A few weeks ago, I was walking home from the dog park with my kids and dogs when my son, Justin, saw a gray kitty sitting in back of a small church. She meowed at us. The kitty was very friendly and let Justin and my daughter, Zinnia, pet her. The kitty did not have a collar.
We looked around and saw an apartment building across the street and a parking lot. The general area was gritty, so my daughter picked the kitty up and started walking.
The last thing we needed was to adopt another cat. With six at home, I considered us to be at maximum capacity. As we walked, my son asked, “What’s that thing on the kitty? It looks like something is coming out.”
Indeed, there was a large pinkish blob, about the size of a quarter in diameter, and raised almost an inch from kitty’s rear torso. What the hell is that?
We continued home and settled the kitty into Zinnia’s room. We looked at her more closely and decided that she had either a cyst or a tumor.
I asked the local neighborhood blog to post her photo in the “lost pets” section, but they wanted to include my contact info. I didn’t feel like listing my phone number, so I called the county shelter where I volunteer, but they told me I had to take her to the city shelter.
Rats, I thought. I would feel more comfortable dropping her off where I know people and am certain she would be well taken care of. At least here in the Pacific Northwest, workers at municipal shelters are generally good people with generally good intentions, but still, I felt weird at the prospect of dropping off a cat where I didn’t know any of the people personally. Plus the city shelter hours weren’t generally convenient to my work schedule.
As the days passed, I looked for “lost” posters and checked the neighborhood blog for announcements. Nothing matched the cat’s description. Finally I posted a “found” announcement on the city shelter website, but a couple more weeks went by and no one responded to my ad.
My kids and I finally named the kitty Grace June. She’d been found near a church, so we decided Grace would be a fitting name. She did not appear to be in pain or bothered by her cyst. She had the room to herself. My daughter had been sleeping in my son’s room since we brought Grace home.
One day I went to feed Grace, looked at her cyst, and decided I should really take her to the vet immediately. I knew it would cost money. Money that would be charged on a credit card — in other words, money I did not have.
As someone who struggles with anxiety in general, I know money (or rather the absence of it) is one of my triggers. I am always worried about money. Sometimes I fear there is a conspiracy to keep me living a humble life, despite my efforts otherwise. Taking in a stray cat with a large cyst was probably not going to do anything to improve my financial situation or alleviate my chronic anxiety.
With six cats, why would I feel compelled to take on the care of this one? Did I have some sort of savior complex? Was I truly becoming a crazy cat lady?
I put my anxiety aside, called the vet, and scheduled an appointment. I asked for a discount, since Grace was a stray. The best they could do was to explain where to find a free exam fee coupon online.
At the vet’s, I explained the situation and asked them to run a FIV/FELV test, to clip her nails, to do flea treatment, and I requested a broad-spectrum dewormer. Grace was predicted to be about four years old and in generally good health besides her tumor and a chipped tooth.
My vet examined Grace and thought that the prospects of surgery to remove the tumor were good. It would cost roughly $1,200. She couldn’t promise anything, but believed that once it was removed, Grace would probably be fine.
The FIV/FELV test came back negative. I went home with a lot on my mind.
Should I just charge the surgery on my credit card? Or should I take her to the shelter? It was the height of kitten season. There were tons of cats at the shelter. Would they pay for her surgery, or euthanize her due to her medical condition?
I decided not to make any immediate decisions and to think about it overnight.
The next morning I called to schedule her surgery. I asked my daughter to start an online fundraising page, as she is much better with technology than I am. In two weeks we raised about $300, not enough to pay for the surgery, but enough to feel like I had people helping me.
This was at the same time that a story went viral about a kid who raised thousands of dollars to make potato salad. Why aren’t more people interested in helping a kitty get a tumor removed? Is potato salad more interesting than the life of a stray cat?
A different vet at the same practice conducted the surgery, which went well. We brought Grace back home, and planned to keep her separate from our other cats until her sutures were removed. In the meantime, we waited to get the cytology results.
