I rescued Moush Moush from a laurel bush in a lakeside suburb of Seattle in the summer of 2001. A Manx cat had stalked her and she hid in the branches of that bush all day, hoping someone would hear her cries and rescue her. I thought I heard a cat meowing in front of my attic apartment in an old, dilapidated, Craftsman house before I left for work that day, and when I returned home, there it was still—a loud meowing from within the bush.
I walked over to the overgrown, laurel bush that was as tall as the house and trimmed into an arch over the gravel driveway—creating a tunnel of sorts—and out flew a tuxedo cat with an unusual smoke coat, followed by the evil Manx. I wiggled my fingers and kept calling, “Come on kitty,” and she ran right after me and up the rickety stairs to my apartment and has never left my side since that day.
It was a strange neighborhood due to the zoning, but I put up signs for a lost cat and no one called. There was an old orchard behind the Craftsman and I often saw stray cats back there when I went to pick plums and raspberries, but I’d never seen Moush Moush, with her pretty markings and little mustache. She caught a lot of mice in that orchard for me, so I suppose it was a haven for ferals and strays. She was so small that I thought she was a kitten when I took her to the vet soon after I rescued her, but they said she was an adult cat and about a year old. She had been spayed and I’ll never know what happened to her the year before she found me and I found her. It was under strange circumstances that I rented that apartment and I believe it was fate that we found each other that day.
Within a few months, I began to get sick from Ehler-Danlos syndrome, not that I would know I had it until 11 years later. By the winter, we moved to a nicer apartment in the same area due to a better paying job. I had a career and was in graduate school and didn’t see Moush Moush all that much, but I was already very attached to her. We moved again that summer to a duplex in Seattle’s Central District, where Moush Moush caught huge sewer rats she left on the kitchen floor as presents, and then we moved to Southern California due to my declining health and inability to work. My friends had all left me, but Moush Moush was my quirky, talkative, and loving companion always. Moving is hard on cats, but she adjusted and was so easy. She always was. She even flew to California under my seat since she was only 6 lbs and didn’t meow once.
Moush Moush loved the hot, California desert and my mother’s home on a golf course in a country club became her personal oasis. She slept in lounge chairs by the pool, hunted Mourning Doves, and chased after Roadrunners and stray golf balls. I was a very sick, 95 lb zombie schlepped to doctor after doctor in search of a diagnosis, but my little tuxedo was as happy as could be.
We stayed in the California desert for almost 2 years and I eventually rented an apartment in a mid-century 4-plex in el barrio that I loved and I got a bit better with medication and even worked at a part-time job that I enjoyed and met a friend there. Then, I started school for a new degree in hopes I could work for myself and balance a career with chronic pain and illness. I woke up relatively early and ate breakfast in my little, enclosed yard where I’d grown an herb garden. I got out daily, was around people, and I walked everywhere—so unlike my life now. I always saw the sunshine. Things were not horrible, despite my aching body. Moush Moush got in a lot of cat fights in el barrio that I rescued her from, but she was dealing with the loss of the country club. Well, poverty is poverty.
In late-summer of 2004, we moved to our current state in the SW due to reasons I’d just rather not discuss. Moush Moush became an indoor cat—stuck mostly in dated, tract-style condos that had mold inside the walls from failed stucco and filthy air ducts, which is typical here. She only had a dusty balcony to go out on to see the sky and birds, whose call she could mimic. I wanted a better life for her and for me as the condos made me sicker, but as my life was steadily declining due to my health and inability to work consistently, I just did the best that I could. I never liked this city and its ugly genericness and it has contributed in so many ways to my downward spiral.
For a few years we drove back to Seattle for a summer business I’d had for years and Moush Moush loved the long, 2-day ride. We’d drive to my mother’s house at the country club several times a year and she’d lay in the back window of my car the whole way. It’s a long drive and was hard on my body like the trips back home, but we’d go late at night and fly on the interstate and she was happy. Moush Moush always knew where we were going and would climb off her perch the minute we got to the guarded gate of the country club.
