It's all They've Ever Known...

The first time I laid eyes on Zelda, I literally gasped. The two-month old kitten was covered in oozing tumors – hundreds of them. Her eyes were nearly crusted shut and she laid in a pile of sad gold and brown and white fur.

My daughter’s friends had found her as a newborn kitten on the streets of Fresno, and my daughter…being my daughter…took in the stray. At the time, she was an adorable ball of fluff. But soon, health issues presented themselves, and Zelda soon became a high-maintenance animal.

We noticed one thing early on about Zelda. Whenever my daughter brought her to my house, the calico kitten did better. She became more lively and playful. But she’d get back to Fresno, and once again she’d get sicker and sicker.

One afternoon my daughter called me in tears. Zelda was getting worse. We didn’t say the unspoken words. It was time for Zelda to quit suffering, which meant she’d have to be put down. My heart squeezed in pain, but an idea hit me.

“Bring her to me,” I said. “It’s her last chance at life.”

Natalie agreed and loaded Zelda up. In three hours she was home, sick kitty in tow. I gasped again. Zelda had declined. Natalie lined up all her medications with instructions I wasn’t really sure I understood, but I wrote them down and nodded in agreement.

What else could I do?

I expected a lot of things. I expected Zelda would die fairly soon. I expected to be annoyed with her, as I am not a cat person. What I didn’t expect was that I would fall head-over-heels in love with this tough little kitten.

That first night she curled up on my chest and fell fast asleep. I wondered how she managed to rest with such obvious discomfort. To top it off, she had to wear a cone because she bothered those tumors so much.

Zelda and I settled into a routine and she somehow grew and thrived. Trips to the vet became part of that routine, and even though she was doing better with new medication, I was unprepared for the news I received when I took her in to get spayed at about a year old.

They refused to operate and wanted to do a biopsy. I already knew she had mast cell tumors, so I agreed. A few hours later I received a call that changed my life…and Zelda’s.

She had cancer.

Oh boy. That one hurt. I had foolishly thought we were out of the woods. I agreed to make an appointment with the oncologist, and now I’m waiting for March to come in hopes there’s something to do for her.

I remain positive, and so does she.

That’s what amazes me about Zelda. She can be sick, covered in tumors, and still that cat will play and fight to live. I’ve never met an animal like Zelda in my life, and I know my life is richer for the time I’ve spent with her, even if it’s going to be shorter than I expected.

Recently, she had a relapse, and I didn’t know if she’d make it, but she pulled through. That first night after she got sick, I was awakened by an odd noise. I popped up, and Zelda was batting at my lamp shade. I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t scold her for that. I was just happy she was alert and playful. It hit me then, that this is the only life that Zelda has known. She gets sick and then she feels better.

Kids with learning disabilities are the same way. They were born viewing or hearing their environment in a certain way – one that most of us fail to understand because we view and hear the world differently.

If you have a child who struggles to learn, stop and take a breath. Try to think of how that child is perceiving the world. With my son, I found out that he viewed everything in moving pictures. This seemed so foreign to me that I had a difficult time understanding it.

Some kids, usually kids on the spectrum, don’t have an internal dialogue. They see colors and shapes and images but don’t hear words to go with them. Of course, they are unique learners and need to be taught differently than those who hear an inner dialogue.

Other kids might hear background noises like the roaring of a jet engine and will have a difficult time tuning those noises out. That doesn’t mean they need medication. They need taught how to filter out those noises. It can be done.

I’ve worked with students who don’t hear vowel sounds correctly or who can’t seem to hear the beginnings or endings of words. Can you imagine how difficult reading is for these kids? They don’t hear sounds like we do, so they need to be taught differently than other kids.

Kids with visual processing problems or dyslexia might see the words shifting or moving as they try to read or do their worksheets. These kids can see an image in forty different ways and it’s always changing. Once again, medication isn’t going to fix this. They need to learn to still the images in their brains. It can be done. We do it all the time.

I can’t imagine what my little Zelda goes through on a day-to-day basis. I know I’ve promised myself I won’t let her suffer, and I don’t. I’m getting her the best veterinarian help I can. The last time I took her in, my vet told me, “Zelda is literally one in a million.”

I smile thinking of this, because she certainly is that special to me. I know he was talking about her condition, but I was thinking from my heart.

My world is a better place because of Zelda, even though she clawed up my favorite chair.

Our worlds are all better for unique thinkers and unique learners. We need to band together to make their lives easier and better. We need to try to imagine what it’s like viewing the world through their lenses.

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