I’ve gone back and forth whether I should post this post. I’m going to do it, if only to show the ups and downs of life. The last couple of training posts have been upbeat, as has this whole training process and blog writing has been. But the time period I’m writing about right now, February of 2002, was a very bleak time in my life. It’s a good reminder that life has its good times, and its bad times, and we should remember both. So, I’m posting this, one of the more depressing things I’ve ever written. It’s about the death of one of my pets during my recovery.
Remember, as I described in previous posts, at this time I was quite fatigued, adjusting to the very difficult life of a chemotherapy patient, with the cycle of almost OK – infusion – very sick and fatigued – recovery, and then starting the downward spiral again. And likely depressed. But I’ve remembered another incident that month that contributed to all the things that were wrong at that time.
Not too long after my sister Karen left, in early February, I got an earache, which developed into an ear infection. My temperature went up, and I went overnight for IV antibiotics. I was able to go home fairly quickly.
At some point in this timeline, either when I came home from the hospital in January or when I came home from this brief hospitalization in February, our cat Sunny, short for Sundance, appeared lethargic. We took the picture at that time that is included here. Another picture taken at this same time, in an edited version without Sunny, is what I’ve used for the picture in the banner to this blog above; this is the full picture with Sunny.
I got Sunny and his brother at the same time; I had been looking for a good male cat name for a pair that would go together, and chose Butch and Sundance. Butch was at the time a tiny fluffy white kitten, so Butch seemed appropriately ironic; Sundance was an orange calico whose name that shortened over time to Sunny, which seemed fitting as well. We had another cat at the time, not related, and named Simon. Three cats….
Over the next few days Sunny continued looking really bad, had less and less of an appetite, and was not using the litter box. A visit to the vet found that he had lymphoma, a large tumor affecting his intestines. The tumor was now surrounding his intestines and would eventually close it off. The vet said that we could do kitty chemotherapy, but that would be upwards of $10,000. He had about a week before it got really bad.
So we took Sunny home, and started giving him IV fluids. He would look at food, but not eat. When he got so weak that he couldn’t jump up on the bed where he would sleep with us, we knew it was time.
We took him in, and we allowed him to pass peacefully.
I tell people now that losing Sunny was in some ways worse, much more intensely painful and difficult, than losing either of my parents. Certainly not as deep of a loss, of course, but more intense and immediate. For both my parents the end came at the end of a difficult illness. Plus, I had been living many miles away from both of them after college; with my dad I was in California when he was having his toughest time at the end. I called and visited frequently, but it’s not the same as being there. With a pet, however, when they’re gone, the pain comes back every time you look at where they’re NOT in your home – they’re not sitting in that windowsill they loved, they’re not in the kitchen at mealtime meowing for food, they’re not in bed with you as they have been every night, etc. It’s a scab that gets picked every time you notice they’re not where they have been routinely for years. The pain is felt every time, several times a day. Surely, my parents meant much more to me, but the pain didn’t come back so immediately at all times, like it was with Sunny. And Sunny was young, about 6 years old at the time. He would have had many years left in a normal lifespan.
Of course, it might have also been more painful with what I had already gone through. To contemplate and go through a death, when I had been close to one myself, undoubtedly had to have made the situation that much more intense.
Here’s the irony of this situation: I get a blood cancer, fight very hard to survive, come home, and my pet has a blood cancer of his very own, and doesn’t make it. I know life really doesn’t work this way, but sometimes I think that Sunny gave himself so I could make it. It’s much too coincidental otherwise.
THIS, along with the other issues I was going through, is why I don’t remember February 2002. What are those lyrics from the Streisand song? “What’s to painful to remember we simply choose to forget.”
I may have forgotten about the ending, but I haven’t forgotten about Sunny.
My recollection of the recuperation from leukemia, from first symptom to the finish of chemotherapy, is very vivid for most events. However, I’ve found I have had a block for a certain period of time where I didn’t remember anything that occurred. I remember the January near death experiences, and some events in March that I haven’t gotten to yet. But February has been a blank, particularly after the swollen leg problems ended.
I did some research and talked to a few people, and have recalled some of what happened.
Mostly, I think I was at home, and adjusting to the life of a cancer patient going through cycles of chemotherapy. A bit of update – by this time, according to emails from that time, I had been told that I was in remission, probably about the time of my discharge. You’d think that this would have been a celebratory event, but apparently it didn’t register that way. I did say in the emails that there was about a 5% chance of recurrence at that time. I think the reason why it didn’t register more happily was the way I was feeling, and the course of treatment I was to go through. I had finished initial treatment with ATRA for APLM, called induction, and now was going into the phase called consolidation. In this phase you have outpatient chemotherapy every two weeks for about three to four months. This chemo wasn’t to be as strong as induction, but still would entail all the side effects of the other chemo. I do recall that this chemo was a beautiful cobalt blue in color as it infused, as opposed to the vivid red that I had that first dose in the hospital before Christmas.
So, all the pain and discomfort from the side effects that come from chemo I still had to endure for a few months. The cycle, I came to find out, went like this – for a few days prior to my chemo infusion I would feel fine, as my body was allowed to relax. Then I would get infused, and for a couple more days, I would feel ok. But slowly my blood counts would bottom out to zero, and the side effects of that would increase (mouth sores, great fatigue, stomach and GI problems, etc.) And, I’d have to watch for fevers and signs of increasing infections that would require hospitalization again. That would last for a week, and then as it wore off I would start feeling better, until I felt almost fine. Then the next infusion would be scheduled. This was to be my life for the next few months.
And obviously I would not be able to work during this time. In fact, when at the worst of the fatigue, I wouldn’t feel like doing anything. So I was home, and not feeling good. Plus, going outside, even when I felt ok, involved wearing that HEPA filter. A disincentive.
I now am certain that I was tired most of the time, and pretty depressed. My life included fatigue, being away from my usual life, and watching TV. One would like to think one would work on their Great American Novel, or macramé, or something “meaningful” during this time. I was too tired to do much anything. I remember taking pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills. I also remember watching a lot of pre-felony Martha Stewart and Law & Order reruns. My good college friend Kimberly came to visit during that time, but she recalls her visit like this, and felt she wished she could have done something. There wasn’t anything to do about it.
There was one event that occurred during that time which contributed to a bleak February. More about the challenges in February 2002 continued in the next history post.