I lost my calico cat, Sicily, to lung cancer tonight.
I am a dog person, and most of my friends will tell you that I brag about my black lab, Phoebe, all the time. My wife and I love that dog like a child. Some of you will understand this and know what I mean.
We don’t talk a lot about our cat Sicily though. Mostly because, I guess, she has been such a quiet fixture in our lives for almost thirteen years (she was a “rescue” when we got her). She was a gorgeous calico cat, if a little overweight, very sweet, affectionate, and pretty damned cuddly. She like lazing around the house laying flat on her back, or curled up on a pile of laundry. I loved Sicily as much as I love Phoebe, but our relationship was different. She was always in the background, napping in a corner, or chasing imaginary prey through the house with her tail fluffed out like it was an afterburner propelling her at light speeds.
Sicily liked to sit on the back of my office chair every now and then, and grab the back of my head in her paws and start grooming my hair. That was funny until she used her claws to make me hold still. I remember waking up one morning, years ago, with her sitting on my chest, purring, and trying to groom my moustache. That was a bit unsettling obviously.
Over the past year and a half or so, she had gotten into the habit of jumping up on my lap while I’m watching TV. I usually recline back a bit, and she eventually would situate herself across my lap and chest, sometimes with her arms stretched out towards my shoulders. Without fail, I sit down, TV comes on, and before the first commercial break, there she is, making herself at home.
She liked to nap on the vents in the house (warm in winter, cool in summer). She loved a little zebra stuffed toy thing with catnip in it. String was her absolutely favorite toy (she would literally play fetch with it). And she adamantly refused to drink water out of her bowl. She would only drink out of Phoebe’s water bowl.
About six weeks or so, Siciliy developed a small lump inbetween her forelegs. It felt like a typical fatty lump that most pets get, so no worries. In the last several weeks, the thing grew quickly to something about the size of a half dollar, which was causing us some concern and we planned on taking her to the vet to get it checked out. However, in the last two days, we noticed that she was coughing and hacking a lot, like she had a bad hairball she couldn’t spit out, and last night her breathing was a little accelerated. By this afternoon it was very shallow and rapid. By this evening, she looked like a runner after running a race. And then we noticed that the lump on her chest was bleeding and she wouldn’t stop licking it.
Time to head to the emergency vet. We had originally planned for a mobile vet to come out for the exam (she gets very distressed in cars), but that wasn’t going to work. Anyway, we took her to the emergency vet clinic at NC State, and got there around 1am. They put her on oxygen, took some x-rays, and told us her lungs were severely compromised with cancer (“extremely bad” the vet said).
They let us see her again, and she looked very ragged. Even worse than when we had brought her in probably less than a half an hour earlier. She still looked pretty alert, and still very distressed (she didn’t handle the brief car ride to the vet very well at all either). Holly and I started petting her and trying to soothe her. She calmed down and tried purring, but could barely manage that with her lungs.
I decided to have her put to sleep. I love that cat very much and while I want nothing in the world right now, but to have her sitting on my lap as I write this, I couldn’t stand the thought of what she was going through not being able to breathe, and having a lung full of cancer growths. Some day I might write about the final years of my mothers life battling progressive systemic schlerosis (schleroderma) and how it affected her lungs, but I am still coming to terms with that (she passed away in 2000), and I’m not feeling in a talkative enough mood to share that much right now.
Anyway, the vet (wonderful, named Nicole), was very empathic and gentle about the whole process. I held Sicily in my lap with her head in my hand, and Holly was sitting next to me, stroking the fur on her back, as Nicole administered the drugs. Sicily passed away quickly, and painlessly. We spent a few more minutes petting her and saying our final goodbyes.
It pains me deeply that I don’t have more photos of Sicily. I loved that cat. I have so many memories of her going through my mind. Things she liked, things she didn’t like, little quirks of personality, the little fuzzy nuzzling affections, her meow, her purring, her darting little paws underneath doors trying to bat at some toy or another, playing fetch with a short length of parachute cord (she LOVED tearing through the house dragging that in her mouth), and times when she tried bossing Phoebe around.
I’m sorry to lose you Sicily. It will be a while before this pain, like so many others in my life, settles into a dull scar. We will miss your playfulness, your fuzzy affection, and carrying you around in our arms like a baby (she liked that a lot too).