A little background before I get to the main point... This is a little long, but the lesson learned here rocked my world...and maybe someone else can benefit from the info before they learn this lesson the hard way like I did.
When I lived in a normal house in a normal city, before becoming a hermit, there was a cool indoor/outdoor lounge room where my mom and I smoked. After coming home from the desert, I had a lot of recovering to do and spent a lot of time in this room, and did a lot of smoking and thinking in there. I probably spent more time in this room than in the main part of the house, I was too lazy to deal with crutches, so I pretty much hibernated in the lounge. I can only remember 2 reasons I left that room...kitchen and bathroom! There was a doggie door that led from the main door to the lounge, the previous tenant had a dog. My cat learned how to operate the doggie door and followed me everywhere.
Oreo was more of a dog than a cat in behavior. He walked on a leash around the block, in the winter he wore sweaters and booties. If I picked up a bootie or his leash, he was ready to go! Since I was on crutches for months, his walks became lap-sitting sessions. Loyal and faithful, he sensed I wasn't quite right and never left my side, even following me to the kitchen and bathroom. He got good at playing fetch since I wasn't getting up to play. Even before my deployment, his place at night was stretched out alongside my body with his head on my pillow (whiskers tickling my nose). After coming home, he was more attached than ever. He loved me unconditionally, even if I stunk up the lounge with cigarette smoke. The other cats ignored the lounge, I assumed because they didn't like the smell. I never blew smoke directly at him, but enough lingered in the air...
I was predicted to be on my feet again in 4 months, but it was 8 months before I could walk without crutches...so that was countless cartons of Marlboros smoked in the lounge. Always in my lap was my faithful friend. He sensed my moods and when I was down, he was right there. When I could finally manage half of our usual walk, he pulled the leash faster than I could keep up with until he figured out my pace was s-l-o-w for a while. It was good therapy for me to get out and walk. People in their cars would nearly run into parked cars staring at the cat walking on a leash, it was kind of funny.
I knew after awhile, my body would never be what it once was and I was given the option to get out of the service on medical, I took it. That gave me plenty of time to sit at home and think/absorb my experiences...and smoke more. Pity, maybe, but not so much for myself. I don't handle loss very well, they labeled me PTSD (Poor Turd Still Delusional). Images still wake me up at night. My loyal Oreo licked my tears and purred in my face, did "happy feet" on my chest and made me laugh when I didn't feel like laughing. Its amazing how in-tune animals are to human emotions. I wish I'd been more aware of his, as he was to mine.
His personality started changing. He wanted to play fetch, ran for the toy but stopped and stared at it instead of bringing it back. He always got a nose-kiss for bringing it back, he came back for his nose-kiss, but without the toy. Next I noticed his loss of interest in meals, always first to be fed (at his request), sat and stared at his food...he was losing weight. Always playful, silly and mischevious....he slept more and became grumpy. I thought, perhaps he was having issues with the cat that came home from Iraq with me, but they got along fine from Day 1. (It was a total shock when the injured cat I was caring for was given to me back in the States weeks later!) I tempted him with his favorite wet food, he licked the juice but left the solid food. At least he had some interest in eating so I switched him to the wet food every meal. One evening while eating, he left his bowl and ran screaming through the house, bumping into things and making sounds I'd never heard before, it was heartbreaking.
He went to the vet the next day. X-rays were taken that showed several lumps in his jawbone. A biopsy was done and the result was squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive tumor. The treatment wasn't affordable and there were no guarantees since it had spread so much. The vet said as long as he's having more good days than bad, take him home, love him and enjoy him for as long as I could. He was given a prescription for anti-inflammatory, which seemed to help for a little while.
I looked this disease up on the internet and read several articles, some showed photos that looked exactly like his x-rays. They all said the same thing- this type of cancer was caused by cigarette smoke settling on the fur, then the cat licks their fur and ingests the carcinogens. My heart sank. I knew I caused it, it was my fault. It could've been prevented. I couldn't un-do it. I had to live with that...and he had to die from it.
I enjoyed him for 5 more months until he stopped eating, it was too painful to eat, or wash his fur or do things happy cats do. He let me know when the time was right to visit the vet for the last time...to say goodbye. I held him in my arms as his spirit left this world. He got the IV, the injection, then he got sleepy...and was gone.
I imagined if I didn't give up the cigs, I woud be next. I fixed the doggie door so no cat could go through it again. I went cold-turkey for about a week, unsuccessfully. Then I made an appointment to get the patch, to which I was allergic. They gave me the gum (also allergic)...the pills (made me feel like I had 1,000 bees buzzing inside me)...and back to the sticks again. Many more cold-turkey tries, all failed, some lasting longer than others, but always failing. The guilt of killing my best friend was my determination to quit smoking, especially when I saw his memorial box on the shelf, knowing we could have had many more happy years together, but because of my thoughtlessness, our time was shortened...and it was MY fault. I had to put the box away where I couldn't see it. His photo of happy times is in a glass window on the lid, inside is his collar and tag and one bootie and a favorite fetch toy.
The power of addiction is strong beyond words. I promised to quit cigs so many times. I meant those promises with all my heart, but the nico-demon kept winning.
I've now kicked the cigarette habit out of my life, thanks to a friend who turned me on to vaping. Oreo's ordeal was my #1 reason for wanting to quit. Too late for him now, but not too late for others who read this and learn from my mistake. Secondhand smoke is worse than inhaled smoke.
Now I go to bed and lay on an empty pillow every night, missing my special furry friend. Knowing I caused it makes it so much harder to take. My empty (and sometimes soggy) pillow is a reminder that I'm sorry for not being able to quit, but also reminds me how grateful I am for vaping and getting rid of cigarettes.
And on the lighter side, they say people look like their pets. My cat from Iraq is missing an eye, limps a little, has inner ear damage and balance issues...she was injured in an explosion also, and, yep...we look alike. No one will ever replace my sweet Oreo...RIP old friend, until we meet again.