Cancer, a Cat and a Second Chance


Sometimes it Takes a Village
By Kevin Krein


“You know, it sounds cliché,”  Nicole Czarnomski said. “But I feel like everybody can get a second chance—I have been given a second chance.”

Czarnomski was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2017, and, following a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, five months of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments, she has been cancer free since the summer of 2018. 

“I have doctors to thank, and support from family and friends—amazing people who supported me,” she said. “There can always be a second chance… for people and for pets.”

Bridget the Broken Cat

Her name is now Juniper, but she was originally known as Bridget, and for a little less than a year, she was a traumatized stray cat living at Paws and Claws Humane
Society in Rochester. 

Found outside in a field, she had been attacked by someone, or something, and left with a head wound; she had also given birth to kittens that had all died. 

At the shelter, Bridget was aggressive toward other cats and shelter staff who tried to get near her; at the time, she was the cat who had been at the shelter the longest, continually looked over by potential adopters. 

“Animals who are in the shelter can be difficult, but can turn around and be wonderful in the home,” said Tanya Johnson, the manager of Paws and Claws Humane Society. 

“The shelter can be stressful; but give them time to blossom. Give the ones who have been here a little longer a chance.”

There can always be a second chance—for people and for pets.

Surprise Sponsorship

Czarnomski calls them her “fitness friends.”

“When I first moved (to the area) I started taking fitness classes, and there was a pack of other women that I would see in all of the classes, and I coined them the ‘fitness friends,’” she recalled. “They ended up being the tribe to support me through this.”

The friends were her at every milestone in her recovery from breast cancer. “They were doing something special to celebrate and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back.’”

The de facto leader of this group of friends is Sarah Ferrington. She coordinated the final “something special” after Czarnomski’s final treatment: The Friends paid the adoption fee to sponsor the “most broken cat” at Paws and Claws, in honor of Czarnomski’s treatment journey.

Ferrington said this wasn’t the first time she had sponsored an animal at the shelter and paid the adoption fee on behalf of a milestone. As an employee at Mayo Clinic, she had done the same to celebrate the retirement of a colleague. 

“When Nicole’s treatment was ending, we were trying to think of what to do. I suggested this to her group of friends,” Ferrington recalled. “Not all of them have the same pet passion she and I do, but enough of them wanted to support it, so we went to Paws and Claws, we heard Bridget’s story, and we fell in love with her. We took it as a challenge to find her a home.”

Czarnomski called Bridget “one tough cookie.”

“We all went out to dinner after my final treatment and Sarah came up to me and gave me a card,” she remembered.

“I figured it was a card that said ‘Yay You!,’ but it had a printout of Bridget the cat. They went to Paws and Claws to find the most broken cat—and this Bridget happened to be really broken.”

When animals at Paws and Claws are sponsored in this way, it is not mentioned at all until a potential adopter is ready to commit to caring for the animal.

Johnson, with Paws and Claws, added sponsorships do not happen at the shelter all that often. “This story is touching.”

Choosing the Overlooked

Brittany Rotz said she has always been interested in cats that are deemed unadoptable. 

Rotz had adopted older or more challenging cats before from Paws and Claws. She had lost a cat to kidney failure, and eventually, was interested in adopting again. 

“Bridget was the longest-term cat there,” Rotz said. “She kept getting overlooked, and after some time went by, and I kept seeing her—I decided I was going to adopt her.”

Rotz was patient with Bridget in the time leading up to the official adoption, visiting the shelter to spend time with her every day for a week, and even going so far as to drop off a blanket so that Bridget could become familiar with her smell.

“I didn’t judge a cat by how they are at the shelter,” she said. “I don’t go for the cuddly kittens—older cats deserve a home too. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s always paid off in the end. They never act how they are at the shelter.”

It’s been two years. Bridget is now Juniper. Rotz describes her as talkative and as a “super love bug,” adding that the cat opened up after about 10 minutes in her home.

The paid adoption fee came as a surprise for Rotz. 

“I didn’t know anything about her being sponsored or why she was sponsored,” she recalled. ‘They just said her fee had been covered.”

Shared Satisfaction

There is a place in a story like this where things—people, a once temperamental cat, and acts of generosity—converge. 

Shortly after Bridget left the shelter, Ferrington was told the “most broken cat” she sponsored had been adopted, and she said she was humbled by the adopter. 

“She took the time, and knew what she had to do to gain her trust,” she said. “She was patient with her, and treated her with respect. Animals need respect and love.”

Rotz, in turn, only recently learned (in part, because of the writing of this piece) why the adoption fee had been covered. 

“I’m super happy to learn that was why,” she said. “It’s nice a group of friends honored cat for their friend.” 

Rotz added that her mother also had cancer, so the generosity of sponsorship gave her pause to think of her mom.

Czarnomski can look back on her journey and the cat’s journey with satisfaction. “My friends wanted to give hope to a cat, and they knew it’d be special to me,” she said. “I am over the moon that the cat found a home.”

There can always be a second chance.

For people and for pets. 

Kevin Krein is formerly a cool rabbit dad and currently a cool cat dad, living and writing in Northfield. He runs the ‘award winning’ music website Anhedonic Headphones and hosts the site’s companion podcast. Follow Kevin and very photogenic cat Ted on Instagram (@kev_e_fly), or just Kevin on Twitter (@KevEFly.)