On the 8th anniversary of mum’s death I decided to do something positive to try and balance the very painful and very vivid memories of the day. I wanted to create new memories. Having started a positivity blog (It’s Character Building) inspired by mum, I had found my way towards a supportive online community. I decided to invite my social media followers to join me in performing random acts of kindness (mum was a very kind and loving person, so it seemed like a fitting tribute). I didn’t think anyone would get involved and was surprised by the positive response. One Instagram follower called Angela, who lives in America and who I’ve never met, performed lots of random acts of kindness, including putting together care packs and taking them to chemo patients in hospital. The thought of my mum being the reason for such lovely actions being performed on the other side of the world really helped me get through the day. Now, I have created new, happy memories to look back on. Whilst they’ll never erase the memory of losing mum, it’s something else to focus on.
Threads of kindness have been a running theme throughout my experience with cancer. One such example was the Macmillan nurse who came round to see mum shortly after her terminal diagnosis was given. He was kind of course, that was his job, but there seemed to be something in his manner that indicated this was more than just a job. My sister was very upset. She was in shock and disbelief and had lots of questions. She was desperately trying to get her head around why this time was so different, why mum wouldn’t survive this attack of breast cancer. The Macmillan nurse took his time. He explained everything as clearly as he could. He was mindful of everyone’s feelings. All things he would have been trained for I’m sure, but there was something in his eyes, in his aura, that went above and beyond. He spent a lot of time with us that day and in the weeks that followed. It turned out the Macmillan nurse had lost his mum when he was 26, the same age I was when he was patiently explaining to our family what was happening and why. The loss had inspired him to work for Macmillan and support families through what he had been through.
When mum got really ill, dad cared for her and was on call 24/7. He was exhausted and emotionally drained. One day, he received a large box in the post. In it was a helium balloon. A big, round, yellow, smiley face. It was from relatives. There was a simple note with it. I can’t remember the words but it was just something to show dad that he was being thought of and supported. At a time when every conversation was about mum, this small gesture made such a difference.
A few weeks later, mum and dad’s best friends telephoned to check how things were going. Dad had spoken for a short while when he heard a knock at the door and explained he’d have to go and answer it. When he opened the front door, there they were; the couple that mum and dad had spent so much time with over the years just stood there with smiles on their faces. They had travelled 120 miles to visit as a surprise because they knew if they had offered to visit, dad would have made excuses for them not to come, thinking that it would be putting them out. They spent a couple of hours drinking tea and injecting some much needed energy before driving the 120 miles back home.
Two days after mum’s death, it was my sister’s wedding. Mum had made it clear that the wedding should go ahead no matter what. Despite the pain that mum’s family and friends must have been going through, everyone came to the wedding and made sure that they kept their pain away from my sister. They all celebrated, smiled, laughed and enjoyed themselves, which must have been so very hard. They knew it was what mum wanted, for her little girl to have the best wedding day possible, even though she knew she wouldn’t be there to see it.
Seven years after mum’s death, I shaved all my hair off to raise money for Macmillan. In the run up to my ‘Brave the Shave’, I received an email from Just Giving telling me that someone had sponsored me £65. This was the single biggest donation from an individual and it was from someone called Daisy. I didn’t know anyone called Daisy so I thought it must have been a mistake. After some investigation, it turned out that Daisy was the daughter of one of my sister’s friends. She had seen the Just Giving link on Facebook, read my story, and wanted to donate. Daisy had never met me or my mum, and I didn’t know her from Adam. The fact that she wanted to support what I was doing and help other people in the process will forever mean so much to me. What’s most astonishing is that Daisy was 15 years old. She worked on Saturdays in a hair salon and so she understood how important people’s hair is to them. £65 took her a whole month to earn. I emailed her and thanked her so much for what she did. The most articulate and touching response came back. “I cannot imagine losing my mum and to shave all your hair in memory of her is an incredibly brave act. I wanted to donate enough to ensure that you reached your target…knowing that I helped someone accomplish their goal is worth every penny.”
If there’s one positive thing I can say about cancer, it’s that it brings out the best in people. It unites us all against a common enemy and because it’s so non-discriminative, transcending class, age, nationality, gender and everything else that divides us, it actually serves to bring us together. Daisy, mum’s friends and family, strangers on social media and the Macmillan nurse are just a few examples of the kindness that our family experienced as a result of cancer.
To mark World Cancer Day, Macmillan is encouraging people to share their #LittleActsOfKindness on Facebook and Twitter to help support people living with cancer. For information and support this World Cancer Day, go to www.macmillan.org.uk/worldcancerday’.
Do you know someone in the UK who’s done something incredible for another person? Maybe they dedicated hours to volunteering, changed someone’s life with a small but significant act, raised thousands of pounds for a good cause, or perhaps they went above and beyond to help in someone else’s time of crisis? Either way, we want to hear about them. Nominate your kind person or group here or email your personal story to firstname.lastname@example.org.