during the whole ordeal and held him. I still cry now when I relive and remember the feeling of life leaving his body but comforts me somewhat in knowing that I was there with him in the end and knowing that I owed that to him. It really hurts and makes you wonder what you should have done differently. It seems like it was just yesterday that we brought Joyee home and how fast the years have gone by. We also have our first cat Mr Maxx, what can I say about him. He's the loudest cat I ever heard and going on 18 years old and doesn't miss a beat. All I know is a pet is the only true friend one really has in this life. In the sad end we will bring Joyee home and put her next to her old friend Mr. Tipps so they can watch the family when we play in the backyard. My wife still laughs when I yell for my youngest to get off Mr. Tipps when she goes and stands on the markers I made for him. And we think our pets are silly. Thanks for your story about Leo.

3/13/2012 9:40 AM  
Anonymous RD said...

I came home early on Friday afternoon to spend time with Joyee. Being an indoor cat she loved to sneak out the back screen door when we weren't watching and every now and then we would say LOOK AT THAT BIG SQUIRREL !! which would be Joyee of course. I told my wife to start taking her outside in the mid mornings because she would really enjoy it and would give my wife some time to spend with Joyee. She said Joyee loved it and would find a spot in the flower bed and just watch all the birds and listen to all the sounds. I took Joyee to the very back of the yard and we just walked together looking at all the sights and listening to all the sounds. Petting her and praising her the whole time. She really perked up. She wanted to finally come in and it was time to go. She rode in my truck sitting on the console, I wanted to just drive forever with her sitting up there. I let her wander around the vet's office since it was empty and she acted like she owned the place. When the time came I held her in my arms and talked to her and petted her like she loved for me to do at home. She past away peacefully in my arms.I asked the vet for a wet paper towel so I cold clean her off since she wouldn't let us do it at home. The vet helped me clean her up and we wrapped Joyee up in one of my sweatshirts and I brought her back home. My wife broke the news to our girls about Joyee and then we proceeded to take her to her final resting spot. My girls said their goodbyes to her and commented how she looked the same as when she was sleeping in her bed. We buried Joyee in her favorite bed that she spent so much time in and placed a marker on top that we made the previous summer of a tiny cat's face. We cried, we hugged and talked about how much we loved and will miss Joyee and all the funny things she did. As we finished up the skies became cloudy and the it began to rain. I told my girls that Heaven was crying because Joyee past away.

3/21/2012 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. My cat was diagnosed with a tumor on her left jaw yesterday. I've had Kitty for 19 years and to hear that she would be gone soon was terrible. She didn't have any health problems till about a year ago with her 1st UTI. She had one other since then, and had been diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure that we were able to hold off with diet. So, she seemed to have at least a few years left in her till yesterday. I've been searching the internet to find out what would be in store for her and your post really helped. I don't know how much longer she has (since she is still eating and running around), but at least now I know what to look for as her health begins to fade. Thank you for sharing your struggles with such honesty and wit. Leo will greet you again some day.

4/22/2012 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My cat had a jaw tumor. It grew rapidly. I snuggle with him tonight knowing that tomorrow I am releasing him. Socks was my best friend & a wise old soul. He made it to 14.25 years. Thank you for your blog.

7/13/2012 12:32 AM  
Blogger Cyn said...

To RD: A very belated, but heartfelt, thanks for sharing Joyee's story. I'm am terribly sorry I am just commenting on this now. You expressed yourself so beautifully, in a way that makes me want to cry and smile at the same time. Sounds like Joyee had a wonderful family to share her life with :) Thanks again for your comments.

3/10/2013 8:59 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

To the Anonymous posters of 4/22 and 7/13: I am happy this blog could help you, and truly sorry I didn't thank you for your posts earlier. To the 4/22 poster -- It wouldn't be heaven if Leo wasn't there :) It is comforting to think of being greeted by our beloved cats in the great beyond, as I think the love we have for our pets is so very strong that it must endure into whatever lies ahead. I hope Kitty's journey here on Earth came to a peaceful end. To Anonymous of 7/13: I hope your loss has grown less painful in the months that passed since your post. Socks sounds like he was a great cat (and friend.) Thanks for taking the time to comment here during what must have been a really tough time for you.

