Shortly after Jenn started volunteering at her local animal rescue in Sacramento, California, she met a pair of cats, 9-year-old sisters named Sophie and Nef (short for Nefertiti), who had been at the organization for approximately six months. The rescue had been trying to find the girls a home together, but they hadn’t had any success. “Everyone loved Sophie, but Nef was always looked over,” explains Jenn. “She had a reputation for being mean, though I never saw it.”
Jenn couldn’t bear the thought of the sisters being split up, and in August 2013, she adopted the 9-year-old girls. “Nef seemed happier from the moment she got out of the carrier at my house,” says Jenn. “She ran around every room in my apartment purring loudly and then she flopped down on my bed for a nap, so I knew I had made the right choice.”
Shortly after she brought the girls home to live with her and her husband Steve, Jenn took the sisters to the vet and discovered Nef had stomatitis, an inflammation of the mouth that makes eating extremely painful. Jenn realized that the agonizing condition, which had unfortunately gone undetected by the staff at the rescue, was most likely the reason why some people found Nef grouchy and irritable. “Once her stomatitis was resolved,” explains Jenn, “she turned into a very affectionate, goofy, curious cat.”
The sisters were thrilled to be in their new home, forming strong bonds with both Jenn and Steve. However, after just a few years with their new mom and dad, Sophie passed away from cancer during the summer of 2016. While it was a challenging experience for the couple, Jenn and Steve are thankful they had the opportunity to love and care for Sophie before she passed away. “You get the chance to spoil this little being you share your life with,” says Jenn, “to ensure that their life ends well.”
The following year, Nef ended up having surgery to remove her ear canal after the procedure was deemed the best option available to treat the senior cat’s chronic ear infections. In September 2017, Nef became a one-eared cat when she was approximately 13 years old, and shortly after the surgery, she had a seizure for the first time. “We were referred to a neurologist,” says Jenn. “An MRI showed that Nef had a brain tumor.”
While the couple chose not to subject Nef to a biopsy to determine if the tumor was malignant, doctors found cells in her spleen that indicated cancer. However, due to Nef’s advanced age, the location of the tumor, and her other health issues, Jenn and Steve followed the vet’s recommendation and decided against having their beloved teenage cat undergo surgery to remove the mass.
With the help of medication — which has to be given every 12 hours — Nef’s seizures are under control, and Jenn and Steve are focusing on making whatever remains of her life the best it can possibly be. “I’ve had several people say we should put her down,” says Jenn. “They don’t realize that for now she’s stable. Nef isn’t in pain, she isn’t suffering, but she is dying.” The couple is well aware that if the tumor gets bigger — potentially causing other symptoms — or the seizure medication stops working, they’ll have to reevaluate Nef’s quality of life.
For the time being, Nef is happy and active, and other than some side effects related to her anti-seizure drugs, she’s doing well. “The medications have affected her balance a bit,” explains Jenn, “so we built a ramp to help her get onto our bed.” Balance issues aside, caring for Nef has been fairly easy for Jenn and Steve, at least logistically. “The main challenge is that we don’t know how long we have with her,” says Jenn, “so we try to make everyday special.”
In order to help Nef live the remainder of her life to its fullest, her parents have created a bucket list of everything they want their cherished cat to do — and eat — before she passes away. “She had little interest in getting to climb a tree or go for a walk, but she loves the foods!” says Jenn. “Her absolute favorite is whipped cream — she’s a fiend for it.”
This one-eared Maine Coon beauty also enjoys watching bird videos, and she’s a bit of a cat burglar who enjoys stealing household items like pens, lip balm, and hair ties from her parents. Of course, neither Jenn nor Steve minds that Nef is a little kleptomaniac because they’re just thankful for the time they have with her: “You cherish every moment you get to spend with them,” says Jenn, “every purr and boop and 4 a.m. caterwaul. It keeps you present.”
It’s been more than four years since Jenn and her husband decided to adopt Nef and her sister Sophie — unable to stand the idea of the two of them going to separate homes — and there’s no way either of them could have known all the lessons they would learn as a result of that fateful decision. “People seem to think having a cat with cancer — or any special need — is sad, and hard, and overwhelming,” says Jenn, “and it can be. But it’s also fulfilling in a way that can be hard for people who haven’t taken care of a special needs pet to understand.”
Thankfully, Jenn and Steve are prepared for the challenge of filling Nef’s final days — how many of them there may be — with as much love and happiness as possible, and showing this beautiful senior cat how thankful they are for their time with her. “Nef means everything to us; she’s part of our family,” says Jenn. “We begin and end each day with her. Loving her makes us more loving.”
To learn more about this incredible cat, you can follow Nef on Instagram.