Lili and I did not get off to a good start. When we got our first house it came with a free cat who we named Five. We bought a kitten, Sina, we were very lucky that Five adopted Sina as one of her own.
I have two very fond memories of Sina as a kitten. One was her being pinned down by Five and being forcibly tongue washed, she ended up looking like a punk on a very bad hair day. The second was when Sina was pestering Five, and Five was clearly not in the mood. So she simply sat on top of Sina just leaving a head poking out.
For whatever reason, Five went out one day and never came back. Sina was still quite young and we both work, leaving her alone in a big house all day, 5 days a week. We decided to get her some company. Lili.
We were stupid, and I’m allergic to shopping. We went from pet shop (yes, yes I know) to pet shop looking for what was to nominally be “Lynda’s Cat”. Eventually, in a shop at the bottom of the market street in Walthamstow, I had had enough and picked a black and white furball at random. Lili.
We got her home, got her in a comfortable place near heat, food and water and plonked her on the litter tray. After an hour or so of “oooh! new kitty!” play, she went to sleep. Eventually so did we.
Waking up the next morning, we found Lili in an awful state. She was shaking, had been vomiting and had diarrhoea. Quite a lot of it for a cat so small. She got carted off to the local vet who did what they could but didn’t give us much hope that she would pull through. She was a very sick little kitten.
But she did pull through. A few days in the kitten equivalent of intensive care turned her around completely. Score 1 for veterinary science.
Although she was back on her feet and putting on weight quickly, we suddenly had another problem. Imagine if you can 7 month old Sina side-by-side with 2 month old Lili who was fresh out of life-saving care. Sina probably weighed 3 times what Lili did at this point. Tiny little furball Lili was actually growling at Sina, warning her to stay away from Lili’s food. Lili’s food being all that was available of course. This took weeks to fix. At the first sign of aggression to Sina at the food bowls Lili was simply picked up and taken into another room. I did a lot of walking those weeks.
We started to notice the house smelling a bit odd. The locus of the smell seemed to be the front room but it permeated through most of the lower ground floor. An odd chemically smell, acidic on the nasal passage. We couldn’t find the source.
Lynda and I were sat on our sofa one day, Lili wandered in to the front room. She walked up to the unlit gas fireplace, climbed on top of the “coal” bricks and then jumped up into the chimney. Lynda and I sat bemused and were about to intervene when a stream of liquid came down. Lili had been using the chimney flue as a convenient litter tray. We found quite a lot of wonderfully dried shit up there. We purchased a fire guard. Lili decided the cables behind the TV/Video/Stereo stack were the next best thing. You know, pissing on live power sockets. We purchased a suitable AV cabinet. She eventually learned that the garden was the right place to go to the loo.
Lynda once spent 4-5 hours clearing a border in our garden and putting some new plants in. Later that evening, Lili was evidently quite pleased to have a new litter tray, but decided she didn’t like the plants. She dug them up for us.
We took Lili to Norway. It’s fair to say that she didn’t flourish there. We picked them up at Trondheim airport and drove them 120K north to where our new home was. Lili’s time in Norway was uneventful apart from getting involved in a fight with a neighbour’s cat and getting a nasty bite; Sina explored a populated badger den and came second in the resulting disagreement. Lili found a spot she liked in the house, at the top of a 2.4 meter cupboard containing shelves with no obvious climbing route up. To this day, I have no idea how she managed to get up there.
When we came back from Norway, Lili and Sina had to go into quarantine. TOP TIP! Avoid any situation which means your cat has to stay in UK quarantine. The staff were wonderful, they cared, they grew to be very fond of our cats. The only bad bit was two cats confined in a space the size of two telephone boxes side-by-side for 6 months. They got out, we bought them a new home and three years passed more or less uneventfully.
Lili has never been the world’s healthiest cat. She’s had sniffles and a snotty nose and leaky eyes but, generally, she’s a huge black and white furball who rolls on her back an invites you to stroke her stomach (the best compliment a cat can give you) and make a fuss of her. She’s been taken to the vet a few times but it’s always been something she seemed to get over after a day or two of looking a bit miserable. When she became lethargic last Wednesday and wasn’t interested in eating for 48 hours we had no real reason for thinking this was any different. We were wrong. Very very wrong.
We always had to be careful to put used dental floss in the bin properly. Lili would cheerfully eat any dental floss she could get hers paws on.
From a young age Lili got into the habit of aggressively showing us her stomach when she wanted to be stroked. You would hear a loud thud behind you, look back and see her with four paws in the air begging for her stomach to be given attention. I recall once she was the other side of a double-glazed window on the stone sill, saw us and head-butted the window in an urgent effort to show us her tummy. Stupid cat.
I’m pretty sure it was Saturday 8th when we took Lili along to the vet. She was admitted as she had clearly lost a lot of weight and was dehydrated. A blood test was done and the result showed she had a low white blood cell count and a high bilirubin level. The vet suspected an infection in the bile duct and antibiotics were added to her drip. A day later she had rallied significantly and was released back home.
Lili the kitten was very adventurous. Apart from trying to out-growl a much bigger cat she also was very explorative. In the house we had a the time, the kittens’ bedding was downstairs. I recall sitting in the bed one night reading by lamplight and hearing an odd noise. We had seagrass carpet on the stairs, and this was like a mountaineer ice-axing his way up. The noise continued for a few minutes, and then nothing, and then the noise of claw-on-cotton as Lili dragged herself up onto the bed via trailing duvet. She eventually settled between our pillows and went to sleep. That became her traditional place.
