First Person: After Loss, A Cat's Companionship Got This Doctor Through 'Dark Times'
Many of us turned to pets for comfort during the pandemic. Hear why here.
In 2006, Fumiko Chino was in her late 20s. She was just beginning to find her way in life when everything came crashing down.
Fumiko shares how an unlikely small furry companion ended up as a kind of savior:
My name is Fumiko Chino. I’m a physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. I treat patients with cancer and I’m also an animal lover.
It all started with a tragedy, which is when my fiancé at the time was diagnosed with cancer. And we were both in our 20s. It’s something that you never anticipate. Through his treatment, we decided to get married pretty much immediately, because we wanted to be sure of just one thing: of each other.
He was getting sicker and sicker, and I knew that I had married a cat guy. He was a person who would show me pictures of his prior cats, tell me stories about them. And I knew at some point in our future we were going to get a cat. When we adopted Franklin, it was the last time that Andrew felt well enough to leave the house.
He mostly spent a lot of time on Andrew’s lap. One of the things that they loved to do was to play fetch. So Franklin is one of these cats that is sort of doglike in that they like to bring, return things to you. So there was this candy bowl in the living room, and so Franklin would grab a piece of candy in his little mouth, trot it over to the bedroom, drop it on Andrew’s lap, and then Andrew would throw it, and then Franklin would pick up the candy and bring it back. And they would do this for a while.
Later, actually, when I moved out of the house, I noticed when I pushed the bed against the wall, that Franklin actually had kept bringing candy to Andrew’s side of the bed. And so … there was this pile of very stale candy on Andrew’s side of the bed when I left. And it’s just heartbreaking. That mental picture of Franklin kind of trotting up with a fresh piece of candy and kind of depositing on the bed and not quite realizing that Andrew was gone. That just ripped right through me.
He is a very playful cat. He’s a very affectionate cat. He will follow me everywhere. He was just a constant presence. And it really carried me through this very, very dark time. In which, at some times, I would not get out of bed except to feed my cat. I can one 100% guarantee you that I would not be here right now without this cat. I would not be a physician and I may not be alive. I don’t know if I’ve said that before. I definitely, when I said it was dark times, it was dark times. I’m not even kidding you.
At the beginning of the pandemic in New York City, it was very, very scary. The streets were completely empty. And as a physician, I was seeing some of the really worst effects in the most vulnerable populations. Kind of layered on that was the fact that my cat got very, very sick. I was so surprised, like never having been an animal person, but having this cat for so many years, how crushed I was when he got sick.
But it was also just the incredible fear and overwhelming terror of being in the middle of a pandemic. I know, again, he’s not going to live forever, that his sickness during the pandemic was shocking to me. It was the first time I realized that I might lose him. And it makes the time with him so special. It also makes me realize how much I had gotten kind of dependent on him to be that extra layer.
I never really realized that I was depending on him like that. And Franklin really did provide me a lot of joy, but he was also that connection to my husband. He was the cat that I adopted with my husband. And he was sort of the last kind of durable gift that he gave me. Which is, you know, I have to leave now. But I’m going to leave you with this very needy, fuzzy little man who’s going to need a lot of your support. And will also give you a lot of support.
In this diary … we hear from:
Fumiko Chino, radiation oncologist in New York City. Franklin the cat recovered from his mysterious illness during the pandemic. He’s now 14 years old.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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