She's right here. She's in the room with me right now.
She's my friend. She's my comrade. She has comforted me gently when I was at my most distraught. I love her dearly.
Soon, she'll leave.
She's leaving. I don't want her to leave.
An elegant, brash, long-haired orange cat 14-years old, my small friend Grace has oral cancer. Squamous-cell carcinoma to be specific.
She was just diagnosed last week. Events have been moving chillingly fast.
There are tumors growing along the inside of her lower jaw, even now. Right now. I can't stop their growth. I couldn't stop how large they've become. She is slowly but surely losing the use of her tongue.
A few days ago she could barely eat her customary dry food. Yesterday she could not eat liquified wet food. Today we fed her wet food from a large plastic syringe.
There is no action I can take to stop what is happening. There is no throat I could grasp. There is no extreme thing I could do to parley away or to delay this story's coda.
I am helpless.
I am not helpless. Writing this right now is my way of fighting back against cancer.
And here is why: Grace is the best cat I have ever known. She makes it all look so easy. And it's not even quite accurate to call her a cat. It almost talks down to her to call her a cat; I call her a creature. My creature. And I am hers. I live with two strange, singular creatures. I love them both dearly.
Let me tell you about Grace. Grace is contrary. Often are the times when she leaves a room strutting her hips away from appeals for her to make an appearance, her impeccably-kept tail sailing after her like a flag.
Grace is loud. There is no sound like it in the world. A demanding atonal honk of a voice: "Weghnr." she'll say, green eyes staring back with authoritative insistence. She'll demand your attention and get it. She declaims. She is calmly persistent. She is sure in her arguments. And when she likes you, she'll pursue with the most indirect maneuvers. First taking over your jacket cast over on the bed or chair, later making her way onto the couch with you. Next thing you know, she's asleep beside you with her chin atop your knee. Her indirect adoring leads over time into open full-fledged adoration. I see what you do now, Grace. Adorably devious.
Grace is comforting. In my time of greatest despair, when I almost lost the woman I love to a car accident, whenever I could be persuaded to leave the hospital, Grace would greet me when I returned home. I'd open the door to a acknowledging Whheghnr. At night, Grace slept at my hip, right near where my hands rest, so I could stroke her fur as we both drifted to sleep.
Grace is insouciant. She knows that she isn't supposed to drink from the toilet and despite having both a water bowl and 60-ounce water mug, Grace makes it her mission to sup from the porcelain chalice as often as she can. When admonished, she doesn't slink from the bathroom -- no, she trots from her arena of infraction, tail held high and proud.
Grace is exacting. No feline has ever operated in such a well-adjusted way when navigating blankets with people under them. Grace isn't afraid of what legs or feet might be doing under sheets and comforters, no. She triangulates where and which lap or leg will grant her the most warmth, and then she moves calmly across the bed (no matter the turbulence), closing in on the chosen site to make muffins (kneading and kneading and kneading). Finally, when she is satisfied, she flumphs down and deigns close her eyes.
Grace is tough. When faced with a human's (farcical) challenge to her haughty authority, Grace will parade to her scratching post and scratch and scratch and scratch her claws in, all the while radiating defiant vigor. "You dare?" she seems to sneer at her audience.
Grace is unafraid. She's a queen. She appraises. She inspects. She fears nothing on two legs. She enters a room not by the side of the doorway, but coursing right through the middle of it, confident of her place in things. No enemies here, not in her domain, but things to be overseen.
My small friend is leaving soon, and there is nothing I can do to prevent that.
I can clean the blood and spittle from her muzzle. I can help hold her while she drinks from a plastic syringe. I can brush her still gorgeous fur that she can't bathe herself any more.
She is not in pain. She simply doesn't understand why her mouth doesn't work anymore. She's frustrated. She has gotten slower each day. More spittle around her mouth each day. The spittle slowly grew pinker, and now every so often, redder.
In the past several weeks, Grace took to strongly insisting on drinking from our plastic water cups that we put on the bedside tables when it's time to go to bed. She was getting thirstier and then we didn't know why. She might have been searching for the particular cup of water that would quench the thirst inside her that wasn't going away like it used to when she drank.
Yet even as she weakens, her sharp green eyes still shine with the same bright, brash unstinting love.
It is among my worst nightmares to go the vet with three members of my family, returning home with only two.
Now, tonight, she sits on the hassock in front of the chair I sit on. As ever, her head is pointed away from me so if she opened her eyes, she could see whatever might be coming towards her. Her ears, though, are cocked back. She's listening to me breathe. She's listening to my fingers stroke her long soft warm orange fur. She's right here. I love her. I don't want her to leave.
Since her sickness has intensified in the last weeks, sometimes I catch a glimpse of her seemingly staring blithely off into the distance at nothing. This is unlike her. I recognize what she is doing. My childhood cat Bowdrie did the same as his organs began to stop working. We are near on towards the end. She seems to be looking at something off over an imagined horizon line, where I imagine that she imagines an oasis of water where she can drink as much as she could want, where she can finally feel as refreshed as she remembers water once made her, and rest.
I know that she's going to leave. I don't want her to leave. She's my friend. She's part of my family.
I can't take the cancer from her. Would that I could. I can't. So this is how I fight: I write about it, I write about her, and now I'm going to tell you what you can do to fight cancer.
Do as many of these as you can:
• 1.) My epic friend Lauren is going to shave her head again for charity to help kids with cancer. She's doing this with the St. Baldrick's Foundation in Chicago. Here is where the money goes to. Lauren is awesome. Fight cancer by pledging money to her charity drive. Do it now.
Participant ID: P-502891 Role: Shavee
I've answered the call to be a hero! I'm having my head shaved to stand in solidarity with kids fighting cancer, but more importantly, to raise money to find cures.
Please support me with a donation to the St. Baldrick's Foundation. This volunteer-driven charity funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government.
Your gift will give hope to infants, children, teens and young adults fighting childhood cancers. So when I ask for your support, I'm really asking you to support these kids. Thank you!
Click "Make a donation" to give online, or donate by phone or mail.
• 3.) Tomorrow isn't a given. Today: Call or write someone you love that perhaps you'd been putting off contacting. Do it.
She left today.
Grace Kelly Blanche DuBois Hirschfeld Rogers, AKA GraceFace From Outer Space – 1997-2012. She won. You won, Grace.
Rest, my little friend.