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Acts of kindness: Cancer survivors recall comforting gestures

Let's lift January

Acts of kindness: Cancer survivors recall comforting gestures

Chemotherapy is powerful medicine in the fight against cancer. But patients undergoing treatment can
Acts of kindness: Cancer survivors recall comforting gestures
Karen Bjornland, pictured during a chemo session in 2009, keeps warm under a quilt her friend Caroline made for her, inspired by the story of the Japanese paper cranes.

Editor’s note: Let’s lift January! The holidays are over, but goodwill doesn’t have to end. Reporters Karen Bjornland and Kelly de la Rocha seek expert advice this month on ways to brighten lives through simple acts of kindness. They’ll put what they learn into action and report on their efforts each Saturday in The Gazette.

Chemotherapy is powerful medicine in the fight against cancer. But patients undergoing treatment can feel exhausted, fearful and down in the dumps.

For this week’s story, I emailed my cancer survivor buddies from Caring Together, an ovarian cancer support group that meets in Latham, and Livestrong, a cancer survivors program at the Saratoga Regional YMCA, the following questions:

“What little acts of kindness did you appreciate when you were doing chemo?”

“What tips do you have for friends and family who want to support someone during chemo?”

Here’s what they told me:

From Andrea, a seven-year ovarian cancer survivor:

“Friends and family dropping off a healthy meal, taking my children to the movies or sending me a positive card. ... People need to know it is OK to ask how someone is feeling and ‘What can I do to help you today?’ ”

Share your stories

Have you been the recipient of a surprise act of kindness? Have you done a good deed recently? Let us know about it. Select stories may be published in an upcoming issue of The Gazette.

-- Twitter — use the hashtag #LetsLiftJanuary

-- Facebook — post on The Daily Gazette’s Facebook page

-- Email — [email protected] or [email protected]

-- U.S. mail — Send your stories to Gazette Reporter Kelly de la Rocha at The Daily Gazette, P.O. Box 1090, Schenectady, NY 12301-1090.

From Denise, a five-year ovarian cancer survivor:

“Having someone sit with you was nice, even if I slept a lot. Very comforting.”

From Beth, a three-year ovarian cancer survivor:

“A soft, knitted afghan. Cards, emails and visits brightened dreary days. People who let me know I was beautiful, when I felt anything but.”

From Liz, a survivor of throat and breast cancers:

“Friends and acquaintances knew I was going to treatment in Boston for seven weeks of chemo-radiation. They threw me a surprise send-off party and gave me all sorts of stuff like funny books, magazines, puzzles, lotion. Friends took care of our pets while we were gone, brought food and weeded the garden.”

From Cathy, an eight-month survivor of ovarian cancer:

“One friend even loaned me headscarves before I needed them. I will always remember her kindnesses because the thought and knowledge that the hair is going to go is one of the harder things I had to face.”

Cathy’s tips for friends and family: “Just show up and be there for them. Don’t stay away because you don’t know what to say.”

She also recommends the book “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick” by Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

FUNKY HEADWEAR

Marzie, a member of Caring Together, recalls these kindnesses:

“My son and daughter came home from college to shave my head: he shaved, she poured my wine ... I was so appreciative of close friends and neighbors who would surprise me with funky, funny headwear to keep my head warm and my sense of humor intact. Another friend sent me a prayer blanket, big enough to accommodate me, my 75-pound dog, and my cat, who she knew were always by my side.”

And there are her tips:

“Write a note; don’t call. Though the callers were well-intentioned, phone calls were exhausting, because I found myself in the position of having to reassure the callers that I was fine when I wasn’t ... Don’t avoid the patient because of your own fear or inability to find words ... Laugh, listen, and encourage “normal.”

From Carol, a two-year ovarian cancer survivor:

“One of my dear friends prepared a ‘chemo bag’ for me with a light blanket, crossword/Sudoku puzzles, candy, magazine that helped get me through that first experience with chemo. Cards/notes with encouraging messages. I really enjoyed reading them on my darker days. A group of friends sent over a big gift bag with individually wrapped little presents ... to open one each day. Gave me something to look forward to, especially on days when feeling crummy.”

From Hunter in Saratoga Springs:

“I had a very aggressive form of leukemia that required very aggressive chemotherapy. Family members provided almost continual companionship during those early weeks. My son developed a blog that permitted me to share my feelings with more people and to hear from them.”

From Beth, a breast cancer patient:

“Since I was used to being independent I didn’t know how to call someone for help. One friend broke through that and offered to take me to her hairdresser to get a pedicure and manicure. Her hairdresser also helped me get a wig. It was the offer of something specific that was the most effective in letting me feel cared for ...

When I tell people of my diagnosis, I would like to hear that they understand that I am terminal. It doesn’t help to have them ask what are you going to do with your time left. Sometimes I’m too scared or sick to do anything. I would like somehow to know they are comfortable talking about death. Cards of warmth and caring are great. I take them with me to medical appointments.”

From Carol, a 13-year breast cancer survivor who lives in Saratoga Springs:

“Drive survivors to and from chemo. Sit with survivors during chemo and other doctor appointments. ... Help patients get comfortable in bed: extra covers, heating pads, comfortable room temperature.”

PHONE CALLS

From Dale in Latham, an eight-year survivor of Stage IV ovarian cancer:

“Being told you have cancer and going through chemo are both very scary times. There are times that you may want to cry, to rant and rave or try to be upbeat. Friends and family need to understand that you are on a roller coaster of emotions all generated from your fears. ... Sometimes just small little things, like a card or phone call that says I’m thinking of you and words of encouragement, is enough and can brighten up someone’s day.”

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