A Farewell For the Cat Who Cured Cancer

Posted on: Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
Posted in: SoulTrain | 4 comments

Daisy came from a farm way outside of town run by a hard-working married couple, both vets. They raised Arabian horses, Corgi dogs, and Ragdoll cats on a sprawling but hidden acreage that would make English bluebloods jealous. Daisy was the tiniest creature there—the runt of the bunch who could barely muster a “Meow.”

“Oh, you won’t need that cage,” announced the lady of the estate, “She won’t prowl around or bother the driver.” And sure enough, within a few miles and a few meek “Meows,” as if finding her voice, she was freed from the cage and asleep on one of my offspring’s laps. My son immediately dubbed her Daisy. Gatsby would be proud.

She remained as gentle as a kitty until her time here ended, not long ago.

  • The Comfort Cat

When a disaster like cancer hits, you may feel and be alone. But Daisy, the Cat, was always there. Always. She feared no ills and knew her place: Atop my recliner, curled into my shoulders, and purring until the cows came home. She was a good kitty, and I often told her so. “You’re a good kitty, Daisy,” I’d say. She liked to tell me she was my “comfort cat.”

She was beautiful, and she knew it. I occasionally suggested she should become an Instagram star, but just rolled her eyes. “Look what happened to Grumpy Cat…” she’d reply, “She got grumpy—and then she died.” “Well, we’re all going to die, Daisy,” I reasoned. But she didn’t like that idea at all, “Speak for yourself, pretty boy. I’ve got 9 lives, you know.”

Ragdolls were invented in California in the 60s—designed to be gentle, smart, and dog-like (though she resented the comparison). She was the ideal pet for the years of raising my rambunctious children, comfortable in her own fur. The kids would drag her around like a, well, ragdoll. And best of all, she never, ever, bit or scratched anyone.

Except for me, that one time. And I deserved it.

  • Talking With the Animals

Do you talk to your pets? Of course you do. Do they talk back? Of course they do. So you know I’m not crazy when I say that Daisy and I chatted routinely, solved the world’s problems, and occasionally fought like cat and dog. She spoke perfect English, except when other humans were around. I accepted her shyness; she welcomed my wit. 

She always knew when you were talking about her, of course. She’d look at you, then look away with a slow neck roll, perk back her ears in embarrassment, and then maybe saunter out of the room like Nancy Sinatra in stunning little white boots—as if to remind you that Mother Nature remains the best designer of all time.

I often yelled playfully at her, “HERE, KITTY KITTY KITTY!!!” like Grandma did on the South Dakota farm. Daisy would come running, like a good kitty, or, in her later years, lazily stare me down. (She won all stare-downs.) If she’d had a long day, she’d just say, “That’s enough, Horse.” (She called me Horse.) “I’m trying to get some rest here.” She liked to rest. Who doesn’t?

  • Where Does the Time Go?

The years passed. The kids grew up shamelessly. More and more, they came and went, mostly went, and increasingly found Daisy to be less fascinating than, say, a gaggle of friends or a shattered cell-phone screen. But she rarely complained so long as she had food, water, and a clean litter box. Smart, no?

I became her favorite house pet as the crib shrank from 4 to 1.5. She never strayed.

She wasn’t afraid to ask candid questions, like, “Where’d everybody go, Horse? Where did the time go? You said Prince said, ‘Ain’t nuthin’ but a party y’all!’”

“I know, right?” was my sometimes come-back when stymied, as reality gradually looted my intellect while she became evermore savvy and sassy. She hated human patter that made no sense. “I know right? Seriously?” she scolded me one night some years ago, “You people can barely communicate—just emojis and bickering. And by the way, thanks for ruining our planet.”

“I know, right?” I snapped back in lame defense. Yet she was probably right when she replied, “That’s not funny, Horse.” Perhaps she could foresee the Earth’s cancer, not to mention my own. The animals know.

When my lymphoma hit, Daisy showed me how to arch my back, stand tall, and stare down. She became my lead cheerleader, “Cancer? Schmancer! You got this, Horse—and you can use that phrase in your writing; you’re welcome!” she asserted. I barked back, “What do you mean, ‘I got this?’ I got cancer? I got a cure? That makes no sense, Daisy. You animals can barely communicate!”

“I know right?” she snapped back, and slapped her tail with a thwack that would make any beaver jealous. And such was the nature of our conversations, for years on end. Until the end.

  • The Darkest Night

On the night I thought my 9th life might be at risk, she was there, thank God. I’d skated through 5 chemos, tackled more steroids than the NFL, endured enough spinal taps to join The Band, devoured all the full-on full-head radiation modern medicine will allow, and then basked in a triumphant celebration.

Then it all got to me. I got sick. Very sick. Just like they said I would. For a long, long time. On the darkest night, the fever/chills cycle became so horrible I could only pray. Stay strong. Carry on. Just make morning. You got this.

Daisy was praying too. But in a quiet, Lutheran-Ragdoll sort of way. “You doin’ alright, Horse?” she asked more than once. “Never better, Dr. Daisy; shall we do shots?” I babbled in my stupor. She said no more, and knew better than to start a snark-fight at a time like this.

As that night’s sweat-freeze cycle kept repeating, I fell into bed and eventually discovered a brilliant idea: Take searing hot baths in the deep Jacuzzi when quaking with cold. So I’d boil a while, flail myself out, and then stumble back to bed. Then would come the shivering again—so violent I thought my bones might break. So I’d crawl back to the hot bath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I lost count how many times I went back and forth.

And so it went for hours. Until. Until such time as I found myself in the tub, steaming like a teabag, too weak to get out, and hallucinating.