A day or so after Lili got back home she did seem to have improved. She was taking food, was interacting with us, jumping up on things to be near us. Then came Tuesday 11th January, 2011.
Just a week or two before, Lynda told me a story about Lili. Lynda had been preparing dinner which included some peas. Lili had been supervising the meal preparation and sneezed. She sneezed into the bowl of peas. The peas went flying, she got scared and went to hide under the stairs. Don’t worry, we threw away the kitty-snot coated peas.
Tuesday 11th was a rough day. Let’s start with getting to work, and getting a call from your 8.99 month pregnant partner needing your urgent assistance because she’s feeling unwell. Then let’s add Lili suddenly plummeting downhill, unable to stand properly and near-collapsing when required to use her back legs. Lynda, and my unborn daughter, worked out fine. Lili.
We got Lili an emergency appointment at a different vet. Frankly I wanted a fresh pair of eyes on the case, and were lucky enough to get someone who had treated Lili years before, a no-nonsense man called Chris Gray. He examined Lili, blood was taken and analyzed and he was refreshingly honest with us: Your cat is very sick.
Two things Lili doesn’t like are hoovers and plastic bags. Either being brandished are enough to send her cowering under the nearest safe cover. If you’re hoovering a room that she is in, you can clearly see her measuring the distance between her and the hoover and her and the door. To the micrometer. The nanosecond the hoover is closer than the door, she makes a swift, fur-leaking exit.
Lili’s immediate diagnosis was cholangiohepatitis. Bad, but not untreatable. Although Chris said we were looking at 50/50, he did show us an example of a cat who was much much sicker than Lili but who had made a complete recovery. Further investigation was needed, it just so happened that a very skilled sonographer was due to visit the clinic that evening. Lili was added to the end of the queue. An ultrasound exam would let Chris look at what was going on.
Sina has always been the hunter of our cats. She would proudly bring us back living trophies to show her hunting prowess. Lili was less interested in hunting but didn’t mind playing with the mice. I recall once that Sina brought a mouse up to our bedroom. Lili accidentally sat on the mouse, and then apparently forgot about it and started licking her paws. The mouse had its head poking out from under her belly, I rescued it. Stupid cat.
Lili almost certainly has terminal cancer. That’s the news that Chris gave us over the phone yesterday evening. Feline lymphoma, a common cancer in cats, affecting her spleen, kidneys and most likely her bone marrow too. The last is the real sod of all of those. The marrow is where several cell lines are produced, white blood cells being one. White blood cells are what is needed to fight infection, Lili’s white cell count was about one fifteenth the normal level for any cat. Ridiculously low for a cat that was known to be fighting an infection. A tissue sample was taken from her spleen, thought to be one stronghold for the cancer.
Chris talked to us about possible treatment options for Lili. Chemotherapy, palliative care or euthanasia. Lynda and I talked over the options for hours and hours and hours. Chemotherapy, if successful, gave her the best chance for living longer. But living and having a life are not the same thing. I had doubts for her quality of life if we chose that for her. Palliative care involved giving her drugs to make her perky, drugs to keep bacterial infections at bay, drugs to make her feel hungry so she would eat. She was still going to die of the cancer, but would be comfortable for whatever time she had left, probably not more than a couple of months. The last option had me in tears just thinking about it.
Honestly, I hoped that Lili would simply die quietly in her sleep, thus sparing us the need to make this choice for her.
On Friday January 14th we had one simple expectation: We would get a call from our vet’s office telling us that Lili’s tissue sample would come back positive for some form of lymphoma. The test came back negative: no cancerous cells found, no abnormalities detected. Now we were very confused.
Lili was referred to a specialist centre about an hour outside of London. It was clear to me that Lili was running out of time and options so she was put on a private ambulance with Lynda riding shotgun. We had to find out what was wrong with her before it carried her away.
Lili’s condition deteriorated further in the two hours or so it took to get her to the specialist. The co-ordination problems she had, thought to be caused by low potassium levels in her blood, started to affect her front legs too. More samples were taken and sent off to the lab, Lynda headed back home in the ambulance.
At about 1630 I got a call from Theresa, the specialist treating Lili. She told me that the samples came back positive for lymphoma and that it was an extremely aggressive form. She also told me that Lili was now going downhill very rapidly and had been given additional medication and put on oxygen to stabilise a heart and breathing problem. It was very clear to me that Lili was very close the to end of her life, there was nothing more we could do for her than make the end as gentle as possible. I called Lynda with the news, Lynda agreed with me. Lili was put to sleep at about 1700.
It is terrifying to me that a cat can go from looking perfectly healthy to this in the space of a few days. Obviously Lili had the cancer for a time before this and it was only when her organs and bonemarrow started to be attacked that there was any visible symptom to show there was something wrong.
We miss our Lili desperately. I wrote this blog entry as a way to remind myself of some of the great times and funny moments we had with our wonderful black-and-white furball. Hopefully it’ll also help other people who find themselves in this situation. The world is a bit sadder and emptier without her in it, but we know we have done everything we possibly could to give her the best life she could have had and the best possible death when she could no longer go on. I take some comfort from that. Lili.