Kindness is always there. It shows up in all forms, sometimes when you’re least expecting it. And the smallest act can be so poignant. There are hundreds of memes and quotes flying around the abyss giving us words of inspiration around the topic of kindness. And as cliché as it sounds, it really is all true. Kindness has been there all through my life. Unkindness has also been a player but kindness always won. Hands down. There weren't even in the same ring.
One of my best friends who showed up in October armed with food. And proceeded to spend the next four hours in my teeny kitchen cooking meals and freezing them for me and my children. The radiographer who thought to get me a blanket at my guided MRI so I wouldn’t be chilly from laying in one position for an hour and also to cover my bare skin and hold on to any remaining dignity in front of 10 student medical clinicians. The nurse who stood for thirty minutes with a reassuring hand on my back and every now and again would rub it gently whilst I was being prodded, vacuumed (don’t ask) biopsied, squeezed, pulled, man handled by a multitude of people whom I couldn’t even see as I was laying face down for an hour. (small boobs are not easy to manipulate for examination) I bet that is not part of the clinical training instruction manual, that is just humans seeing another human. When all is said and done, a caring human touch is one of the most powerful things in the world. To remind us we are not alone. Someone can sense our fragility and just wants us to know it will be OK.
The lovely lady whose house we invaded for our first photo shoot who made the most incredible gigantic rose cake filled with pink smarties to make us feel welcome. By the way cake ALWAYS makes me feel welcome. Just saying. Unexpected cards in the post to remind me I am not alone and that I am cared for. Fairly massive for someone whose internal dialogue for as long as she can remember, has been, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN SAM-NO ONE IS GOING TO DO THIS FOR YOU. Or sadder but truthfully YOU CAN'T RELY ON ANYONE SAM. DON'T BE A BURDEN. SORT YOURSELF OUT. How interesting that the most amount of unkindness I have been exposed to has slipped undetected through the wire because it was to me, from me,
The anaesthetist who wiped my tears when I was unable to dry them and held my hand just as I was drifting into ‘land of who knows’ for my mastectomies. Ambreen, one of my dream team of clinicians at the breast unit who sat with me for an hour listening me rabble on about boob sizes that I might want to be throughout the week. I had decided at that point to be a B cup on a Monday and work my way up 'subtly' to DD’s at the weekend. She seemed to find this concept amusing and intriguing at the same time. That may have been my enthusiasm speaking and I haven’t put the theory into practice yet although I have a variety of knitted knocker sizes to explore.
Knitted Knockers. These wonderful women around the world who voluntarily knit fake breast forms that give shape to fit snuggly into a post surgical bra. These are made out of love (and wool) and don’t cost breast cancer survivors a penny.
The nurse on the ward who sat and shared a cup of tea with me when I couldn’t sleep because Barbara kept farting. My wonderful friend who made my children’s birthday cakes and wanted nothing in return. Did I mention one of them turned 5 the week before my surgery and the other turned 7 the week after my surgery. Well played. NOT.
My good friend Anita who works at the Mayo Clinic in America as a ‘breast reconstruction plastic surgeon something something’-I am not entirely sure of her job title but she surgically deals with breast cancer EVERY day. We backpacked around Egypt together and toured Switzerland in a dance company in our former years so safe to say we have each other’s backs. In amidst the shit storm of confusion around diagnosis she firmly held space for me with medical information and answered any question I had anytime day or night. I sent her a plethora of post operative images and videos to which she would comment professionally on my progress. Without her intervention I am not entirely sure that I would have had the confidence to be so articulate and together in the clinical environments I found myself in.
The lovely stranger I met online on Flat Friends ; a wonderful tribe of women who choose not to reconstruct after breast surgery, who sent me a mastectomy bra she didn't need, for nothing, and wrote me beautiful words in a card to again remind me that I was not alone.
My friend who turned up at my house the day I arrived home with 5 bags packed full of nutritious and healthy home made food so I wouldn’t need to cook FOR THE NEXT YEAR. My incredible tribe of sisters and brothers whose love and care showed no boundaries as they came to deliver my children to and from school, drop meals in, brought me flowers, drove me to medical appointments (of which there have been many) , provided after school care and teatime for my children, helped with bath-time. Even my ex husband came over and ran the hoover round and changed my bed sheets on his day off. People are just kind. And if they are not they are probably just having a bad day.
I had to rely on this net of incredible women and a handful of men. I didn’t actually even know they were there or who they were. And some I was not expecting to be there but just showed up and stood firm. But I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t have been forced to ask for help and accept help had there been another option. But I learnt that people actually want to help. It is a pleasure for them. I am not the burden I thought I was. I know this because these people are not burdens to me and it would be my pleasure to know I could be of service to them at their time of need. I hadn’t realised that people WANTED to help and not because they felt they should. By me constantly deferring offers of help in life when actually sometime it would made things logistically easier to accept, I am in fact denying them potential joy!! That is the only way my brain can justify accepting help. It’s been a fair few years of cognitive and emotional conditioning that I am needing to re-address. I am actually making them feel good by accepting! There are too many occasions of kindness I have experienced over the last 4 months to count and I could write a book on them.
There are people along my journey who my encounters with can't be explained. My friends are different . Without them I would not be standing so strong. I’d be a damn site skinnier too as I wouldn’t have eaten too well over the last 8 weeks. The human experiences of kindness I describe (and there have been plenty of encounters with lots of different people) are a human form of grace, popped unexpectedly in my pathway to remind me of things, reassure me, encourage me. Seemingly insignificant exchanges. They can inspire me to change the course of action or just do the job themselves. Like seeing two different oncologists by accident instead of one. Had I just seen the one I was scheduled to see I may not have had the internal conflict and moral dilemmas that have arisen but I wouldn't have been reminded that I have a choice.
I wanted to hide away most of December. I definitely did not want to talk to people past my immediate and very small collective clan. I didn’t pick up the phone to people and I barely texted back. I am someone who although loves an audience, But it has to be on my own terms, hence these musings. I also need time to assimilate, digest, reflect and just be by myself. It was OK for me to isolate myself. No-one pushed me. No-one expected anything of me. And everyone accepted that that’s how it was. And when I was ready I would resurface. And I did. Ish. Cue some kind of hibernating creature analogy or caterpillar / butterfly metaphor. More like a bedraggled, half dazed deer in the headlights. And that’s OK too.