A lot of things happen in June. The Romans named June after Juno, the queen of the gods and patroness of marriage and weddings which is why so many people get married in June. Father’s Day for most countries around the world is celebrated on the third Sunday in June, to honour fathers and their role and contribution within their families. The American Humane Society has designated June as the National Adopt a Cat month after the millions of kittens that are born in the spring.And June has a special resonance for me, too. Tuesday, June 7th 10 years ago, (2006), was a landmark day for me, too. I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and told, at that consultation, that in less than two weeks, I would have to spend six months in hospital having aggressive, intensive chemotherapy. Sitting there, in the small, claustrophobic office with the consultant and a chemotherapy nurse (who said nothing but was there to field off the myriad of questions that would normally come her way) my first thoughts – apart from the shock of the diagnosis, were, who goes into hospital for six months? My next thoughts were who would look after my six cats for that length of time, especially Garfield, who at over 20 years of age, had special needs?
Garfield with his daytime 'teddy', Flump
I didn’t hear much of the rest of the consultation as my mind was whirring busily with all the things that I’d have to do in preparation for such a marathon stay in hospital. But oddly, my health – and the seriousness of the situation – came second to my first priority. The cats. I had to make sure they would be looked after properly and their routines would be disrupted as little as possible.
That weekend it was scorching hot with temperatures reaching record highs. While I worked on updating the website, and telling all my subscribers in the Mewsletter what was about to happen to me, Garfield was on his snuggly bed in the office. This was his day time sleeping spot with Timmy, his loyal friend and companion, who at 10 years his junior, spent all his time with Garfield, alerting me when Garfield needed me, wanted to come down the stairs or had wet his bed. Garfield loved him and would look out for him if Timmy wasn’t there for any reason – usually he would get Billy, Sam, Ricky or Ollie to come and sit with Garfield when he needed a bathroom break or a quick walk around the garden to stretch his paws.
On the Sunday, while I worked, I constantly looked over to where Garfield lay and was surprised to notice that most of the time, he was awake, rather than asleep. I knew he was struggling with the heat and I said to him: ‘Garfield, are you ok? Is there anything you want to tell Mummy?’ He looked at me and sighed. I knew what he meant.
Sometime before all this had come about, he’d had a minor stroke and Kevin, our amazing vet, had said to me that ‘this might be it’. I’d brought Garfield home and we’d laid on the sofa and chatted. I told him that I couldn’t make that decision, he’d have to help me by letting me know when he’d had enough. I felt that on this swelteringly hot afternoon, he was letting me know.
‘Ok, Garfie,’ I said to him, ‘we’ll go and see Kevin tomorrow.’
The next morning, I rang the surgery and arranged a late afternoon, early evening appointment. Then I took my neighbour shopping and then spent the afternoon with Garfield, lying on the sofa, with him stretched down the front of my chest. He looked into my eyes as if he was reaching into the depths of my soul. I told him how much I loved him, and how I would always love him and I thanked him for all the times he was there for me and how much he’d taught me. Of course, tears were streaming down my face, and with the gentlest of touches, he kept wiping them with his paw.
I sat with Garfield on my lap, my head bent down close to his face so I couldn’t see what Kevin was doing. Garfield did a wonderful thing: he reached up slightly and licked my face – which was his way of giving me a kiss. Then his heart stopped. And my world, momentarily stopped too.
Fast forward to December that year, and I came out of hospital after only 5 weeks of chemotherapy, in time for Christmas. I wasn’t allowed to mix with anyone because I was neutropenic and had to try and stay relatively germ-free. I was worried about how the cats, Billy, Timmy, Ricky, Sam and Ollie, would react when they saw me without hair. Would they freak out and stampede for the cat flap or would they take a while to realise it was still Mum, although I looked different and had a ‘hospital’ smell on me.
I needn’t have worried. They clustered around me, vying for my lap and Billy got up on the sofa behind me and sat on my shoulders. He began licking my bald head and patting it with his paws. I wondered, at the time, if this was a feline ritual for stimulating the hair follicles.
I missed Garfield like crazy but it was so great to be back with my boys and know that not only had they missed me, they didn’t mind the new look I sported.
This was only the beginning of my journey – more, and much worse – was to come but thanks to the prayers of thousands of people all over the world, I came through this experience, my hair finally grew and I met my soul mate. Who knew!
The BBC ran a short story competition which I entered. I didn’t win but writing down about some of the experiences helped, in a way, to heal the scars that traumatic year brought with it. You can read it in Pauline’s Musings or click here: