A black cat with a maroon ribbon around its waist crossing the superstitious viewer's path

Blood Cancer Superstitions

My wife used to come to all of my oncologist appointments with me. When I was in active treatment for follicular lymphoma, it was very helpful to have another set of ears. But now that I’m post-treatment, that urgency is gone, and she doesn’t need to be there. Also, when I changed oncologists, his appointment hours were different, and they were at a time when my wife couldn’t make it. So I went by myself.

But my last appointment happened to be on her day off. I asked her if she wanted to come with me.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Everything’s been great with your cancer since I stopped going to your appointments. I don’t want to jinx it.”

Science or superstition?

Now, I consider myself a cancer nerd. I read medical journals for fun. I have attended cancer conferences online. I respect science.

And yet, when my wife says she doesn’t want to “jinx” my appointment, I agree with her. “Yeah, probably better if you don’t come. I’ll call you once I’m done and let you know how it went.”

It’s completely irrational, illogical, and very unscientific. But I didn’t want to jinx it, or curse it, or cast an evil spell on it – whatever words you want to use that are all about bringing bad luck because of our actions.

How does someone who values science so much still believe in such superstition?

Stupid-stitions

When my niece was very small, she heard the word “superstition” and started to call it “stupid-stition.” Which kind of fits, doesn’t it?

On my way to my appointment that day, I started to think about all of my cancer stupid-stitions. When I was in treatment, I used to wear the same thing every time I went to the treatment room. A pair of old navy blue Adidas sweatpants, so old that they were frayed where they dragged on the ground. A Red Sox t-shirt, number 31, with Jon Lester’s name on the back.

Lester had been diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma couple of years before me, and had come back to pitch in and win a World Series game in 2007. On top of that, in case I got cold, I had a long sleeve, rusty orange Life Is Good shirt. I looked sloppy but I was comfortable. More importantly, I wore it the first time I had treatment and things went well, so I wore it again every time after that.

I have a few others. I only make appointments for Tuesdays and Thursdays. When I go to the cancer hospital for an appointment, I only take the middle elevator. I always use the same individual bathroom before I go into the office.

The comfort of routine

I guess sometimes superstitions are about routines. There’s comfort in doing the same thing over and over, especially when good things happen the first few times you’ve done them. But it’s bad science. Correlation is not causation: just because one thing happened when something else happened doesn’t mean there’s a connection between the two.

I know in my head that wearing ratty sweatpants doesn’t affect how well a monoclonal antibody treatment works.

But, honestly, having cancer isn’t always about what goes on in your head. It’s about what goes on in your heart. It’s not how you think. It’s how you feel.

Still, I wouldn’t let a superstition get in the way of science. I wouldn’t skip an appointment just because it’s Wednesday or because the middle elevator was out of order.

But I also won’t take any chances. I’ll still use that same bathroom, just in case.

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