Madeleine has been my cat through two bouts of radiation treatment, which is astounding on two counts: I never thought she would live to be 18 and I never thought I would have to have radiation again.
In 1997, as I was finishing up the first go-round, Madeleine, aka Darcy, was featured as the pet of the week in the Press. In celebration of the nearing end of radiation and the return of my hair, I decided dog Holling needed a companion whether he wanted one or not and I needed to give the gift of life to this sweet-looking cat.
I called the shelter in the afternoon and said I would be by in the morning to adopt Darcy. When I arrived the next day, the shelter workers looked solemn. They told me my cat was very sick, and they would have euthanized her first thing if I hadn’t called. I had to promise to take her straight to the vet’s office. I did. On the way, I changed her name to Madeleine.
Maddy had a fever, she was listless, she wouldn’t eat. In short, she was one sick cat. I mentioned this to the radiation technicians that afternoon when I had treatment. “You can’t be around a sick cat,” they said, shocked at my ignorance.
My immune system was severely compromised by the chemo and radiation; I could pick up just about anything at that point. The technicians called my doctor, who told them I could not have the cat until she was completely well. Yikes.
The vet’s office kindly kept Maddy longer than they normally would have. They never put a name to her illness, but brought her back to good health. I couldn’t wait to bring her home.
Maddy was about 1 1/2 years old then, with beautiful long hair and the most adorable turned up nose you’ve ever seen on a cat. I thought she was magnificent.
Holling was underwhelmed. He ignored her, as he did every other animal he was introduced to. That was fine with Maddy. It was clear I was the center of her universe. A little too much so.
That first night I let Madeleine sleep in the bed with me. I got no sleep. Every time I would drift off, a paw, claws out, would rake my face. “Just checking to make sure you’re still breathing and capable of petting me,” she seemed to be saying.
Yes, I was breathing, but definitely not sleeping.
Madeleine can’t retract her claws fully. She constantly snags them on sweaters, scarves, scalps, palms. I tried having them trimmed, but the ride to the vet’s office was traumatic and her claws grew back quickly. Having her declawed was out of the question. I consider it painful and cruel.
Then we moved, and Madeleine decided she had to go outside. Had to. Every time I or someone else opened the door, she shot out. I’ve never seen such a large cat squeeze through such small openings. She could come in whenever she wanted, but Maddy insisted on spending part of the day outside.
Now that she’s over 18, she stays inside most of the time, though there is something going on outside around 10 each night that she must be a part of. Monday night, she asked to be let out in the below-zero cold. Nothing doing. She was miffed. I suppose they were having a two-for-one beer special at her favorite bar.
Madeleine’s life has been troubled by Gracie, Clancy, Ava and Roger, but the grand dame has prevailed. She’s thinner now, eats less and sleeps more, but she still has a high quality of life.
It gives me great comfort to have Maddy still with me and to watch her play like a kitten just when I’m ready to go to bed.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.