I saw demons. Junior high bullies. Screeching giant bats, scorching fire and ice, and spinning walls. There was a certain sick bliss about almost passing out, maybe going under. Might be nice, the hereafter. They say drowning is quite peaceful. And after all, there are only so many options. Bring it on. We got this…

Then I realized something: I must get out. NOW. Or, this might be the end. THE end. Of the story. Which sounded great, except… Really? I mean, it’s one thing to succumb to a valiant fight with cancer. But…drowning in a bathtub? That’s just stupid rock star choke. Embarrassing, really. Daisy would not be pleased.

  • Stay Still

Somehow, I got out. But in my near-coma frailty, I fell forward and took the shower curtain with me. So I fought it like a drunken sailor until I became untangled in the hallway, crawled my way back to bed, and climbed up. My head was reeling and my body quaking. But I swore to myself I would not go anywhere. No matter what.

My cell phone was there, so I grabbed it in desperation. I almost dialed friends-on-call, but what could they do? I started pressing 911, but—No! The endless questions. The bright lights. The body yanking, to say nothing of those nasty EKG stickers that rip your flesh off when they finally set you free.

  • Cats Worry Too

Once back in bed, the hallucinations and spins intensified—until the most twisted illusion of all happened: Daisy came to the door. She sat down and stared. And then you know what she said? You won’t believe this. Daisy said…“Meow.” I ignored it—assuming I’d simply lost my mind. But then she said it again: “Meow.”

I screamed—and fought with fists against the dark air. I could handle hissing snakes and dessert blizzards, but to see my cat unable to speak English? The horror! The horror! Slowly, and meekly, she just kept saying it, “Meow…meow…meow…”

People say you can’t train cats. But that’s not true, at least in Daisy’s case. And the most important thing she had learned is that the Kitty is not allowed on the bed. Never! Call me fastidious, call me hard-ass, but that’s the kind of guy I am.

Yet that night, everything was different. I could tell she was scared, worried. And it’s one thing to suffer yourself, but to drag others along? It ain’t right. So I gave in. I found my speaking voice and gurgled, “It’s okay Daisy. Come here…” and tapped the bed three times.

She jumped up. She cuddled in happily. I draped my wet arm on her velvet fur, and she started to purr. She didn’t care that I was dripping and the bed was drenched. In fact, she thought the whole situation was just swell.

Neither of us moved, except for my occasional shivers. We never slept. We never spoke. She just purred calmly, with a million heartbeats of hope.

When the daylight finally broke, such as it does (or doesn’t) roundabout in the dead of winter, my fever had also broken mostly. So I weakly uttered. “Well, that was fun, right, Daisy?” “I know right?” she head-butted back and then hopped off the bed, no doubt relieved to move on.

When I fumbled my way into the hallway, a flooded carpet and splayed shower curtain were in my way. “Did you do this, Daisy? You better clean it up?” I tried to shout. But she heard nothing, and had likely already trotted off to the utility room to check out her beloved food dish.

  • The Final Daze

Fast-forward to 2019. As this year’s winter dragged on, like a war, and a stubborn spring stayed away, Daisy and I again logged ample time on the recliner. A few years ago, she was there because she knew I was sick. Of late, she was there because she became the sick one, and sensed our time together was ending. We savored our final conversations.

“I gotta warn ya, Horse,” she yawned one night not long ago, “I’m feeling awfully tired, and I’m not sure you can save me like I did you. Geez, I wish cats got 10.” “Me too, Daisy,” I agreed softly, “Me too…”

“I think you mean, meowtoo, Horse,” she countered, ever the comedian. “You win, Daisy,” I laughed and we high-fived. After a pause, I continued, “It’s been a good life, Daisy, but you need some rest. Some peace…” She thought about it as I stroked the softest fur in the world.

“I see where you’re going with this. Rest? Peace? You’ve still got it, Horse!” she snorted. “I know right?” was all I could say, staying stoic. She smirked, and then reflected, “It’s going to be awfully quiet around here, Horse; you’re really gonna miss me…” I was speechless, until I whispered a strained, “I know. And thanks for everything, Daisy” with a kiss on her neck. And so we hung out, not wanting this particular night to end, half-watching late shows until our eyes slid shut.

  • Pushing Up Daisies

The house is indeed quieter now. I still expect her to meet me at the door, or at least open one eye when I enter the house. I try to resist talking to myself, but sometimes imagine her clever replies from the recliner. Occasionally, I sense a gentle, faint “Meow,” as if to remind me that everything’s going to be alright.

Daisy didn’t really cure my cancer, of course. But she got me through my longest night, which may have saved my life.

Thankfully, my daughter said yes when I asked her if she’d like to accompany me on a very challenging errand. And so Daisy passed peacefully, surrounded by her two loved ones.

Afterward, the skies cried. We weren’t ready to go home to an empty house, so we dined at the neighborhood supper club, where the good people served us complimentary beverages, a huge slice of chocolate cake, and some heartfelt compassion.

A small terra-cotta plaque imprinted with DAISY and her paw-prints now rests on the mantle, overlooking her favorite place atop our recliner.

Good kitty.

Daisy the Cat, 2006 – 2019
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4 Responses to “A Farewell For the Cat Who Cured Cancer”

  1. Sue Trowbridge Says:

    Beautifully written! Although I am not a huge cat fan, many tears for her and for you. Congratulations on your fine writing and your fine recovery:)

  2. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Well thank you, Sue. Pet biases aside, I’m sure you would have liked Daisy. And she’d have liked you.

  3. Bianca Says:

    Sounds like a beautiful soul connection. I‘m sure she‘ll stay on her recliner „up there“, making clever remarks until you meet her soul again sometime, somehow, somewhere…

  4. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Hey thanks, B. I love your idea. If there’s an “up there,” I hope it has a cozy recliner and a comfort cat…

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