What I think of when I see our tiger-cat

Tisha is crouched on my computer desk, purring with that gulping little hitch his purr now has because of the growth on his neck. He’s so normal except for this… but this is no small thing. He doesn’t eat as much (the mass probably makes it less comfortable to chew or swallow), his left eye is a little skewed (the mass presses on a nerve there), his neck looks skinny from being shaved before his last surgery. He’s got scabs all over the area. It’s hard to tell with cats how much discomfort they feel, so I’m glad at least to have him following me around and asking for pettings the way he always has. He still looks into my eyes, head-butts my hand. But he’s not well.

This photo is from a year ago:

Here’s one from this morning. It’s not the greatest quality but check out the difference between his eyes. And see how he looks a little more unkempt, a little more tense?

These are the first photos I’ve taken of Tisha since this all started back in January. At that time we thought it was a one-off issue so I didn’t mind documenting his recovery, but as the situation continued, I couldn’t bring myself to take the camera to him again. It’s not an experience I particularly want to capture.

As it stands, Tisha has had four surgeries and numerous medications. He has seen several vets, including an oncologist and a board-certified surgeon. They’ve done biopsies and cultures. First they thought he had an abscess, then a blocked salivary gland, then an infection, and the surmise now is that it’s a benign tumor that’s excreting some kind of irritant. They want to go in one more time to try to get the thing out — a tricky proposition because of its location on his neck, a sensitive highway of nerves and arteries — but we’re waiting for the results of the fungal culture before we agree. The surgeons say their next steps will be the same whether there’s an infection or not, but after all this, we want to collect as much information as possible before we subject him to anything more.

But on some level, the medical situation is just talk. It’s just words. The reality is this beautiful, sweet, trusting cat, who wants nothing but to be loved and fed and comfortable. Who remains so on edge after his long series of vet visits and forced medications that he still cringes away from us when Erik and I approach him together. Who now sleeps away most of the day, eats only in little nibbles, and leaves disgusting fur-coated scabs all over our carpet. Does he know what’s happening in his body? Even if he understood what our choices were, is there space in a cat’s thoughts to weigh the pros and cons of a few weeks’ acute fear and misery versus years of health? To weigh those years of health versus those same years marred by surgical complications? To weigh those few weeks of terror against… whatever will happen if we do nothing?

The other reality, for us, is that we’ve spent more than $8000 on Tisha so far, and every surgery adds another thousand or two. The vast majority of people in this world don’t have $8000 to spend on their children all in six months, let alone animals. It’s not that Tisha’s life is worth less or his suffering less acute than a human’s. But it makes me deeply uncomfortable to think we might be dropping this amount of money on treatment he might not want; that we might be doing it for us, not for him. How do we know? Or have we already crossed that line?

The simple reality is that I want our boy to be well. But I don’t know how to do it.