Happy New Year, from Ronald McDonald House: An update from the Quinn family

You could say a lot about 2021. For Peachlander Shawna Quinn – whose eldest daughter, Violet (who just turned nine) was diagnosed with cancer in June – well, she could write many things. And every time she does, her bravery is…striking. Please, read Shawna’s account of how her family is doing, by catching up on her blog. And if you’re inclined to help out this local family, here’s the GoFundMe her friends set up.

This is what Shawna wrote on this New Year’s Eve:


Well, 11 hours and 12 minutes to go until 2022, according to the countdown clock in Animal Crossing Square.

Seven months ago I had no idea what Animal Crossing was. Now it has become more of a reality to me than the picturesque view of Peachland (home) my husband just texted me. In the hospital, the virtual universe Nintendo created, habited by cartoon creatures and avatars, has provided me with stability, projects, goals, and a strange sense of belonging.

Today I sit in front of my computer screen in our room at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH), wringing my hands and trying to strategize how to write a New Year’s Eve blog post that will properly summarize these past 12 months.

As humans, we need stories to define the meaning of our experience, and stories need a framework. They need structure and plot and cause and effect. They need lessons learned. They need to identify some significant change that can be a takeaway from events. We grasp for metaphors that can encapsulate the essence of life in bite sized pieces.

It is Violet, Lucy and I in this room today. Matt has gone back home to deal with pressing issues, and my parents, who have moved to my brother’s for a few weeks this holiday season while Matt is off work, are hunkered down with a cold that Lucy was kind enough to share with all of us. At RMH, it is particularly important to be vigilant about germ spreading, so leaving the room hasn’t been an option for us for several days. Once again, my world is confined to four walls and a few square feet of space.

It is safe to say that this year has been one for the books. In previous years when someone would post a statement like “Good Riddance to 20??” on social media, I would gently roll my eyes and think, is that really how you want to end a whole year, with an attitude of total negativity and regret? But that’s exactly what I sent to Matt this morning. “2021 – Good #$@*ing Riddance.

But…I can’t stay there. Too many things have shifted within. I just can’t stay in that place of pessimism. I’ve never been one to dwell in the darkness for long, but now it’s different. Now I’m practiced in a very significant way at looking at the bright side. It was a choice I made on day one of our “Cancer Journey”, and it has been the strategy that has enabled me to weather the roughest storm I have ever imagined. Make the best of things. Work with what you’ve got. See the silver lining.

Animal Crossing is the video game we started in June, originally intended for Violet to keep her busy during treatment. It is a slow, peaceful social simulation game where you can putz around an island, collect and sell items, build property, dress yourself up and otherwise engage in self-directed objectives. There’s no “end game” – no final destination, no ultimate challenge to conquer. It is an open-ended adventure, individually determined and aligned with the “real world” in terms of time, dates, seasons and holidays.

Maybe it’s silly, but reflecting on the role this game has had in my life over the past seven months is almost overwhelming. It has been a framework in which I have invested myself, my pleasure, my desire to be productive, in an otherwise disempowering situation. I can’t control an infinite amount of factors in my life, from the cancerous cells that amassed in my daughter’s body, to my ability to leave a room for days on end for a simple breath of fresh air. But I can wake up in the morning, turn on a video screen, and indulge in a peaceful walk around my virtual island, chatting with locals and snacking on fresh imaginary fruit.

2021 could be framed in countless ways. We have all been dealing with this damn epidemic for too long, and we were already weary from it 365 days ago the last time the calendar year changed. And here we are, drowning in data that keeps offering up the message that we are in deep doodoo with no real successful, fool-proof strategy to get out.

Over the past year mainstream and social media has told us that we should be critical of our neighbours for multiple wrongs we all seem to be doing to one another – racism, sexism, conspiracy theories, blind complacency, selfishness, sheepishness – we are all reading the right stuff and promoting the right thing while our misdirected neighbours threaten us with their ignorance. We are all armed with an entire metauniverse full of validating arguments that allow us to feel a moment of safety and stability by condoning this view or that perspective. 2021 has equipped us all with whatever we need to wave whatever flag makes us feel better.

Me included. Because I have gone through such a recognizably profound challenge, I get permission to say or do or feel a lot more than the “regular Joe.” I have a certain kind of privilege right now that I recognize (and a responsibility). I am going through a special kind of hell – one that I truly could not have ever imagined possible – and those that love me (and even strangers that don’t) have given me support despite my darkest, ugliest thoughts. So here I am, writing from my pulpit, preaching about the world and its condition like I have some insight that’s unique and valuable.

But don’t I? Don’t we all? Isn’t that what we can takeaway from 2021? That we all have a valuable, important perspective? That we are all living in our own virtual worlds, defining our objectives and putzing around, looking for a purpose and place of belonging? Is it so crazy that I have invested so much joy and purpose in a Nintendo world that, in the end, doesn’t even exist?

And yet there it is on my screen, counting down until midnight, with little critters running around with party hats looking for someone to talk to. But on that island, there’s no cancer. There’s no COVID. There’s no judgments and debates and arguments and fear and pain and suffering. There’s just passing weather, an ocean to swim in, neighbours to visit with, walls to decorate.

If I were to wrap up this year in a package and seal it up in a time capsule, the general presentation would be that it has been a messy, chaotic, gut-wrenching, terrifying 12 months.  But those months have continued to offer up opportunities to rework things into something new and beautiful and clear and true. It has been a year of transformation, forced upon me, and all of us, by a life-threatening illness, and a myriad of other factors.

I’m not sad to see it go, but I’m not mad it came in the first place. I accept this bullshit of a year with all the richness it has brought to me and to us all. We have so much material to work with, so many things we can take and run with as a global community. So much change. So many opportunities for lessons learned.

Here I am in this tiny room, unable to leave, stuck with a limited amount of material to work with to make this a “proper” New Year’s Eve. But I can go to my island, I can enjoy my escape, I can hug my beautiful children, and I can dig into an imagination that is always available to me and rework this scenario so that it is everything I need it to be. We all have our imagination – our ability to live within whatever world we want – and if we all learn to cultivate that to create a better place, then I think perhaps we might get the point of this mess.

– Shawna Quinn



Written by Kristen Friesen

December 31, 2021

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