3/10/2013 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Cyn,
If you wouldn't mind, I would very very much appreciate talking with you via email and/or phone as I am currently being torn apart by my cats situation of having the mouth tumour, getting worse by the day. The drool, everywhere, the lack of grooming, the open mouth, bleeding, and as I knew would come- not eating, no matter what I do. It's breaking me up and I would love some advice, words of wisdom and support as Tigger is my best friend, and I can see you loved Leo the way I love him. Please email if you can : rebeccapenney@hotmail.com

12/27/2014 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Gosta said...

I have been following along your experiences over the past month and a half of having to decide when to make the excruciatingly painful decision to put our beloved cat O'Shea of 18 years out of his misery. he developed osteosarcoma of the jaw, and, from what I can tell, his experience was identical to your fur baby's.

Thank you for baring your soul and letting us know that we are not crazy for changing out his food five different times and microwaving it for a single feeding, building a little mound so that he could reach his food and chasing him around to clean him .

I know you probably will not read this anytime soon since it is a very old post. I just wanted you to know, that even this many years later, you and your beloved Leo are still making a difference in other peoples lives.

Thank you again for talking us through your experience.

2/16/2016 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Cyn said...

Hi Gosta,

I(usually) get notices when someone comments on the blog, so yes, I did see this. And I'm so very sorry to hear about O'Shea.

Of course, you're not crazy to do whatever you needed (or wanted) to do to take care of O'Shea! If this blog did anything to help (even just reassure you of your sanity) than I am so happy to hear that.

Coincidentally, earlier today I realized there was an office chair sitting in a spare bedroom that we basically use for storage (being amateur hoarders). I really meant to throw out that chair years ago - because my main memory of it is Leo curled up when his jaw first became infected. 10 years have passed, nobody has sat in it since (stack of boxes atop) and now I find myself in need of an office chair. But I'm still don't know if I'm strong enough to even look at it ...how I will feel if I find a bit of Leo's fur still embedded in its tweed? Or will it be healing to use it?

I'm not sure of my point, except to say that even after 10 years there are still these pesky cobwebs of sadness that cling tenaciously to my memories of Leo. But comments like yours do so much to help clear them away.

Thanks again for commenting during what must be a difficult time for you. I truly appreciate it.

2/16/2016 11:13 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

They say there's a first time for everything. And today, for me, it was deleting comments from this blog. In a way, it's a shame because I had some pretty awesome retorts written in my mind. And I've never had a troll before (does this mean I've finally "made it?";)

But to engage in a war of words is against the spirit of this blog, which is to be supportive and caring. There is no place here for inflammatory comments meant to be hurtful. So anything resembling such will be deleted.

Thank you, make the best of every day, and tell those you care about why they are special to you. Spread joy!

5/14/2016 5:54 PM  
Blogger Kate Caldwell said...

I came across your blog as I'm sure most folks do, Googling cat chin lump or some combination of similar words. Luckily I caught Dash's two lumps while they are small. Living in the Pine Barrons can make you obsessive about tick checks.
I had the intention of not reading the blog because I knew how it would end. Leo was so stunningly handsome it just sucked me in.
What a beautiful story.
Our 14 y/o border collie is riddled with tumors and it's going to kill me when I take her to that last vet appointment.
Thanks for the touching reminder that we're not alone in the depth of caring that we exchange with our furry family members.
Deirdre

10/05/2016 11:34 PM  
Blogger sander nimeste said...

This is so sad i cryed��

6/28/2017 11:32 AM  
Blogger sander nimeste said...

😭

6/28/2017 3:34 PM  

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