Seven weeks ago today, we arrived in California to pursue my boyfriend’s career in the film industry. We buckled our cats, Sinja and Sunny, in the back seat of my car, and with the help of my bestie, we drove the 2,024 miles from Nashville to Los Angeles.
Over the course of the drive, the kitties were in good spirits. They also took really well to California life, even though neither of them ever lived anywhere but Tennessee. The drier air seemed to clear up Sinja’s allergies. Sunny, who used to be startled easily, really came out of her shell.
Then, this past Monday, something seemed to change. Sinja was more lethargic. I know sleeping a lot is a regular part of a cat’s life, but he barely left our bed. Even stranger, his meow changed. What once was the cat equivalent to an almost grating, old man meow, became a high-pitched squeak— as if he’d lost his voice. A morning or two later, he wasn’t even interested in his breakfast, so we knew something was wrong. I’ve had Sinja since he was 10 weeks old, and he has always eaten like a dog; he eats so much so quickly, he throws up. So, we made an appointment with a nearby vet who was highly rated on Yelp.
We hoped it would be something simple, like a cold or virus. Before we left Tennessee, we did our parental diligence and made check-up appointments to ensure the fur babies were in good health before making our multi-day trek across the desert. We were told Sinja was a little on the thin side, but it was simply a symptom of age— that like elderly humans, cats, too, begin to loose muscle mass in their formative years. The vet in Tennessee said even though he is 14.5 (as of this month), we shouldn’t be concerned unless he continued to loose weight even though he was eating regularly.
Thursday morning, I brought Sinja into the L.A. vet’s office. The nurse and I chatted about where I was from, because she swears she’s seen me before, but I told her I’m new to town. We made small talk while I filled out paperwork, and when she asked if I was from Tennessee, I told her I was an Army brat (she later helped us out with a military discount as a gesture to help us right now). Then, Sinja and I waited in Room 2 when the vet, who looked like a blend between Kylo Ren and Josh Groban came into the room. He talked to Sinja, took his temperature, and felt his stomach while I rambled about his symptoms.
Almost immediately, he said he felt tumor in Sinja’s stomach, but they’d have to take an x-ray to confirm it. He exited the room and was replaced with a nurse who talked to me about the prices of x-rays and exams, and I was told I’d have to wait in the lobby while a tech came to take my fur baby into another room.
By the time I was in the lobby, I was told it would take about 15 minutes. It was all I could do to keep it together. Couples came and went with their dogs. Post-Sarah Chalke episodes of Roseanne played from the Netflix queue in the lobby, but I only remember it was about Becky’s relationship with the Irish, Half-Brachen demon guy from Angel. I thought, “Netflix in the waiting room. What a good, money-saving idea.” But after that, I kept thinking it was the longest 15 minutes of my life and willed myself not to cry, even though I kept tearing up. (I hate crying in front of people, and that goes doubly for strangers. Even my best friend of six years has only seen me cry two or three times.)
After, I was brought back and left alone in a room where Sinja’s x-ray was displayed on a large light box. It was a side-view. I could see the way his veins branched out like a tree, the arc of his ribs, the heart of the animal I loved. Call it mother’s intuition, because I can’t read an x-ray, but I knew something was wrong. All the air left the room, and I felt like the smallest, most helpless person in the world.
When the veterinarian came back, he confirmed Sinja had a tumor. There’s no real way to identify the type, but he said the prognosis wasn’t good. I immediately burst into an ugly, Claire Danes cry, and he had to tell me where the tissues were. He was gentle but direct— they don’t recommend surgery or radiation for a cat his age.
He said, “What you should do now is take him home, and if I gets to a point where he won’t eat for a few days—”
“He’s letting me know it’s time,” I said.
He added his stance on prolonging a cat’s life at that stage being cruel— something we’d already discussed and agreed upon as cat parents. In the meantime, the vet suggested we try cortisone shots for Sinja. It can potentially break up the tumor and increase appetite, so we’re trying it. In three weeks, we’ll follow up and see how he is doing. If it goes well, we can do more rounds of cortisone. So far, it seems to be perking him up.
I’m heartbroken. Living 2,000+ miles away from my family and best friend, who all love Sinja as much as I do, makes it even harder. It’s easy to feel like a bad mom, or wonder if something would be different if our Tennessee vet were more adroit. However, I’m trying to stay positive for our little man. I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible and treasure every second I have with him.
And in the car, on the way home, I told him, “Your Poppa had cancer when he was an old man, too, and he beat it. You’re strong. You can beat this.”