This is a tribute to my kitty cat Nelly, who died Thursday morning from complications of kitty cancer. Since I have shared her life many times with you all via photos and stories, I want to share her passing with you too. Writing about Nelly’s life and death and sharing her with you has helped me through this cancer journey greatly, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening. I know Nelly thanks you too.
Cancer Awareness. And if you are a pet owner, please read or share my page on pet cancer awareness. I also share details about Nelly’s cancer journey there.
2005, I had just come home from a week long Paris trip. This is my favorite photo of Nelly and I:
disclaimer: Yes this is a sad post, devastating really to anyone who has loved a pet. But please know that sharing this experience helps my soul and I hope it helps anyone else’s soul that is, will or has ached in the same way. In the end, my husband and I are truly focusing on remembering Nelly’s beautiful, wonderful, happy life. She was a kitty filled with love, energy, spirit and quite a personality. I will always remember her in a sunbean, with a big cuddly smily of her fuzzy face. Happy Nelly will be forever with me..
Nelly’s Last Day. written 11/14/2013
Today is my mom’s birthday. It is also the day my kitty Nelly died.
Emergency. As you may know, Nelly had been battling advanced stage cancer for the past few months. Her rare type of cancer was untreatable and so we were doing our very best to make her comfortable and prolong her happiness through her illness.
Cancer is an unpredictable, mysterious roller coaster ride. Especially in cats, who hide illness so well. But on most days, Nelly was as happy as can be. Rolling in her favorite sunbeam, surrounded by many different soft, fluffy blankets and kitty beds, her paws stretched out in the air, purring with ease and tilting her head back for chin rubs when I stroked her fur.
But for the past week I noticed Nelly’s spirit getting a bit defeated by the cancer. She wasn’t eating much on her own so I had been syringe feeding her four times a day for the past ten days or so. Plus giving her the insulin she needs, since she had diabetes as well. But even with the frustration of illness and life-sucking tumors growing inside her lungs, liver and lymph nodes, she was still our loving, sweet, silly Nelly.
Last night we all went to bed. Nelly crawled onto the giant floor pillow beside our bed and stayed there through the night. At around 2AM I woke up to check her blood sugar since I am always worried about her and couldn’t sleep. It was fine. Though for some reason I grabbed two pillows and a blankie and curled up beside her on that soft white floor pillow, stroking her fur and telling her I loved her. I slept with her all night. She liked that. She rolled on my arm and started “playing the piano” (as I call it) by pressing on the soft blankie, her sure sign that she is happy and cozy. She rolled over again and climbed on my legs like she always does and again started purring and pressing her sweet tiny black and white paws into my chest.
I slept with her like that on the floor all night. We were both in bliss.
Then at around 5am I awoke to Nelly scratching around loudly in her potty. She was running around a bit and in a few minutes threw up some acid. She went back to her potty and basically looked quite anxious. I figured she was just having some stomach acid, which was common with her cancer, and went into the kitchen to get something to drink. My husband yelled to me and when I came out Nelly was panting loudly, walking around scared. She crawled into our bed and plopped right on my pillow like she always does when she isn’t feeling well. But the panting continued and she soon collapsed on the floor. I was shaking and freaking out. I ran to grab the blood sugar monitor and she was fine, 257 glucose reading. I shouted over and over to my husband, “We have to take her in. We have to take her in. Now!” We threw on clothes and rushed to the car. This nightmare was real and I knew it could only end badly.
We sped to the vet ER, my husband even ran a red light (safely) when I shouted at him to. This was Nelly’s life.
On the ride over I pulled Nelly out of her carrier and sat her on my lap. It was excruciating. The pain I was in to see her like this. Gasping for breath. Meowing in fright. Trying to crawl on the floor. I’m not certain, but it seemed like she couldn’t see all the sudden. I just kept caving my chest into her fur and telling her it was going to be OK and how much I love her. Of course I was sobbing when I told her all this, but I just couldn’t help myself.
