Lincoln County News
November 4, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission is dedicated to Lurk, my best buddy and feline friend of 15 years.

October 22, 1999: Hurray! Today, is the last day of my radiation treatment. No real celebration is in order as my side effects of abdominal distress and cramping continue, though I must admit they are slightly more tolerable. My sister, Mary Ann, is still visiting and helping me out, but she will be flying home to NJ tomorrow morning.

My biggest concern and distraction at this point is an injured and limping Lurk. His limp has taken a turn for the worst, so Ben took him back to see Dr. Gail. She administered a prednisone shot to attempt to ease the pain and limping. The cause of the problem is still unknown. Lurk is still eating and being his friendly self, but is acting low key and lying on the floor rather than on the chairs, sofa or bed. Obviously, he is finding it difficult to jump up onto the furniture.

October 24, 1999: Against my better judgment, I am determined to do a restaurant review tonight as I have missed so many in the past weeks. We agree to meet Paul and Sue at Cuisine House in Brunswick for an early, quick dinner. I chose won ton soup and lo mein noodles figuring these were the blandest items on the menu. They were so delicious, I forgot that their texture was bland. Paul and Sue had the enormous buffet and Ben ordered the spicy Szechwan chicken, his favorite. We had a great meal, and though I was fighting off pain, it felt good to return to a semi-normal routine.

Upon our arrival home around 7 pm., we found Lurk groggy and staggering. Ben carried him over to his food dish where he ate a few bites and then Ben lifted him over to use the litter box. I was alarmed and placed an emergency call to Dr. Gail's office. The Dr. on duty quickly reviewed Lurk's file and suggested taking Lurk immediately to the Animal Emergency Center in Portland, which is next door to the vet neurology office that examined Lurk a few weeks ago.

I was absolutely exhausted and in pain, but could not let Ben take Lurk to Portland alone. My good buddy Lurk has stood by me for 15 years, and most especially during my bout with cancer. There was no way I could let him down during his time of need. We quickly bundled Lurk into his cat carrier and were at the emergency center by 9 pm. A quick evaluation by the vet on duty confirmed our worse fears that Lurk's condition was rapidly deteriorating. The vet admitted him to the hospital and said that the neurologists next door would evaluate him and call us first thing in the morning. I arrived home at 12:30 am. exhausted and in tears.

October 25, 1999: I call the neurology center at 9 am. and Ben and I give permission for a myelogram, cat scans and exploratory surgery on poor Lurk. My parents and sister, Peg are arriving today to visit with me for several days. My parents walk in the door to find me sobbing. Dr. Sullivan, the neurologist, has just called back to give me the absolutely devastating news of the results of the tests and exploratory surgery. Lurk has a rare spinal and nerve tumor which is apparently much more common in dogs, and rarely seen in cats. The tumor, wrapped around nerve bundles in his upper spine, has spread into his spinal cord. Paralysis is setting in and his motor functions are closing down. Most of the nerve bundle tumor could be removed through a dangerous, elaborate surgical procedure, though the tumor involvement in the spinal cord cannot be remedied. Radiation to the spinal cord is possible at a treatment center in Boston, but the outcome would be very questionable. In addition, Lurk's right leg would have to be amputated to remove nerve bundles.

I have a million questions for Dr. Sullivan, but the bottom line is that regardless of the course of treatment, Lurk may not survive the surgery. If he survives the operation, Sullivan says that Lurk would have perhaps two months left to live what would be a relatively poor quality life. I ask her to call Dr. Gail to discuss the findings and to call us back with a consensus of opinion. Two hours later, Sullivan calls to say that she and Gail have discussed the findings and agree that there is little optimism that any of these suggested treatments could prolong Lurk's life more than two or three months. To her credit, Sullivan is so kind and gentle in breaking the bad news. Ben and I know now we will have the agonizing decision to put Lurk down. We tearfully tell Sullivan that we will return at 9 am. tomorrow to be with Lurk to say our final good-byes. Sullivan reminds us that it is our decision and that we can change our minds at the last minute.

October 26, 1999: I barely slept last night and kept waking in tears as I thought of poor Lurk. The time to drive to Portland arrives all too soon and I hold Ben's hand all the way. When we arrive at the neurology center, we are escorted into a small room and an assistant brings Lurk in wrapped in a warm towel. Lurk is groggy, but recognizes us. He purrs softly and rubs his cheek against our hands, and even nibbles Ben's finger. An IV shunt has been placed in Lurk's right leg and the back of his head is partially shaved. I tell lurk that now that my hair is slowly falling out from my chemo treatments, I will soon look like him.

We visit with Lurk alone for 1/2 hour until Dr. Sullivan comes in and kindly greets us and compassionately tells us that Lurk had a restless night and is showing more significant signs of motor control deterioration. She asks if we would like to see his x-rays, scans and myelogram reports. We readily agree and she puts them up on the light boards and thoroughly explains the findings. In several of the scans, the signs of the tumor twining and wrapping itself around the nerve bundles are very evident. Also, it is obvious that half the spinal cord is being pinched and narrowed in one area from the growing tumor. I look at the scans with some sense of deja vu. I am so used to seeing my own scans and having areas of abnormalities pointed out.

After seeing Lurk's scans, Ben and I feel more relieved that we are making the right decision to have Lurk put to sleep. Dr. Sullivan explains the procedure and says Lurk will feel nothing as it is really like an anesthesia. She asks if we are ready. We nod and fight back tears as first she flushes his IV shunt with saline, then injects the small amount of anesthesia. Lurk relaxes and closes his eyes, just like he always does when he's going to sleep. It is over in a second.

We have brought Lurk's catnapper to wrap him in. This is a lovely fleece throw with hand appliquéd designs of mice, fish and other creatures of interest to cats that was made and given to me by one of my kind readers in South Bristol. We kept the catnapper on a chair by our living room picture window so Lurk could relax and watch the birds outside. The catnapper was one of his favorite sleeping places other than our bed.

We have decided to bury Lurk in our yard, just under his favorite bird-viewing window. While we were bringing Lurk home, my father and sister dug the grave. I called Mary Ann Canfield upon our return as she wanted to join us for our short burial service. As my parents, my sister, Peg, and Mary Ann stood over the site, Ben and I gently lowered Lurk wrapped in his catnapper with all of his play toys into the ground. In a fitting tribute to our beloved feline, I read the following eulogy that I wrote at 5 am. this morning.

Beloved Lurk , April 29, 1984 - October 26, 1999

All creatures great and small

The Lord God made them all.

Thank you God for

Sharing Lurk with us for 15 years.

Surely, there must be a cat heaven

Where balmy breezes blow

And mousies roam through tall grass

And the sun forever warms

The favorite spots you loved to lie in.

Dear Friend:

You crept into our life on little cat feet

Affectionately greeting all who crossed our doorstep

You asked for little and gave much

Loving, caring and loyal to the end

You have forever left your paw print on our hearts and souls.

- - -

(Click here to go directly to the next column)