Things got worse with my family and my health and the trips stopped. I managed to find a nicer condo here in the spring of 2009, but it was on the outskirts of the desert and I became more of a recluse from the isolation and my illness, but maybe Moush Moush was happy that I was always home since I was on SSDI by then and only left once or twice a week for a doctor appointment or to do errands. It was a newer, better-built, carriage house-type condo with an attached garage below so she could hear me come and go, and when I came home, all of her stuffed rats and toys were lined up at the top of the stairs waiting for me. She was always sweet and loving—so unlike my family—and I was the same with her. I smothered her with kisses, even after I became allergic to her. She was my soul mate—my everything.
In July of 2009, I flew to Seattle for my brother’s wedding and someone watched Moush Moush for me. I couldn’t wait to get back home and away from the horrid climate in Washington and my equally horrid family and evil grandmother, whose house I stayed at and ended up crying in the bathroom one night due to her insults and my muscular pain that hurt to the bone from the humidity. I just wanted to go home to the hot desert and see my little love.
Soon after returning, I noticed a lump on Moush Moush’s right shoulder. It was like a goose egg that stuck out to the side and felt like a firm oval. I figured it was just a cyst. I took her to her vet and the aspirate, or needle biopsy, was strange. There was a viscous fluid that came out via the syringe, but it sounded like a cyst to me. The aspirate came back from the lab as a benign cyst and actually had flattened like a blister after the fluid was removed, but her white blood cell count was off and her vet wanted to do a biopsy if it grew back—and it did.
I took her in for a little biopsy, which turned into invasive surgery as the cyst—now obviously a tumor—went clear down into her shoulder joint and the vet couldn’t get it all out. I think this is where things went wrong and I wish she had just taken a small biopsy as planned and left it alone. Moush Moush had to spend the night at the clinic and I picked her up the next day, along with narcotics to take for the pain. Then, I had to wait for the biopsy results, and her vet was not optimistic. I was a complete wreck.
I’m extremely superstitious. I hung a hamsa around her neck and put my big one on her side of the bed and asked anyone above—including all of my deceased relatives—to watch over her. I don’t know why I do things like that when Jews don’t believe in heaven—I just want to know that people go somewhere in the end I suppose. I’m not Orthodox, so I pick and choose what I believe.
The call finally came from her vet, who is a very good doctor, but not the type you want to hear bad news from. Moush Moush had myxosarcoma, a rare type of soft-tissue sarcoma and these are not good cancers in any form. Myxosarcomas contain mucin, hence the viscous fluid in the aspirate. They are locally invasive, grow quickly, and have microscopic tentacles of cancer cells, so the only chance of survival is if the vet can get very wide and clean margins around the tumor and hers had been dissected during the biopsy. Who knows where those creepy, cancer cells had gone as a result?
The vet said she needed an amputation of her right, front leg. My heart dropped out of my chest, even though I was still in a state of shock from her telling me Moush Moush had cancer. I begged her to call other desert cities and Southern California, but they all were saying the same thing. A soft-tissue sarcoma of any type on the body is almost always terminal due to the inability to get the necessary margins, but there is much hope if it’s on a limb that can be amputated, although an oncologist in California had said radiation was needed, as well. I was referred to a specialty clinic here who has a very good veterinary oncologist and by the time I got in to see him, the tears had somewhat dried up as I had done my research. Humans get the same cancer and the prognosis after an amputation was deemed excellent, regardless of the species.
However, the weeks between the diagnosis and the surgery were a complete nightmare. I was a walking anxiety attack who was so scared I would lose my best friend. I couldn’t function and just cried and cried. It was my father, who happened to be talking to me at the time due to the wedding, who got me through it from afar.
