The Kindness of Strangers

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” -Aesop

I see my oncologist for my twice-yearly checkup tomorrow, and while my visits have been blissfully mundane over the last three years, this time I actually have a list of questions and a couple of concerns over the lab results from my latest physical. It’s probably nothing, but once you’ve had cancer you can’t help but wonder which “nothing” is actually the edge of trouble’s long shadow. My family doctor sees no cause for alarm, although she promised to keep an eye on things and outlined a course of action that sounds reasonable. I agree, but told her I’m also going to share my lab work with and relay our plan to my oncologist.

I serve on the citizens’ advisory committee of our community cancer clinical trials program, and I’ve come to know its program director, an oncology nurse. We were e-mailing each other today about an event we’re having next month, and she wished me well on my appointment. When I shared my fears with her, she told me they’re normal for anyone who’s been through cancer. She said telling my oncologist is a good move. Then she told me to enjoy my upcoming vacation in Napa, get some sun on my face and relax with a nice glass of wine because I deserve it.

Her e-mail made me flash back to the first e-mail I ever got from her. I was fresh from a horrible consult with an oncologist who recommended a mastectomy after 10 minutes with me. Oh, and I should really consider an MRI, in case I needed a bilateral. Needless to say, I was freaked out.

I was so high on the freak-o-meter that a friend of mine asked Mary Beth, the program director, to get in touch with me. He had kept recommending the oncologist who is now my doctor, and I kept saying no until this awful consult. My oncologist is a principal investigator with the program Mary Beth heads up and she knows him well. She e-mailed me to let me know my soon-to-be oncologist was both smart and nice. She also told me that having cancer in both breasts is extremely rare. This wonderful woman talked me down, and she didn’t even know me. Her kindness radiated through that e-mail.

Mary Beth wasn’t my only encounter with kindness–far from it. I’ve talked before about the kind woman who rescued me in the waiting room the day I had my first-ever surgery. There was the young woman with the insurance company who helped me sort through a billing issue, then paused and said, “How are you?” like she really meant it, and shared her own family history. There was my beyond-awesome surgeon’s equally beyond-awesome receptionist. My journey had many such moments of kindness and I’m sure yours did too.

Today, I see this kindness in social media as well. I see it in the #bcsm tweetchat and the women who worry about each other if they’re offline for too long. It’s nice to know that kindness is alive and well. I believe it’s true that no act of kindness is ever wasted. And you never know how long your kind gesture will stay with someone. It might be for far longer than you think.

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14 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Jackie,

    So true and so important in these very stressful times. When seeing patients, I am trying to be a little more real and openly caring, something that has not come naturally for a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist!
    I also have taken to sharing and giving gifts of coffee to family, friends, and even new acquaintances who share my passion for the dark brew.
    Thanks so much for the post. I am glad you are doing well, paying attention, and taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing.
    Cheers!

    Greg

    • Greg,
      I find it a bit hard to believe that being real and openly caring does not come naturally to you. Your kindness shines through in your blog (gregsmithmd.com for anyone reading this–I’m a huge fan)
      But on the other hand, I also know what it means to be braver at the keyboard 🙂 Thank you for commenting!

  2. My favorite story, not related to my doctors came to mind while reading this article. I was in line at the grocery store and the woman in front of me (with my bald head and pink baseball cap), asked how I was. She really meant it too, and told me about her bout with breast cancer. I was thrilled that she wasn’t afraid of me like most people in public. When I got to my car, this woman showed up from nowhere and loaded my groceries into my car, then gave me a hug. Still brings a tear to my eye, 3 years later. I’m still scouring the grocery store parking lots to repay to favor.

  3. Jackie – I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing. It really is all about connection and kindness, isn’t it? Your post makes me think of one of my favourite quotes: My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

  4. Jackie,
    This is a really wonderful post. Kindness is so powerful and I’ve seen the effect of it over and over in my classrooms and elsewhere too. Being kind seems like such a small thing, but of course it’s not. Like you said, you never know how long a simple act of kindness will stay with someone. As cancer patients, we become even more appreciative of those who are kind and compassionate toward us. Perhaps those who are vulnerable crave/appreciate kindness the most. Thanks for writing this and good luck with your appointment today.

  5. Jackie,

    This is an excellent posting and so true. In fact, that quote by Aesop is one of my very favorites. I hope your appointment with your oncologist went well. And I agree that kindness really shows itself in so many unexpected ways. I find that the online community has been so wonderfully supportive of each other.

  6. Jackie,
    I’m going to take this moment to thank you for your kindness toward me. It’s been nine months since James died, and in many ways, I’m still emotionally paralyzed. I get my blog out every week, but I’m not online liked I’d like to be. When I do, there’s always something nice from you. Your supportive nature has not gone unnoticed, and I thank you.

    XOXOXO,
    Brenda

  7. Jackie, I so agree with you about the kindness of strangers. I have been overwhelmed by the support, the compassion and understanding i have found online when I have been down and out (mostly recently this past weekend on my birthday). Your post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Leo Buscaglia which I know I have shared many times, but it bears repeating I think 🙂

    “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around ”

  8. Pingback: Friday Round Up «

  9. Apologies for my late responses to some of these great comments. I posted this right before starting a vacation with limited online access and should have posted some kind of notice. Thanks everyone for your great comments!

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