The first thing you notice about Tyrone is his face. The seven-year-old ginger tabby has squamous-cell carcinoma, which has left him severely disfigured. His left eye has been replaced by a dark, cavernous hole, a side effect of the aggressive cancer ravaging his body. At first glance, he can be hard to look at — his appearance is shocking. He appears to be in pain.
But the more you scroll through the photos on his Facebook page, the more you’ll see a happy, loving cat who loves to play and snuggle. You’ll see him the way his caretaker Maria Romano Trampe sees him: as a gentle, grateful companion who deserves to live out his life with comfort, love, and dignity.
"Compassion is not just about care but about acceptance," she says. "Acceptance that the body he lives in may not be perfect or appealing to some, but that his soul is so grateful and loving. He truly seems so appreciative of the care and love he is being given."
Maria first noticed something was wrong with Tyrone’s eye about six months ago. She’d been feeding some stray cats in her neighborhood, and Tyrone was among them. He disappeared for a few months after Hurricane Sandy hit, and when he resurfaced, he had what appeared to be an eye infection. Beth Kauffman Ashcom, Tyrone’s other caretaker, got some antibiotics for Tyrone’s eye, but the "infection" just got worse.
When Beth took Tyrone to the vet to be neutered, she discovered the truth about his health: The cat had cancer. Squamous-cell carcinoma is aggressive and disfiguring, typically beginning in the sinus/nasal cavity. The only method of treatment that exists is extremely invasive and does not have a good prognosis, adding maybe a few months to the cat’s life — and "the quality is questionable due to the invasive nature of the treatments," Maria says.
Therefore, she and Beth brought Tyrone home to make him as comfortable as possible. Despite how his face looks, he is not in pain — the tissue on his face has necrotized, which causes nerve endings to die. He still enjoys play and interacting with people, so Maria and Beth did not believe that euthanasia was the best choice at this time. They are, however, closely monitoring the progression of Tyrone’s cancer so they can make the right decision when the time comes.
"We are being very cognizant of his pain, because we do not want him to suffer," Maria says. "When he tells us or we feel it is time, we will make the appropriate decision for his comfort."
Squamous-cell carcinoma can be hard to catch early because it is so aggressive, but Maria recommends limiting animals’ sun exposure, particularly light-colored animals, as it is a form of skin cancer caused by sun damage. In cats, cauliflower-like lesions are most commonly found on the nasal openings, ears, eyelids, and lips.
Since Tyrone’s cancer cannot be treated, Beth and Maria want Tyrone’s remaining days to be joyous and filled with love. To manage his symptoms, they administer pain medication, steroids, and anti-inflammatory herbs as needed. Tyrone also receives Reiki treatments. Reiki is a form of Japanese alternative medicine that focuses on the transfer of universal energy through the palms, which is supposed to promote self-healing and a state of equilibrium.
"It is nothing less than magical to watch the difference from beginning to end," Maria says. "Typically when [Reiki Master Luann Liberatori] starts, Tyrone is in a very closed position not really wanting to be messed with. But by the end of the treatments, he is stretched out, kneading, purring, and completely relaxed. It is simply amazing."
Inspired by Tyrone, Maria, Beth, and their mutual friend Amy recently founded a nonprofit organization called All Souls Connected. The group will focus on trap, neuter, and return programs, as well as feeding and caring for the many stray and feral cat populations in their area. They will also provide palliative care for animals when possible. Additionally, the group will do community outreach and education addressing critical issues for animals and the environment.
"So many people do not recognize the relationship between the health of our earth and the well-being of animals, including the human animal," Maria says.
By founding All Souls Connected, Maria hopes she will be able to encourage others to support and care for animals the way she has had the opportunity to care for Tyrone, who has taught her so much.
"Tyrone is what Beth and I coin as an old soul," Maria says. "He is so affectionate and calm and very expressive. So many people have come into Tyrone’s life through his Facebook page and have shown him such support and positive energy."
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