It was a replay of everything my father taught me as a young child, even if he had a mean way of toughening me up. I had to rely on my strength. I had to stop breaking down. I had to be in charge. I am grateful my father was there for me on the phone and by e-mail. It was one of the worst times I can remember, nonetheless. How could this horrible disease happen to my sweet, little cat? How could it happen to me after all I’d been through? Why do bad things always happen to good people—and that included Moush Moush?
Deciding on an amputation is hard, especially when it’s not a decision for yourself. I needed to know if Moush Moush wanted this surgery, but she didn’t know something in her body was trying to kill her so how could I find that out? I thought about animals in the wild and how they fight for their lives. I thought about how in Judaism, life is seen as a gift that you don’t take for granted. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing this solely because I couldn’t live without her. All of her doctors were in favor of the amputation and finally, my mind was made up.
At the appointment at the specialty clinic earlier that month, the oncologist told me that there was a 90% cure rate with amputation. The 10% would be if the cancer metastasized to the lungs, which wasn’t likely as she had a stage 1 tumor with a very low mitotic index, meaning the tumor was slow growing at that point. I can’t recall if he mentioned radiation or if they even provided it, but he was very confident that surgery would suffice and I really didn’t want to put Moush Moush through any unnecessary treatments, so I followed his advice.
We met with the surgeon, who was very confident as well, despite the initial surgery she’d had. He was very friendly and drew diagrams on a whiteboard of how he was going to cut clear around the residual tumor and surgical area in order to get very wide margins and all the microscopic cancer cells. I was told that tripods, or 3-legged cats, do quite well. It seemed like Moush Moush had cheated death by getting the tumor on her leg. The surgery was scheduled.
I dropped her off with big kisses and was told they would call me when they were done and I could visit her in a couple of days. I went back to the desolate condo and missed seeing Moush Moush in bed or finding her rats and toys at the top of the stairs. There was a horrible emptiness as I had no friends and was so isolated as it was. I was cautiously optimistic that everything would turn out and tried to not think about what she was going through during the surgery. I got a call that all went well and she was recuperating and I felt a little better.
I went to visit her at the specialty clinic a couple days later when they said I could and was completely unprepared. A tech led me into a small room and I took a seat while she brought Moush Moush in and placed her 5.5 lb body on my lap. Nearly half her body was shaved and she had a large, semi-circular incision with black sutures where her leg had been. There was nothing there: no leg, no shoulder, no shoulder blade—I was told that would look odd once the muscles atrophied. She was on buprenorphine, a very strong narcotic, and she tried to lift her head to turn and look at me, but couldn’t. I kept petting her and talking to her and telling her how brave she was. She knew it was me. The guilt was about to swallow me up and my sadness and anger at this disease was eating me alive. Moush Moush had been through a terrible surgery and I signed the paperwork. Why did this have to happen to her? She didn’t deserve any of it.
I finally was able to take her home. She smelled awful as she was too sick to groom herself and I wished they could have cleaned her a bit, which I tried to do at home. I had made a safe, tent bed of pillows under a folding table covered with a sheet. I had her food and water right by her side, but she didn’t move. I gave her the liquid narcotic as scheduled and she drank it up. She couldn’t eat or drink, so I bought baby food and syringed that and water into her mouth to keep her alive. She stayed like that for days and days and hadn’t used her litter box, which was an aluminum baking pan as I needed something very low to the ground for her. I was so worried I barely slept.
She finally tried to get up one day, but she didn’t know how to walk on 3 legs and the laminate wood floor was so slippery. She was like Bambi on Ice and did the splits. I tried to help her to no avail and was so afraid to touch her surgery site and cause any pain. I bought sticky, rubber drawer liners and lined the floors and little by little she learned to walk on 3 legs. She also finally went to the bathroom after nearly a week, but she couldn’t make the long walk to the litter box so I had a flood to clean up, but I didn’t care. Moush Moush was going to be okay.
