Of major diagnoses and minor miracles

Despite the dedication of this blog to St. Francis, I am not, nor have I ever been, a religious person. (With the possible exception of when I belted “Jesus loves me, this I know” in the youth choir at church. Singing always put me in touch with spirit, even at age 5.)

But I had a recent event that makes me wonder if miracles do indeed happen. Miracle is defined by Webster as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” And something I learned on Good Friday might indeed qualify.

My growing awareness that scientific law had been tossed aside began a few weeks ago when I noticed Ginger scrambling around manically on the kitchen floor after a cat toy. With any of my other cats, this would be a normal occurrence. But Ginger, as you might recall, is supposed to be dying. Dying cats don’t play.

Two years and four months ago, Ginger the elderly tortoiseshell appeared to me in the parking lot, scrawny and sick, with discharge coming from every orifice. I trapped her and took her to the vet, who said she was around 13 years old, never spayed, sick with an upper respiratory infection… and dying of cancer.

When they sedated her (she was a wild thing and unafraid to use her claws) they found a tumor in her mouth and had it diagnosed: later stage squamous cell.  The prognosis: a few weeks to live.

Heartsick, I took her home, and installed her in my downstairs bathroom, which I had decked out with comfy beds and plenty of food. I decided against trying to mitigate the cancer medically, but would instead make her last weeks on earth full of love. I’ll show her that her life mattered, I told myself, even if she was neglected her whole life until now.

She slowly began to turn around. The respiratory infection cleared up. She relaxed into her first indoor home and began to welcome my affections. As happens in rescue, it’s nearly impossible to keep an emotional distance from the beautiful beings you’ve taken in. I would look at her sweet face and get tearful, knowing I would have her for such a short time. To deal with the reality of her impending death, I began to talk to her with an affectionate, matter-of-fact tone.

“Good morning,” I would say, kissing her head, “Dying girl.”

The “few weeks” of expected lifespan turned into months, and finally years. She still drooled and had trouble eating, but as time went by, even these issues seemed to lessen. And when I saw her playing, I finally had to investigate.

Soon afterward I was at my vet for a prescription, and took along Ginger’s biopsy from 2.3 years ago. I asked her how many cats she’d heard of with squamous cell mouth cancer who had lived this long. “Zero,” she told me, then examined the biopsy. Mystified, she offered to redo it.

It took me a few weeks to get my sweet little hellcat into a carrier (she was NOT having it) and off to the vet, but I finally managed – ironically on Good Friday. When Ginger was finally sedated, and Dr. Lawson looked in her mouth, here’s what she saw: nothing. Not a smaller tumor, no tumor. She did, she noted, having terrible teeth, four of which need to be pulled because they were infected. This would explain the drooling. As for why the growth in her mouth went away, she could not offer an explanation.

It’s possible, she said, that since the body is supposed to combat cancer cells, and Ginger was so sick and starving when I took her in, her body was incapable of fighting it. But as she regained her general health, perhaps her body was then more able to conquer the cancer? “I’m sure love and good food helped,” she smiled.

Emphasis, perhaps, on love? We’ve heard that it “conquers all,” but now I’ve seen with my own eyes that it can also create small wonders “not explicable by natural or scientific laws.”

Thank you, St. Francis, for guiding me on this little adventure.

I now have to change my thinking about Ginger’s future. My pity and compassion that she is dying has shifted to the reality that this cranky, adorable senior citizen who cuts such a swath in my home will be with me for a while. To help wrap my brain around it, I now greet her in the morning with a new salutation.

“Good morning,” I say, kissing her head, “miracle girl.”

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5 Responses to Of major diagnoses and minor miracles

  1. Denise says:

    love love love your and Ginger’s story, and love torties in general. thank you for this today.

  2. Donna Murray says:

    Dear Jane,
    Beautiful ending to a tragic beginning… but i wonder who is kissing you on the head saying “good morning miracle girl.”
    Love you, Donna

  3. Jane Ganahl says:

    Thanks, friends – and Donna, if there’s anything to karma I’m hoping that love is around the corner! 🙂

  4. Nancy says:

    Thanks for giving us a good news story….oy vey, that sounds like fundamentalist trash talk. For your next piece, could you write something cheery about politics or environment?

  5. W. Stokes says:

    Oh Jane – what a wonderful story – thank you for sharing. You are indeed both miracle girls.

    Lots of love to you, and appreciation for the miracle you are to kitties all over the coast.


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