We’ve all heard stories of cats that helped their owners through sickness, and sometimes even saved their lives. I once read the story of a woman whose animal companion woke her up several times during the night; later, she found out she had a heart condition that was causing potentially fatal episodes of arrhythmia, most of which occurred while she was asleep. She realized once she got the diagnosis that her companion had literally been saving her life every day for years.
Recently a Richland, Wash., woman shared the story of how her cat helped her to detect a cancerous tumor.
Joyce Fitzgerald had already been diagnosed with stage two cancer in one of her breasts. The day before her first chemo treatment, her cat, Stretchie, jumped up on her and landed on her right breast. Because it hurt, she rubbed the spot where he landed … and felt a lump.
Doctors had examined her a week before and hadn’t found anything. But after Fitzgerald reported the lump to her doctors, they took a biopsy and discovered another tiny malignant tumor.
Throughout the 10-month course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Stretchie and his brother, Moochie, took turns comforting Fitzgerald. She recovered from her treatment and her cancer went into remission. About a year later, Stretchie got sick. Veterinarians couldn’t find any reason for his illness, and unfortunately he didn’t survive.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of cats that help their caretakers through illnesses and then get sick or die themselves. I wonder if, as some spiritually oriented people say, the cats take on their owner’s illness or become sick in other ways because they devote so much of their energy to the work of healing a person they love.
I’ve experienced it myself. A number of years ago I went through a very severe depression. I’m not talking about “I’m feeling a little down and I can just snap out of it if I listen to some happy music and get more exercise.” I’m talking absolutely hopeless, paralyzing, can’t-think-straight, wondering-what’s-the-point-of-living depression that went on for weeks and then months. My beloved cat, Sinad, sat with me every day, all day, through that ordeal. She’d look at me, worry and compassion in her beautiful golden eyes, as if to say, “I love you. You deserve to live.” She never left my side; even when I slept, she appeared in my dreams and walked with me.
I did recover from my depression, thanks to proper treatment and supportive friends. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that shortly after I began to feel better, Sinad began losing weight and acting strangely mopey and lethargic — symptoms very similar to the ones I had recently experienced.
I took Sinad to the vet, where I found out that she had developed hepatitis. She was prescribed antibiotics and nutraceuticals and a referral to a large vet hospital, where she had an ultrasound. Fortunately, it turned out she was okay; the drug treatment had helped and her liver didn’t show any tumors or damage.
I honestly believe Sinad saved my life, and I’m grateful that in doing so she didn’t lose hers.
Fitzgerald has the same feeling about Stretchie. “I credit him with so lovingly helping me to recover,” she said. “It was a pretty heavy role. He did something that I don’t think anyone else could have done.”