We arrived at the ER and they rushed her in the back. We were ushered to a room where we waited and I basically was in shock and freaking out. A mess. Tears, my hair falling on my face, I don’t even remember putting on clothes at the house. What was I wearing? Who cares.
The doctor came in with a sad face and introduced herself. The first question out of her mouth, “So Nelly’s not doing so well, do you want to euthanize her?”
All along this horrible journey of Nelly’s cancer I have been adamant that I would NOT put her to sleep unless she was miserable or having an emergency and in pain. But I never thought that would happen, for some stupid reason. So there are no words to describe the weight I felt when that doctor asked us if we wanted to put Nelly to sleep. My response? I just wanted to see her. If this was the end I just wanted to say goodbye and have her hear that I never left her side.
The doctor lead us in the back room and I saw her frail body sprawled across the table, her stomach suddenly shaved and an IV in her back paw, four vet techs perched over her body. She was wild with fear and still panting for breath. It was my worst nightmare come true. But in some way, Nelly wasn’t all there. I have seen her severely upset at the vet before and was able to calm her back down from it, but this was different. Her poor, sweet body was crashing. I ran to her and quickly pressed my face against her neck, my chest against her body and cradled her in my warmth. I whispered over and over into her ear through sobs that I loved her so much and that I was right there with her. But even my assurance didn’t fix what was going on.
The doctor rushed us out again and said they would do some quick blood work and be back with us. Her blood work was a mess. The doctor guesses that a blood clot from one of her tumors had traveled to her lungs, stopping her breathing and possibly giving her seizures and even messing with her brain – all quite suddenly in this crisis. And even if they could stabilize her she said that it just didn’t look good. We were given two options, attempt to stabalize her frail body and then put her through 2-4 days in the hospital (if she even came out of this with her mind and body in tact) or euthanize her, aka put her out of this misery. End this emergency. The vet said that the chances of her coming out of this well were very slim to none.
I lost it again. Sobbing, I sunk against the wall, onto the vet office floor, my back against the wall. Dammit.
The doctor came back in and said that she didn’t think Nelly was going to make it like this. And we went back to be with Nelly again. She was barely responding except from her very lour gasps for air – even on oxygen she couldn’t breath. The doctor said Nelly was dying. I didn’t want to see her in this pain any more so my husband and I OK’d the euthenasia. Hardest decision I have ever made in my life. Something I practically swore I would NEVER do with Nelly. I pressed my face close to her ear and cried into her soft forehead as she took her last struggling breaths. I’m not even sure she was still “there” at that point which makes me so sad. In a few moments the doctor said Nelly was “gone.”
I sobbed on her lifeless body and touched her paws. They were cold. Along the back wall of the emergency room area were hospitalized pets, dozens of cages filled with mostly puppies and dogs, a few cats, all staring on at this sad event. It made me feel better that those sweet animals were there in that room with Nelly when she went. Nelly always hated vets, but she did like meeting the friendly animals that sat in the waiting rooms with her.
There was not much to say after that. I took a lock of Nelly’s fur and the vet had us sign our bill, fill out cremation forms and then sent us on our way with their deepest sympathies. I felt so cold.
When I climbed in the car I felt my chest crashing into itself like a deep, black hole, pressing deep, swallowing my sad heart. I don’t think I have ever cried so hard in my life.
I was scared. I knew the hardest part for me was still ahead. Life without Nelly, a kitty I have had since I was 20 years old, would be unknown territory. I have never been “an adult” without her. I have never blogged without her. I have never been married without her. But just as I did with Nelly’s cancer fight, sharks circling in deep dark waters, I knew I had to keep swimming, suck in some air and take a deep breath and just go forward. For Nelly.
