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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