How many times have you visited your local grocery store and spotted someone you hadn’t seen in a long time? Perhaps an old neighbor, colleague or teacher — and that moment becomes a serendipitous event. All of the sudden, a brief exchange sets kindness on fire.
Sixteen years ago, I was married to a great guy named Pete, my high school sweetheart. And then in our fourth year of marriage, the unimaginable happened — Pete was diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer. Right from the start we knew the odds.
Then, a chance grocery store meeting happened. Our friends Courtney and Steve ran into each other four months after Pete’s diagnosis and chatted about what they, and all of our friends, could do to help us. Being part of the 20-something crowd, along with the fact that we all were native Philadelphians accustomed to beef-and-beer fundraising events, the two decided a celebration was in order. This decision — to host a beef and beer in Pete’s honor — was the first act of kindness in a long chain that continues today.
Courtney went to our high school and asked if they’d host a fundraiser. With a resounding yes — another act of kindness — the venue and date were set and on December 26, 1998, 500 people gathered to toast a special man who faced a daunting journey. Kindness, compassion and love enveloped the entire room! As the evening drew to a close, the crowd presented us with a check of several thousand dollars to do with what we wished.
Pete had a crazy idea: Instead of using the money for our mortgage and bills, let’s take a break from cancer. Let’s leave the sterile environment of the hospital, our home and our life revolving around cancer to refresh, reconnect and rejuvenate. Let’s pause and just be, loving each other more and more each day. So days later, we were on a plane, excited to spend some priceless time together.
Those days were magical … special … memorable … sustaining. Those days changed our lives.
Pete returned home intent on giving this break to other young-adult patients and their loved ones. For months, he had witnessed firsthand the loneliness of patients as they sat waiting for treatment, and he also saw how cancer affected caregivers and family members. He decided he would give them all a break from cancer, just like he had been given.
But cancer had different plans. Pete died six months later.
Following Pete’s wish to include a statement in his obituary notice about his vision, I directed that in lieu of flowers, donations could be made to For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation (FPS), a nonprofit that provides respite vacations from cancer. Little did I know that kindness was about to change the lives of thousands.
Kind acts multiplied, as if in sequence, to allow Pete’s vision to become a reality. My attorney friend filed nonprofit incorporation papers, thousands heard the story and sent donations, an old college friend gave us office space and a new friend, Mark, came to the rescue of a FPS patient who ran into travel trouble while on respite (little did I know that three years later, I would marry Mark!). There was even my boss, who for one year held open my position as a tax attorney and so graciously reacted when I told him I was leaving to start a nonprofit.
Today, this same spirit of kindness thrives within the FPS community. I have met CEOs who donate time and talent and children who empty piggy banks. Thousands of volunteers have rallied to serve over 5,000 people. Each day, acts of kindness change the lives of FPS travelers battling the psychological, emotional and spiritual traumas associated with cancer.
So yes, kind acts can change the world. And remember, every chance encounter in a grocery story is a chance to make a difference.
To learn more, visit http://www.takeabreakfromcancer.org/.
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