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When Cancer Invites Random Acts of Kindness

Sometimes a scarf will turn a cancer patient into a kindness magnet. Wearing this symbolic covering taught me that even strangers want to help us through the day in our cancer journeys. I learned to let them.
PUBLISHED February 15, 2016
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website:
I am no fragile flower. I am a woman who fends for herself. When cancer made me want to prove to friends and family that I was invincible as ever, the telltale scarf turned me into a kindness magnet that even attracted strangers. I learned that, strangely enough, random acts of kindness from strangers could also make the cancer experience more bearable.

There was a woman in a department store one morning who noticed me and then waited in her truck until I left the store. She got out of her vehicle, ran to me, and told me she wanted to give me an inspirational book that had given her solace when her son was in a job that came with risks. She explained that it was time to pass on her comforting book.

While the book was nice, and I one day passed it on too, it was the kind gesture that touched me. Here was a stranger who paused in her day to tell me not to be afraid. Was I afraid? Did I need anybody to tell me not to be afraid? Was I not strong? Maybe sometimes even independent spirits need solace too.
At an art gallery, I was gazing at a painting when a woman wondered over to me and asked me about my scarf. It turned out she wanted to give me heart for what she perceived would be a difficult journey. Did I need the heart to soldier on? Did I need a pep talk from a stranger in an art gallery? I guess I did. That woman and I shared a kinship in a short ten minutes before we both went back to the paintings. She left, but her kind gesture stayed. Maybe I did need to pause and take heart.

Kindness gleamed everywhere I went. At a grocery store, a man on the checkout line smiled. He was a survivor who was proud to call himself a survivor. He wanted to assure me that I would be one too. At a home supply store, a clerk across the aisle spotted me with a big box in my buggy and rushed over to push it out and put it in the car. She did not need to help. I could lift a box all by myself.

But maybe I did need the smile the clerk gave me when she put my box in the car. I needed it as much as the courtesy a neighbor extended when she cut my grass for an entire summer or the kindness of a man who drove my car out of a snowdrift one winter afternoon when I was stuck, alone on a country road, my scarf providing little comfort in the cold.
At my mother’s nursing home on my 55th birthday, somebody peering through a window saw me standing in the yard — my telltale scarf especially colorful that day. It was flu season and my health challenges were prohibiting me from going inside, so I stood at my mother’s window to try to catch her attention. After a visitor stopped to ask what I was doing, she went inside and arranged for my mother to be bundled up and brought on the porch.

Did I look a little lonely then? Did I need a stranger to help me to complete my birthday celebration? Was I not a woman capable of sorting challenges out all by herself? Obviously not. But I am happy that I learned to accept the kindness of strangers in gestures that ultimately seemed more like heartfelt gifts than random acts.
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