And she was. One day I caught her slowly climbing down the stairs and she was sleeping in bed with me again courtesy of a chair I placed at the end to help her get up and down. With time, she just had trouble getting down from things as she could jump onto lower furniture just fine with two back legs. Every 6 weeks we went to the oncologist for a checkup and chest X-rays, and every time she had a clean bill of health. At the 1-year mark, we could just have this done by her vet and the oncologist reminded me that with each passing year, the chance of metastatic disease was smaller and smaller. I felt I could finally breathe.
Shortly after that, we got notice that we had 30 days to move out of our rental condo due to the shyster owner who was moving back in because despite knowing that I was sick and in need of long-term housing, he leased it to me simply so I could pay part of his mortgage while he lived in a house he was flipping during the recession. Now I knew why I got it for so cheap and he would never forward his mail. It would be another move for Moush Moush, who was content enough where she was. The amputation changed her in so many ways, but she was still a sweet and talkative companion that I would do anything for.
It was August of 2010 and so hot with the monsoon coming and going. I couldn’t find a rental as most condos here are not locally-owned and are managed by shady property managers who do nothing for you and steal your deposits unless you sue them, but they do require proof of employment—not credit or income. The large, apartment complexes here are even worse or were converted into condos during the boom before the recession.
So, we ended up in the motel, where we’ve been for nearly 3 years, with the exception of a nightmare, studio condo I reluctantly rented for a year until it developed a clogged sewer line above my unit and I got sewage and Drano dumped on my head twice and ended up with acute bronchitis and fluid in my lungs with a note from the ER doctor to not return until the unit was habitable, which the property manager could care less about. We stayed for 2 more days until the mold from the wet drywall was too much to bear and I got our old room back here at the motel the evening that I went out-of-state and got a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type II by a geneticist. Well, I can’t say Moush Moush got dealt the best hand in life, either. At least she prefers to stay in bed most of the time now, as there isn’t much space to walk around in here.
I used to belong to a small synagogue here that was affordable. I’m not that religious, but during the part of the Shabbat service where we stand and pray silently, I’d pray and pray that Moush Moush would stay healthy and then take my seat. It hurt my body to sit through the service and I never prayed for my own health. The years passed with clean checkups, so the cancer was behind us, even though I didn’t renew my membership last year due to my vision and missed the High Holiday services, which fell right after my corneal surgery when I was far beyond legally blind. Nonetheless, something had worked to keep Moush Moush in remission.
I was the one getting worse. The keratoconus showed up in 2011 by my estimation and then I connected the dots and got correctly diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos during the sewage disaster in November of 2012 and things just seemed to be spiraling out of control, but I still had Moush Moush to keep me from feeling so utterly alone and unloved. She has always been my reason for living and the balance when things get so off-kilter. This September is 4 years since Moush Moush’s amputation and the follow-up appointment when her oncologist put his hand on her side where the tumor had been and said, “I consider this area cured.” Oncologists never like to say the word “cured”.
Then I felt it the Tuesday before last: a small, firm, oval lump where her leg had been. I could almost get my fingers under it—just like the myxosarcoma. I lost my mind and took double doses of Klonopin—my prescribed amount actually—to get through the night until I could call the vet the next day. I also had to see the cardiologist about my echo the following day and can’t say I was at my best. I was able to get an appointment with the vet that Thursday night, and we saw the same one who did the big biopsy and diagnosed her, so at least she would remember the tumor I hoped. She did, but the aspirate was dry this time, which allowed me to breathe again momentarily.
The clinic stays open rather late and she said she could do a biopsy—and I stressed just a biopsy—and I could pick Moush Moush up in a few hours. The vet called when she was done. She said the tumor wasn’t encapsulated and didn’t just come out as hoped. She wasn’t optimistic, even though she didn’t see the bubble of mucin like last time. I went back to the double doses of Klonopin and picked Moush Moush up. She was fine, but had a small incision in her white fur with white stitches from the biopsy and was wild as could be from the narcotic they gave her.
