Finding Comfort Amid Sadness
RIP Yoda Stern
November 9, 2022
Always in Our Hearts
You were rescued many months ago after surviving a horrific life as a breeder kitty, only to be adopted and returned numerous times because you didn’t meet people’s expectations. Then, six months ago, you came to us. I told you I’d never give up on you and that you have a room with us no matter what. And now you are going home for good! Although I’ll miss you, your new life is giving me comfort at a very sad time.
On November 4, as I handed Lolavie to her smiling new parents, I thought about the beautiful trust she and I had built together during her time with me. And I asked her to please trust me now as she traveled to her new home…because I knew she’d be cherished forever by her amazing family. She would finally be loved for who she is, without expectation, which is my wish for all of my nuggets.
And though I am thrilled for Lolavie, my joy is tinged with deep sadness and constant worry. Our Yoda has cancer, and Howard and I are devastated. We are doing everything in our power to make him as comfortable as possible in the days ahead.
He was diagnosed in late October after we noticed his rapid weight loss, uneven breathing, and lack of appetite. He underwent many tests that ultimately revealed lung cancer. The doctor told us he had only a few weeks left…if that. In fact, as you read this, we may already have had to let him go.
It’s just too much. I can’t wrap my head around it. Every day is a rollercoaster; one minute he’ll act like he’s ready to be at peace, and then, after a few licks of food, he’s jumping on the couch for love. It’s hard to know when the time is right. They say that when the bad days outnumber the good, that’s the time, but it’s more like when the bad moments outnumber the good, because each moment is so precious. Of course, I know that his cancer is spreading but my heart isn’t ready. But then I think…maybe his is.
I just don’t want him to suffer for an instant but I don’t want to deprive him of a single moment of pleasure either. And above all, I don’t want him to leave us.
When we adopted Yoda from North Shore Animal League America in the spring of 2014, he was a depressed, malnourished, and neglected little guy with a serious heart condition. The vets told us he had only a few months to live and we decided then and there to give him the best few months of his life. Not long after, I brought in a litter of kittens to foster and Yoda found his purpose. He cared for them and acted like a loving big brother, making sure they ate, grooming them, and ushering them back into the kitten room whenever they “escaped.” He came back to life! The vets could not believe it but his EKGs had improved. His heart had begun to heal.
He became famous! He inspired me to write two children’s books “Yoda: The Story of a Cat and his Kittens,” and “Yoda Gets a Buddy.” The New York Daily News called him “a comeback kitty” and The New Yorker described him as our household’s “elder statesman.” And my IG followers adore him, commenting on his beauty, his sweetness, and his connection to our other cats, especially his “mini-me,” Grogu, who died suddenly in August. I worried a lot about Yoda after Grogu’s death because he went into a period of serious mourning. I was relieved that as time passed, he came back to us.
Yoda and Grogu, one year ago.
It’s a sad coincidence, but November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. According to experts in the field, one in four dogs and one in five cats will develop cancer at some point, usually in the later years. Because our pets are living longer (good news!), we’re seeing more instances of cancer (bad news!). Canine cancer is usually easier to treat but for cats, who are very good at hiding disease, cancer is often more aggressive and advanced and harder to treat. In our own family, three kitties have died from cancer.
Photo: Chris Appoldt
Photo: Howard Stern
Photo: Howard Stern
Apple, the first cat we adopted from NSALA, underwent surgery to remove her mammary chain filled with cancer. She lived only a couple of months more. Leon Bear had a mass on his liver and didn’t survive the surgery. Charlie Chunk had a cancerous mass in his abdomen. He died a week after surgery.
And now Yoda. In his lungs.
Given our experience, Howard and I decided that surgery for Yoda with pre-existing heart disease would be too risky. After much thought and consideration and numerous conversations with specialists, we’ve chosen to continue comfort care at home. We will look for any signs from Yoda of distress or discomfort and give him the gift of ending any suffering. It’s gut-wrenching.
According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Feline Health Center, here are some signs of cancer to watch for:
- behavior changes like hiding
- abnormal swelling
- unintended weight loss
- loss of appetite and energy
- difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
Also, early spay/neuter can help protect cats (Apple’s mammary cancer was probably the result of not being spayed until she was older. Neutering male pets eliminates their risk of testicular cancer as well as the possibility of developing something called benign prostatic hyperplasia, which can affect the ability to defecate.) As with humans, early detection is key. All vets recommend annual examinations, twice a year for animals more than 8 years old, and frequent oral exams (Oral cancers are common!) Visit the Cornell University website for more excellent information.
I’m going to close this blog now so I can spend a few moments with Yoda, my beautiful boy. I can’t believe I’ve written so much, but it’s important to share what Yoda is going through because it might help others.
I also want to remind you that November is Senior Pet Adoption Month. Cats like my foster Pearl Grey, who is wise, tender, and loving, are waiting for you at your local shelter.
I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving with those you love. Howard and I have much to be thankful for, beginning with fate, which brought Yoda into our life. And a special thank-you to the gazillion amazing and loving people who have reached out and asked how Yoda is doing. Gosh. He is so loved, which is truly comforting at this sad time.
P.S. Just a reminder to order your copy of NSALA’s limited edition 2023 calendar. Please visit animalleague.org/2023calendar for your copy, free with a minimum $15 donation. They make thoughtful holiday gifts, with net proceeds benefitting Bianca’s Furry Friends Feline Adoption Center and cats like Yoda who need us all so much.