Kate the Cat II

November 16, 2006 at 3:02 pm (Uncategorized)

Our diminutive orange tabby returned home yesterday. She is scrawny and looks unwell, and the veterinarian was less than optimistic about her prospects. “I really do think it’s lymphoma,” he said. “But we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Wait and See is a concept I typically hate. Call me impatient, but I like to know what the hell is going on. Now.

So I was a little surprised with myself last night when I was content simply to have Kate out of kitty intensive care and back in her rightful spot mysteriously occupying most of a king-sized bed, even though she only weighs about four pounds now. Not as surprised as I was on election day when the Democrats somehow managed not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and lose various races that a turnip could have won. But surprised nonetheless.

I worry about Kate, but I don’t feel a crushing need to find out what is wrong with her and how long she might live. I turned down the option to have a costly (and potentially fatal) biopsy of her intestines performed to determine exactly what ailment she has. By doing so, I effectively took away the future option of filling her veins with approximately $6,000 worth of chemotherapy drugs. In essence, I decided to Wait and See. What the heck is wrong with me?

I attribute my nascent ability to cope with uncertainty ( I am, perhaps, exaggerating a tad; “cope” may be too strong a word – maybe I should say “I attribute my nascent ability to not dissolve into a puddle of neuroses and assorted human tissue when confronted with uncertainty”) to living in Chronic Town for two years. When I was first diagnosed with sarcoidosis – and then a couple of months later when the disease appeared in my heart – I spent most of my waking hours trying to determine: 1.) Why I contracted this illness; 2.) How it could be completely eradicated; and 3.) What exactly my prognosis was in the short, medium, and long terms. I wanted definitive answers. Now. And when I couldn’t find them, I became nervous, depressed, and prone to spending way too much time on the Internet trying to decipher jargon-filled medical journal articles on sarcoidosis published in the 1970s.

As anyone with a chronic illness – ranging from sarcoidosis to MS to lupus – will tell you, there are no definitive answers when you move across the bridge into Chronic Town’s zip code. My specialists’ favorite phrases are “I don’t know,” “We’re not sure,” “It could be that…,” “It seems likely that…,” and “Nobody knows whether…” This drove me absolutely nuts. I wanted the same formula that works for strep throat to apply to sarcoidosis. Give me a pill, and make this go away forever. Well, the doctors weren’t even sure if the pills they were administering would help my condition; then there was the concern that patients with sarcoidosis who are treated with prednisone are more likely to relapse; and then there was the wee matter of the pills making me unhealthier in more ways than the sarcoidosis had done (except for the pesky risk of dropping dead of a heart attack one day). My doctors also couldn’t tell me what I most wanted to hear –  that I would live to see my son graduate from college, that I would live to hold a grandchild, that I would live to have the privilege of growing old with my husband. For every question I posed, all I got back was a giant question mark, which seemed to mock me with the smile-like curve of its shape.

I’m not sure when I started letting go – ever so slowly and painfully – of my need to get answers about my disease. Part of it, I know, was simply becoming too exhausted to think about it anymore. I am living proof that people can actually become tired of hearing themselves think. Then there was the matter of the anxiety attacks brought on by reading mortality statistics about my manifestation of the disease (or better yet, the day I looked up cardiac sarcoidosis in an obituary database). I realized this wasn’t helping anyone’s health, including my husband’s and my son’s. I also spent a lot of time reading about people who live successfully in the face of chronic illness. The underlying theme I kept encountering in these books was that people overcame their diseases not by focusing on long-term issues, such as, whether a treatment will work fifteen years from now, but by concentrating on every day and making the most of the minutes at hand. And, finally, there’s a glass of wine with dinner – good for the heart, good for my nerves.

I struggle with these issues all the time, though. (That’s where the glass of wine after dinner comes in.) A couple of weeks ago, someone had the misfortune of pointing out a connection between an insecticide and cancer, and then wondering if there was a similar correlation to be found with sarcoidosis. I didn’t yell or get overtly angry, but I sure did become stonily silent. I have found that pondering these etiological questions of my illness only makes me grumpy and feel persecuted. I tend to go far too easily into the Land of the What-Ifs: “What if I had never accidently sprayed myself in the face with the dog’s flea treatment? What if I hadn’t gone to high school in the shadow of oil refineries? What if I hadn’t drunk gallons of Diet Coke in college?” Once you start down this line of reasoning, it’s awfully hard to stop.

I have strayed a long way from Kate. I don’t know how many more weeks we’ll have to spend with her. But, as people wiser than me like to remind me, in matters of life and death, we never have any guarantees to start with. So, I plan to spend some time enjoying Kate, and the vibrancy and joy she brings to us – not to mention her incessant howling to be let outside – rather than worrying what will happen in four weeks. As the protagonist in one of Andrew’s favorite books, Gift Bear for the King, (which I also read as a child, but somehow managed to miss the moral message contained in it) says, “What will be, will be.”

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