I calmed down a bit over the weekend, but by Monday I had CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” stuck in my head, with the line “Someone told me long ago; there’s a calm before the storm,” playing like a broken record. The biopsy results would be back on Tuesday at the earliest. I had no one to talk to about Moush Moush and I didn’t have a good feeling. I just kept thinking that this can’t happen again. Things are so bad right now and this really just can’t happen because if this cancer is on the body, they can’t surgically remove it with the wide margins and it’s terminal.
I just can’t lose Moush Moush and I know there are people who are attached to their pets, but they have a life beyond that. She’s the love of my life and literally all I have left. The first person—yes person—that I talk to when I get up and the last one I talk to when I go to bed and who else do I talk to in between? I get into bed with her by my side and always say, “Night night, Moush Moush. I love you.” I poke my head in her cat pyramid that sits on the bed and kiss her on the head and make sure she’s okay. Everything is routine with us. She’s been on this slow journey into nothingness with me for 12 years now.
Tuesday came and I called the vet clinic in hopes the biopsy results were in because I needed to know. I was told something came back and her regular vet, who is a gentle soul, would call back my 9 pm. So, I waited and tried my best to distract myself. The clock soon read 10 pm and no call—I already knew why. Her vet called around 10:45 pm, even though the clinic closes at 10 pm. If I had to hear bad news, I wanted to hear it from her, but I could tell from her first words what she was going to say. Moush Moush had a recurrence. The biopsy showed myxofibrosarcoma—the same cancer as before but worded differently. The diagnosis was grim, especially as it’s the second time and on her body, but she wanted me to see the oncologist to get the hard facts. I kept my composure and thanked her—I really did need to hear it from this vet who is so warm and caring.
Then, I just broke into a million pieces and cried like I’ve never cried before. I had a massive panic attack and couldn’t breathe—it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the motel room. I fell to the floor in the bathroom and wanted to die, but I couldn’t leave Moush Moush all alone with this disease, like the world had done to me. So, I told her exactly what was going on as she senses my moods and was upset. I know what it’s like to not get the truth about your health, so I told her everything and what was going to happen and that I loved her and that I would somehow find her again one day and that I would never ever forget her and all our seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years together. How could I? We eventually went to bed and I kept my hand on her until I fell asleep.
I spoke with her vet who did the biopsy the following day. She has a softer side and we had a good talk; I’m glad I called. She told me she was hoping that it would be some benign thing when the biopsy results came back. She was sorry. I let her know I had made an appointment with the oncologist for next Wednesday to find out the prognosis. I do know the mitotic index is higher and this is typical. Soft-tissue sarcomas that aren’t completely excised grow back much more aggressively, but they usually show up again within 3 to 6 months, maybe a year. We’re almost at 4 years.
Moush Moush’s vet doesn’t understand based on her knowledge of oncology and this type of cancer, either. She’s not sure if the oncologist will know how a cell, or cells, just sat for so long as soft-tissue sarcomas have a pattern of rapid recurrence. There’s also the fact that these top, veterinary specialists were so confident and the pathology report showed even wider margins than mandated that were clean. She said I would drive myself crazy trying to understand it. Something that shouldn’t have happened did and science can’t explain it. Science seems so logical, and this freak recurrence after so long is bothering me to no end. I keep replaying everything in my head like with my own diseases. How did this all go so wrong?
How did this happen? Why did this happen? Is anyone really upstairs? I screamed that there wasn’t at the top of my lungs in the bathroom when I got the news on Tuesday. I wanted to tear my necklace off my neck—the one that I wrote about—but I am still who I am, whether I believe in a higher power or not. The only joy in my life is dying. My sunshine: the one who lets me cry into her fur and who spoons with me while I hold her tight and tell her I love her forever. How will I survive this, too? How will I live this horrific life—this inhumane hand I’ve been dealt—all alone after she’s gone?
I planned on being back in the California desert when her time came years from now and I would bury her there as it’s always warm and beautiful and it’s Moush Moush’s favorite place. To me, Moush Moush is a person and even as a non-Orthodox Jew, I follow the basic rules regarding death and according to Jewish law, you go into the ground. I won’t bury her in this city that I wouldn’t want to be buried in myself and I will be out of here the minute my broken-down body is simply capable of moving.