I adopted Nelly in 2001, right after the September 11th attacks. I was 20. I had just dropped out of Boston University because I hated it there. It was freezing and I missed California. I was back in California, this time down south in Los Angeles, going to Santa Monica College while I applied to transfer schools. Basically I was having my quarter-life crisis a bit early. So one day I stumbled into the Westside Pavillion to get my hair done and there was an pet adoption booth set up from a local shelter. I looked into the cages and saw three tiny kittens. An black kitten and a white kitten on one side, hissing and pawing at another scared little black-and-white tuxedo kitten on the other side. That was Nelly. Then known as “Mittens.” She was cowering in the corner, afraid and alone when I asked to hold her. I scooped her up and her tiny claws burrowed into my black long-sleeved shirt. I felt the tiny pricks on my skin. I said hi and tried to pull her off my chest to look into her eyes but she just clung to me so so tightly with all her strength. The adoption lady had to help me pry her claws from my shirt.
“I’ll take this one!” I said. Even though my apartment building didn’t allow pets. Whoops. Oh well.
I took Nelly home in one of those little “Happy Meal” looking cardboard boxes they give you and she meowed the whole ride back to Westwood.
We have been best friends, soul mates, ever since that day. I have had cats and pets in the past, but this was different. The bond I shared with Nelly is one of the most special experiences in my life. She has taught me so much about love, light, trust, happiness and comfort. I am so grateful and lucky to have had her in my life.
The favorite thing was coming home to Nelly. No matter what kind of crappy day I had or how sad, angry, frustrated, happy, silly or anything I felt, my favorite part of my day was opening the door, dropping my keys and purse and rushing to find Nelly, curled up somewhere, purring happily. I’d bury my face in her silky black and white fur or scoop her up and twirl her around while she gave me kitty kisses by pressing her cheek up against mine. I miss this most of all.
Right now I’m more depressed and sad than I can imagine. But the things that pull me out of it are 1) my faith that Nelly is sprawled out on the softest cloud ever right now, crunching on all the Greenies kitty treats she wants while she purrs and imagines me stroking her soft fur. Kitty heaven. 2) Nelly hated seeing me sad more than anything in the world. If I was crying or yelling she would prance right up to me and meow right in my face while giving me kisses or trying to climb in my lap. When I was sick in bed for any reason, Nelly would lay beside me nonstop, worried about me. Nelly hated seeing me sad. So for her, I have to get through these tears and find some peace. Nelly is at peace now, so I need to find comfort in that.
But OK, right now I’m still in kicking and screaming mode. Sorry, but grief is not a pretty picture. And love this deep doesn’t just leave your daily life without notice. Waking up to an empty kitty bed perched on my desk was a sadness I’ve never known. Cancer has clawed Nelly out of my life and that makes me so sad.
Lessons. Hope. I wrote these passages a few days ago when Nelly was still with me. I think it describes perfectly how I need to remember her and how I need to move forward..
Passage 1: It is beautiful really.
As I lay here stroking Nelly’s fur, whispering to her to “get some rest,” silent tears streaming down my face, my eyes staring into her half-closed golden-green eyes, her lively tail flopping in the background as she doses off into a purr-filled sleepy dream, all I can think in my messy, scattered, anxiety-ridden mind is one suddenly calming and comforting thought.
It is beautiful really.
This magical friendship I have been gifted in this life with this remarkable creature.
Unconditional love. An unspoken understanding. Complete and utter trust. A connection without words or value or hidden motivations.
It is so beautiful.
And though the sadness I sit in now, trudging through her cancer, is like a muddy swamp swallowing me whole, covering me in wet, green, murky slime. A thick coating of dread, worry, pain and anger. I have started to see the meaning of it all. The wide view. The point. The gift. And instead of that swampy sadness feeling, I roll over into a warm glow sunbeam that washes away all that pain.
It is my own choice really. Which feelings to wade in while Nelly’s cancer runs its course. The swampy sadness or the warm glow of gratitude.
