In terms of the Bitser
When Dad answered the phone, I was surprised.
"I didn't expect to get you. I figured I'd get Mom. So, you been doin' okay?"
"Yeah, mostly. Glad to be—"
"Thank you, Little Bit, I'm just fine." Dad laughed; a dry, raspy chuckle. It told me everything I needed to know—that there were still things worth laughing about, but that even with the constant morphine IV, belly laughs still weren't pain-free.
"He checks on me about every ten-fifteen minutes or so," he said. "Doesn't really want anything; he just walks right on in to wherever I'm at and meows until I talk back to him. Then he pops that black little tail of his and goes on about his business. Just you wait. He'll come back before we're done talking."
"Has he been doing this—"
"Yep. Ever since I got home. You should see him when Mom tries to give me a sponge bath. I'm only halfway through the first radiation treatment, and they've got my belly marked up like a road map so they know where to aim everything, and they told me not to take a shower because it would wash the marks right off.
"So your Mom has to help me with it, and it's not real comfortable, and Bit must think she's killing me, because he just hovers and fusses and meows until I tell him it's okay."
* * *
So, it seems, the count stands something like this: chemotherapy 1, radiation ½; Dad 1½…and Bit? Bit's standing squarely in the middle, overseeing every moment. You can't score something like that.
Mom emailed me today to tell me that Dad's starting to see some of the side effects of the radiation treatments. He's tired, and he's starting to develop the mouth sores that are a known health complication of radiation treatments. Each course of radiation consists of ten treatments, spread out over fourteen days; five days on, weekends off.
Radiation and chemotherapy are double-edged swords at best. I cannot remember whether I first read this statement in a book or heard it from a friend, but it sums up the gravity of these treatments well: "The good news is that radiation and chemotherapy kill cancer cells. The bad news is that they kill the cancer cells only a little bit quicker than they kill you."
It's a delicate oncological dance we're doing here: the daily trips to Little Rock for radiation treatments, plus chemotherapy starting every 28th day. The radiation is aimed directly at the worst area: the two tumors in Dad's pancreas, plus the other cancerous nodules on his liver and kidneys. The chemotherapy ranges further, wider, in an attempt to kill the cancer cells in his bone marrow.
All, preferably, without doing permanent harm to the things that still work properly.
Bit, however, seems to be adamant about pursuing his own feline brand of human-wellness therapy. By most standards, Bit is an old kitty, turning 12 this summer (seen here in 'his spot' on the coffee table). As a teenager I spent many a night reading with his 'help.' Help, in terms of the Bitser, meant his curling up in the crook of my left arm while I attempted to hold the book in my left hand, turning pages with my right.
He is, by nature, a belly-surfer. Some cats, like Tenzing, prefer the crook of a leg or the perch of a shoulder, but Little Bit has always been one to snuggle at about waist level.
But, Dad says, Bit hasn't done that once since Dad got home from the hospital. Instead, Bit prefers to drape himself around Dad's ankles, chin angled toward Dad's face so that at any sign of pain, he can open a green eye (or two, depending on the amount of concern) and keep watch over Dad.
They talk to each other; have, for years. But now, Bit wanders in and checks on Dad every few minutes, chirping out meows until Dad responds to his satisfaction.
Sis said on the phone, "I don't know who missed whom more when Dad was in the hospital—Dad missing Bit, or Bit missing Dad."
Mom's last email said it pretty well: "That is about all from here now. Maybe I can get some sleep; he [Dad] doesn't seem to be snoring so much. Bit is snoring now. So my two grumpy old men are asleep. —Mom."
* * *
"So, yeah, we're making it okay, but I'll be glad to get to the weekend and take a couple of days off from the radiation treatments. You wanna talk to your Mom for a few?"
As I said, "Sure!" I heard it again in the background:
"Yes, Bit, I'm still here. Go on with yourself, now."
* * *
I think the cranky old cat has got things under control.