Now, I will have to cremate her and the thought makes me want to vomit—burning bodies like crematoriums in concentration camps with flames and smoke and the smell of burning flesh. I can’t think about it; it’s not our way. Moush Moush deserves to be buried in a cemetery among the petunias; she always loved to hide in the gardens at my mother’s home that are filled with them.
I can’t think of her becoming sick very soon and then that last trip to the vet when I get to be the executioner—the one who gives the vet the go ahead. I won’t let her suffer like I have for 12 years, but I don’t know how I will give the orders. I will say the Shema for her and then how will I express a lifetime of love in the few minutes we will have left when she has no idea what is coming, but I do? My heart is ripping apart and my eyes are swollen and hurt from so many tears. I’ve kissed her and told her I loved her a thousand times. I’ve taken so many photos this week of Moush Moush and me—the ones I should have taken years ago. The photo of us together is from this Wednesday on my airbed; we would never sleep on some hard, nasty bed with motel sheets.
How many times did I spend the whole night writing posts for this blog that I edited for days while Moush Moush just stared at me with her head hanging off the bed beside me? How many hours passed with my body aching from sitting and typing on the laptop and I didn’t notice her there watching me? I started this blog 11 months ago to the day and aside from my search engine crowd that I am providing much needed information to and a few, faithful followers, I’m really not sure it was worth so much of my time now. I wish I could do it all over, just like my life. Why is hindsight always 20/20?
I saw my counselor this Wednesday after I spoke with her vet and less than 24 hours after getting the devastating news about the recurrence. Things are better between us. Some erroneous assumptions had been made about me that are now cleared up and his weirdness is gone, as well. I’m still confused as to what happened as things were off from the start. Yes, my counselor is male and I no longer am worried about him reading my blog—I really hope I can trust that he won’t. It’s almost like a whole new person is in our sessions that he lets run for one and a half hours in the evening, which I really need. I didn’t want to talk about Moush Moush, but he said I should and then I just melted into a puddle of tears. My counselor was what I needed that night.
He told me he had ordered an audio book for me the previous week and I’ll get it at my next session; I can barely read printed text anymore due to my vision. He asked if I knew who Viktor Frankl was. I said that of course I knew who he was—the late psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, which I read so long ago that I don’t remember it well, but I never forgot the title because it fits me so perfectly: the need to know why. I eagerly asked if that was the audio book he bought me and it is. When was the last time I received a gift? My counselor actually understands me, when no one else ever has before. He understands my brain and my need for answers and the Jewishness that is woven through everything. This is a good thing and I desperately need it right now. He gave me a big hug after our session and I felt like someone cared about Moush Moush and about me and all that I had endured in the past and all that I am enduring now. I felt compassion, and maybe for the first time.
When detailing his experience in the concentration camps, Frankl wrote, “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” This is the concept I need to understand and the one I couldn’t explain until now. I need to learn it from a fellow Jew who endured the worst suffering imaginable and my counselor realized that. This is exactly why counseling has always failed me in the past, as well. I have yet another steep mountain to climb and I will have to do it all alone this time.
The hole in my heart that can only be filled by Moush Moush has begun to grow and it hurts more than any physical pain I’ve ever known. My counselor said that I shouldn’t think of her as dying now and to spend every precious moment I can with her—and I am. This is my last post for now as I needed to write an homage to Moush Moush, who is the best thing that has ever happened to me in the almost 40 years I’ve been on this earth. She deserves her story to be told.
I always wanted to find the fountain of youth so that for as long as I lived, my little soul mate would be by my side. I naively thought it would always be Moush Moush and me going through this life together. She is the one good thing I still have and I am clinging on to her for dear life until the last piece of me is stolen away. I only hope I can understand the meaning in suffering before that happens. I love you, Moush Moush—forever and ever and ever.