About a week later the vet left a voicemail for me to call back. I didn’t think this was a good sign, as I figured he would have said everything was fine in the message if it was.
When I called back, he explained, “It looks like the tumor was an osteosarcoma, possibly related to a vaccine reaction. There were bone cells in it, which is unusual, considering as it was growing out of her skin. I think I removed it with a clean margin, but there is a chance it can come back.”
Crap, I thought. I paid all this money to save a cat’s life, but the prognosis doesn’t sound all that great.
About a week later, I noticed a lump near Grace’s rear end. I felt it, and one side of her pelvis felt larger than the other. What the heck — another tumor already? I scheduled another vet appointment, a few weeks out.
When I brought Grace back, the vet looked concerned. “Let’s do an X-ray,” he suggested. He called me back to an inner office, with an X-ray of Grace’s torso revealed on the screen. “The good news is she does not have another tumor. The bad news is her pelvis is fractured. Since she seems to be getting around fine and does not appear to be in pain, we can probably just leave it be. Hip surgery is a major surgery, and we may as well not put her through that unless we absolutely have to.”
“How could she have gotten a hip fracture?” I asked. “Could it be from wrestling with my cats? I know Miko and Oliver have tussled with her a bit.”
“No, wrestling with other cats would definitely not cause a pelvic fracture. It is possible she was hit by a car or something before she came to live with you.”
Wow, I thought. Grace has really been through a lot. This whole time her pelvis has been broken and we had no idea.
Ever since I’d brought Grace home, I was concerned about the financial implications. Yet, for some reason, a feeling in my heart prevented me from dropping her off at the shelter. I thought a lot about the meaning, as well as the cost, of life.
Life is not free. Food costs money, water costs money, medical care costs money. When do you draw the line and decide not to keep giving in a case where it’s not really your responsibility? Would it have been a benefit to the taxpayers of Seattle to drop Grace off at the shelter? What would the shelter prioritization process be in regards to her care?
I was so worried about the financial implications of cancer that when I felt the new lump in Grace’s rear, I was convinced she was facing impending death. But I was wrong.
Grace had had the broken pelvis all along, but I hadn’t noticed it right away due to the more obvious presence of the tumor. She lost weight after her surgery, which made the lopsided view of her pelvis more visible.
I could have avoided taking Grace back to the vet out of fear that it would simply be a grim confirmation of rapidly progressing bone cancer, and I would have lived with the misguided belief that she was dying.
Yet, despite my own negative assumptions, I did take her back — and found out that it was not at all what I feared.
Grace taught me that it is wise to follow your heart, even when your mind tries to convince you otherwise.
Grace lives in my room now. She is the only cat allowed in my bedroom at night. She hasn’t thoroughly transitioned into my colony yet. I want her to feel safe and protected and to ensure that she eats, since she hides from my other cats during the day. She is comfortable with my dog, Lilly, who is the only dog allowed to sleep in bed with me.
Some nights Grace curls up behind my legs and sleeps peacefully. She is gaining weight. There is no visible remnant of her tumor.
When we first brought Grace home, I was very worried about how I would make it through the end of the month financially. Ever since my husband left, each month we survived felt like a miracle to me. But I was running out of options.
Since Grace has come to live with us, my daughter has had steady employment at her first job, and I have had numerous freelancing articles published. For the first time, I am making regular monthly income from my writing, which helps pay the bills.
No, Grace’s presence in my life has not been a financial asset. But doing right by her has been good for my heart.
They say, “Do what you love and it will bring you happiness.” While this is much easier said than done, it seems like it is finally paying off, in more ways than one.
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About the Author: Kezia Willingham is a breadwinning laundry queen who lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. She is a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in xoJane, the Seattle Times, and the New York Times. She has an essay in an upcoming anthology, Blended: Writers on the Step Family Experience, edited by Samantha Waltz, to be released by Seal Press in 2015. Follow her on Twitter.