It is not easy to pry myself out of the sludge, but I have to force myself every day. At least for Nelly’s sake. I know she hates seeing me sad more than anything. And luckily, the glow is so easy to find when I look into Nelly’s still sparkling eyes. Or see her roll in her favorite sunbeam in bliss, head back, perky paws stretched out.
I look over at her, as she lays her head on my pillow, in her “kitty tent” on the bed. The same one I have constructed for her nearly every day for the past few years, out of soft blankies and puffy pillows. She stretches out her silky white paw, her lean black body sinking into the fluffy white comforter and all I can do it stare at her and feel something warm. The cold goes away and I just want to snuggle her soul and tell her over and over how much I love her and how much I am thankful for the unconditional love, sweetness and trust she has shown me in her life.
These furry creatures may just be “pets” or “animals” to some people. But these animals, dogs, cats, birds, all species, know just as much (if not more) about some of life’s most important values and lessons. They teach us sometimes blind and hurried humans so much about life. We can learn so much from animals if we just stop and let them teach us.
And that is why I cannot stop telling Nelly I love her in these hard final days, weeks. Who knows how long.
I can’t hold back and I achingly tell her these things over and over and over. I whisper, “I love you. I love you. I love you Nelly. I love you so much.” I can’t stop saying it.
But despite my human need to spill words over and over in her ears, Nelly has no use for words. And that is the magic of our bond. I know I don’t even need to say “I love you.”
I know deep in my heart that even without words, she already knows.
Passage 2: The letting go.
Sometimes when you have no real power, the only choice left is to just let go of the stress and angst and anger and just try to soak in all that is good, happy, sunny, warm and sweet things in this short thing we call life. Let those warm moments cradle you whole and keep them safe in your heart forever.
Those feelings of love and bliss and connection are everlasting. Infinite. Live fully, every happy, sad, silly moment. Feel it. Break through the numbness. Do not let the cold consume you. Let warmth prevail. “Cold” describes cancer perfectly. Everything feels frozen. But love is warm. And sun melts snow.
This is real. This is life. This is death. This is cancer. This is love. Love is all anyone who is dying wants. Needs. Love cannot heal cancer, but it sure does heal a broken spirit.
And love never dies. I believe that.
What Helps: Small Steps.
It is now the end of the day. Nelly has been gone for twelve hours, the tears still swamp my eyes nonstop, but here is what has helped..
1) My husband and I started a book of Nelly memories and have been filling it with all the random, silly, sweet, loving things that Nelly would do that we never want to forget. Thinking of these good things helps me remember her true spirit and not the cancer than ended her life.
2) Friends. Family. I only told a handful of people about what happened today. And yes I appreciated the loving offerings to “help” in any way. But the thing that made me feel so incredibly good was knowing that these people who didn’t even know Nelly that well, knew how strongly we were bonded, how truly much Nelly meant to me and how heartbroken I must be right now. It makes me so good to know that I communicated to my loved ones how much Nelly changed and strengthened my soul and my spirit.
3) Stuff. All of Nelly’s stuff was here when we came home. We decided to clear out as much as we could, keep all her very special things here, and to create a donation box for all the rest – food and supplies. It makes me feel good to know I will be helping cats in need.
4) Cancer awareness. Most of all I am so happy YOU are reading this. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I hope you read my page on Nelly’s cancer and cancer awareness facts and share them with any pet owners in your life.
And finally, again, to every single person who sent a comment on my blog, facebook, Instagram, twitter or in person, thank you for telling me and Nelly that you were thinking of us and rooting for little Nelly to beat this thing. Your positive wishes mean more to me than you know.
RIP Nelly Patalsky July 2001 – November 14, 2013
Pet owners and animal lovers, please read my page on PET CANCER AWARENESS.
History: My past posts talking about Nelly and our journey
– post 1 – 8/25/2013
– post 2 – 8/28/2013
– post 3 9/1/2013
– post 4 – 9/4/2013
– post 5 – 9/11/2013
– post 6 – 9/27/2013
More photos to celebrate Nelly’s wonderful life: