I wrote earlier that the best thing about being Quinn’s dad is how frequently you get to be a hero. She is an active girl and leads an exciting life. She is also completely in love with her stuffed animal raccoon Percy. For Valentine’s Day, Jing compiled a video of the highlights of their friendship/romance.
I should mention that we had purchased a back-up Percy, just in case the real one gets lost, but Quinn could smell the difference between the two. She was mad at me for a week for trying to replace her one and only Percy. She is deeply bonded to this animal and cuddles him every night, sniffing his left paw in a peculiar pose that she calls “smoking” (see video). They are inseparable, and Quinn often looks to Percy for personal support and guidance. In the dark days immediately before my surgery, when we didn’t yet know how the surgery was going to go or what the pathology would show, in a moment of weakness I had a talk with Percy to make sure he understood that he may need to look after Quinn for me. Quinn needs a lot of looking after.
Anyway, last Monday, Percy went missing. We’ve lost Percy before, but never for long. This time he was gone for half a day. Complicating matters, Quinn had been out in the car that morning running errands, including Panera and the local playground.
You can imagine how urgently I wanted to find that mischievous raccoon. Jing and I walked two miles to the playground and back again, scouring under bushes and trees, but he was nowhere to be seen. If you check my walking stats, you’ll see the outlier day where I was frantically looking for Percy. We called Panera several times, and the good folks there patiently explained that no raccoon had been through their establishment that day. Refusing to give up, Jing drove out to the restaurant to look herself, as the people on the other end of the phone did not seem to comprehend just how essential this raccoon was.
Back at home, I settled into a long and thorough cross-examination of Quinn. After much back and forth, I gathered that upon waking, Quinn had gone to Grandma Yaya’s bedroom to pilfer her luggage for candy. Immediately grasping the significance of this statement, I retraced her footsteps, and began pilfering Grandma Yaya’s stuff as well. Triumph! Percy was safely found wedged behind Grandma’s laptop. How exactly he got there and avoided earlier detection is a mystery. I don’t have the words to explain how relived I was. The whole topic of cancer brings out a superstitious streak in me, and in everyone around me. Little things like missing raccoons take on life/death significance. Some examples of these superstitions to follow:
Contributions to St. Jude’s Hospital:
Jing will hopefully forgive me for airing out personal medical information, but I don’t think bloggers are bound by HIPAA. In any case, when she was 20 weeks pregnant with Quinn, she had a bad hemorrhage which made us convinced she had miscarried. We called the OB/GYN and took the essential medical steps, but given that the bleeding was not critical, we wouldn’t be seen in person for 24 hours. That’s an eternity to wait. Having attended to all the practical matters, I went online and made a sizable donation (considering I was on a postdoc’s salary at the time) to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Obviously this story had a happy ending, as Quinn is full of life and well-protected by her guardian raccoon. Later, when Jing was about 12 weeks pregnant with Carolyn, there was a repeat performance, only this time it wasn’t so scary since we’d done it all before. I was practically nonchalant about our second major contribution to St. Jude’s (this time a little larger, since I’d subsequently moved up to a faculty position). Of course, there was a happy ending there too.
Naturally, since April 12th, we’ve made another donation to St. Jude’s, and will continue to do so for every clean MRI from here to infinity. This is incredibly superstitious, and it’s hard to imagine how an all-powerful, intelligent being would be impressed by a few dollars here and there, but even if this doesn’t sway the power of the universe onto my side, it’s good in and of itself. Cancer is an awful, awful thing, and the only thing worse than cancer is cancer in little kids. I’m happy to help fund the troops on the front lines. St. Jude’s is a good organization, and if you are similarly inspired to contribute to their efforts, I sincerely thank you.
St. Michael the Archangel
I grew up in a Catholic family, and I was named for St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael is the warrior of heaven and is often shown judging Lucifer and casting him into hell. This is a fantastic image, and if my cytotoxic T cells are inspired to take some notes on judging and smiting, I’d be delighted. My mom bought me a St. Michael talisman, and I carry it with me wherever I go. This is incredibly superstitious as well, but if it helps visualizing white blood cells detecting residual cancer cells and eventually casting them into an apoptotic hell, so much the better.
Superstition as a guard against powerlessness
I’ve mentioned before the evidence showing that cancer correlates well with depression, anxiety, and despair; especially feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I will attest that one of the worst aspects of a cancer diagnosis is the feeling that your life is spiraling out of control, a feeling magnified by the powerlessness that you experience as a patient in a large hospital. Under normal circumstances, I have had the luxury of looking down on superstitions, but perhaps this universal impulse is a necessary counter to the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness and therefore, an essential aspect of sustaining a vigorous fight against an enemy you can’t see. So, I’ll revel in the triumph of finding Percy after much anguish, and I’ll carry my St. Michael Medal, and keep writing checks to St. Jude’s. And I won’t even judge myself for it.