Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unto the nether world flees Proserpina

It never would have occurred to me a year ago, but, by definition, mammals have mammary glands, and mammary glands, like any other part of an animal, can be subject to cancer. It isn't just people who suffer and die from breast cancer. Sometimes, the smaller treasures are taken, too.

This past weekend, Proserpina, aka Peanut, my Little Legume, took ill. She was ornery and fussy and bossy and opinionated and selfish and ruled the house with a steel paw and sharp claw... and an amazingly funny manner. Until Sunday. In the wee hours, long after I gave her her flea treatment, she showed signs of being unable to keep her food down. I believed it might have been poisoning, so I worried a bit, but the nausea seemed to quit after the morning had passed. Next, Peanut showed weakness in her hindquarters, with a pronounced dragging of her left hind foot. The symptoms became worse over the next day, but with both Mom and me suffering from stomach flu, we weren't in much of a position to do anything, ourselves. Unfortunately, today I found Peanut lying under the bed in a puddle of her own urine. It was obvious she was not going to get better on her own. I persuaded Mom to take us to the vet's office, where we left Peanut to be examined.

She had breast cancer. Lots of it. You don't really think about it, but she had six nipples, which means four more mammary glands than a primate has. They were all beginning to develop lumps, and one, which had had a cyst long years before, had developed a non-cyst lump I hadn't noticed because she had never liked anybody messing with her voluminous soft underbelly.

She had other problems, too, but the veterinarian said the treatment for those was manageable. The cancer was not.

This little girl came to me a decade ago, when I first moved into the house I now occupy. She already owned it, having taken up residence under its back porch. She was never bashful, demanding that I feed her every time I came outside. In fact, she did the same to all the houses in the neighborhood, a fact I learned long after she moved indoors in our house.

Having come from below, in time for the winter to recede, I thought it natural to name her after the Queen of the Underworld, daughter of Ceres, delight of the seasons, Proserpina (not the Greek version for the cat of a mediocre Latin student). "Proserpina" quickly became "Peanut", as she usually showed more signs of nuttiness in her demeanor. Most cats, when they choose to rest, will ease themselves into a lounging or stretched lying pose, but Peanut simply capsized to the starboard or port, whichever side had less of an obstacle beneath her.

She stole clean socks from my dresser drawers, separated them from each other and buried one of each of perhaps a dozen different pairs deep beneath my bed, where only she could reach without pain. She climbed through small openings to hide behind books on my shelves, knocking over tchochkes as she went, necessitating that I own no fine glass or porcelain -- or clocks, cameras, desktop telephones, or other such small breakables.

She bullied all other animals who came within a paw's reach, but never actually applied a claw, even when it was called for. She was a blustering bowl of pudding, one who loved to see me come in the door each night, chattered and mewed as I put her supper down for her, and would bolt it down so she could race to sit on my chest and purr as I brushed her short fur backwards and rightwards and rubbed her stumpy little ears before anybody could interrupt us.

But this past week was too much for her. There was no leaping to my chest, there was no growling at her adopted sister, Maus; there was only a rapidly declining form and a struggle to mime a "meow."

And, so, my clownish little baby, maiden empress of the seasons, has gone to her groom and her throne, pomegranate seed debt repaid in full. And, I, like Ceres, do not know how to fill the void.

1 comment:

Kathie B said...

A beautifully narrated homage to "peanut", may she rest in peace.