A Summer of Sibling Kindness
By Mary Feeney
Nearly all of us have been blessed to be the recipients of numerous acts of kindness in our lives. Many of these gestures of kindness take place in small moments after which the giver and recipient go on with their days. Other acts of kindness are more extensive and involve much more time and commitment on the giver’s part. When I reflect on memorable kindnesses bestowed upon me in my lifetime, one particular summer immediately comes to mind during which I was the witness and beneficiary of a lengthy and amazingly generous act of kindness.
In May of 2011, I was shocked to find out that a rare and aggressive skin cancer on my scalp had returned for the third time. Previous surgeries had involved extensive removal of tissue, a skin graft, a craniotomy, and several plastic surgery procedures. I could only imagine what I might be facing next. Upon receiving the scary news, I immediately called my sister who has always been my “go to” person and best friend throughout my adulthood. Although neither of us was sure what steps to take next or what the best course of action would be, I knew as soon as we began to talk that she was committed to being with me throughout whatever lay ahead. As a single woman, I felt a huge sense of relief and comfort just knowing that I had a support system.
During the days and weeks that followed, I set up appointments for consultations with surgeons both in Arizona and around the country. Although my sister lives in Montana and I live in Arizona, she accompanied me to every single appointment, took notes, discussed every doctor and approach with me, and bolstered me up every time I began falling apart. She came to Arizona several times during a three month period, as well as meeting up with me in airports across the country. Throughout that time, she and her scientist husband spent hours researching, reading medical studies and articles, and helping me decide which clinics and doctors to visit.
For a while, it seemed like we would never find a surgeon who had seen a case like mine and who I felt was the right choice. Then, through a surprising series of synchronistic events, I was immediately given an appointment at the Minnesota Mayo Clinic with the head of dermatology. So off we two sisters went again to yet another appointment, meeting at the Minneapolis airport. What was to be a consultation appointment, ended up being a three week stay in Rochester, Minnesota during which I underwent two surgeries. I had finally found surgeons I felt confident in, and so we stayed there to go forward with the procedures. Our home away from home became a room at the Doubletree Inn. My sister was my nurse and caregiver, my food shopper, and my constant companion and support system during those weeks. I often still recall how every time I sat up in bed during the night to take pain medication, no matter how quiet I tried to be, she would wake up immediately too and ask me if I was alright. And, I must add that despite the seriousness of what we were dealing with, we even had a lot of good laughs along the way!
When I was mostly healed and it was time for us both to return to our respective homes, I began to think about how I would ever thank my sister for all of her devotion and support throughout my summer ordeal. She had basically given up an entire summer with her husband and family to be by my side so that I would never feel alone. No material gift could match the gift of kindness I had been given! I came to the realization that there was just no way to reciprocate adequately at the time. I learned that the best one can do in such a situation is to simply accept an enormous gesture of prolonged love and caring with profound gratitude. In so doing, I became much more motivated to “pay it forward” and thus offer kindnesses, both big and small, whenever opportunities arise. In the end, that was the big lesson — kindness begets gratitude, begets kindness, and thus a cycle of human caring can grow exponentially.
“For kindness begets kindness evermore.” — Sophocles