December 31st, 2008
04:18 PM ET

On being grateful and random acts of kindness

By Andrea Kane
CNNhealth.com Producer

I am sure that I am not the only one who is going to be glad to see 2008 in the rearview mirror, receding in the distance - what with all the financial turbulence, the foreclosures, the layoffs, the generally gloomy mood.

And for me, the economic downturn was mirrored by a downturn in my husband's health. Neither one is permanent (I hope!) but both served to cast a pall over the year. It started in May, with the quite sudden discovery of kidney cancer. From discovery to diagnosis to surgery to release from the hospital took a week and a day. My parents came down from New York City to help with the girls, neighbors and friends brought food, helped with daily stuff.

My husband recovered from his surgery (with an excellent prognosis) and gradually life returned to normal. In two months, he had returned to work part-time.

Part-time slipped to full time until... the end of September when he developed a tear in his retina after a jump from a climbing wall; by the following week, despite laser treatment, it had detached.

He had to have real cut-open-your-eye surgery (including stitches!) –the kind that required him to lie with is head at a 30-degree angle for 20 out of 24 hours. This lasted two weeks. Then, he was able to move around for two hours a day. This lasted another two weeks. And, just when we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel (so to speak), we got devastating news: he was among the 5% that developed proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR), a catastrophic complication to the surgery. Basically it means that his eye produced too much scar tissue, which stuck to the retina and then contracted, and redetached the retina all over again.

Another surgery to reattach. Another two weeks of immobility. Then a third surgery to replace the gas bubble in his eye with the stronger silicone oil in the hopes of keeping his retina as "flat as a pancake" against the eye's back wall.

Throughout this whole time, there were countless early morning doctor's appointments I had to drive him to and from (plus get myself ready for work, and get the girls to school in a timely manner), groceries to buy, kids to tend and a household to run. Friends, neighbors and family were kind and understanding, but because it happened on the heels of the other crisis, because it wasn't life-threatening and because I didn't expect it to drag on, I didn't get my support system in place.

I turned away general offers of help ("Oh, we're just fine, thanks!") until... a perfect stranger knocked on my door. Or, rather, rang up my cell. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how overwhelmed I felt.

The unknown neighbor heard about our situation  - through the ever-present neighborhood grapevine - and called: she wanted to bring me dinner and would Sunday be okay to drop it off?

I fought off tears. Her kindness touched my heart and made me realize how desperate I was for... what? Relief from the drudgery of every day household tasks like cooking? While the dinner, for food's sake, was certainly appreciate, it went so much deeper than that. While I had been trying to keep it all together, keep it all inside, here was someone who without even knowing me had extended - unasked, unbidden - a helping hand. And by reaching out, she had unleashed a gush of gratitude.

Studies out of Kent State University and University of California at Davis have shown that gratitude, or being thankful, can increase a person’s happiness levels. People who count their blessings are more satisfied with their lives overall, more optimistic about the future.

In 2009, I resolve that when someone has a baby, gets sick, or has some kind of difficulty, I will remember this lesson: Don't ask, just do. So strange that it took a stranger to remind me of the power of a random act of kindness, and the heart-warming pleasure of gratitude.

What are you grateful for? Tell us.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

Filed under: Cancer • Caregiving • Men's Health

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Daniel Brenton

    This post was selected to be part of the New Year's Eve edition of Gratitude Watch.

    I'd like to thank CNN for promoting the value of gratitude.

    January 1, 2009 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jasmine

    My mother passed away, so I'm grateful to have had a 2 parent household. I'm grateful for my dad and pray he remains in good health.

    January 1, 2009 at 06:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Helene

    I am grateful that I am in fairly good health and have a job.

    January 1, 2009 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ward Harbin

    I am grateful to the ladies who cared for my mother-in-law for the past several years. Through their efforts and especially my wife's strivings, her mother was able to spend the final years of her life in her own home (...for 61 years). Hug a caregiver he or she deserves it!!!

    January 1, 2009 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Anita

    2008 has been a challenging and VERY medically difficult year for me.....and that was just the beginning.

    I have fought Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for 9 years, but I am still alive and treatments are getting better. In March 2008 I had surgery. In June 2008 I was diagnosed with Graves' Disease of the thyroid. Full recovery takes about a year.

    This past summer I was hit by a "hit and run" driver destroying my son’s car.

    Two days later my oldest daughter and her family had to cancel their move back to Alaska (where I live) after being gone for 16 years.....because her husband was offered a promising promotion in the Air Force back east

    My youngest daughter who lives here with 3 children – 2 of whom are in the Autistic Spectrum – had her Army National Guard husband deployed to Bosnia December 3rd.....for a year.

    This past Sunday, the rear suspension on my car went out while driving on the highway and I partially lost control of my car. I would have been seriously injured or worse had I chosen the other route I had considered, to go take photos.

    2008 was not particularly kind to me. However.....I am SO grateful for all that I have!

    I am able to eat and walk and laugh and talk and spend time with my friends and family. I can experience the joy of my photos and art and appreciate the supreme beauty of a cold snowy day.

    I am grateful because I have a warm roof over my head and food to eat and a measure of medical care.

    I am thankful because I don’t live in a third world country, where my son spent time deployed this past September, transporting food and checking out medical facilities, after the ravages of several hurricanes.

    After seeing these things and showing me the photos, he said he would NEVER, ever complain about U.S. medical care. After me seeing his photos....I will NEVER complain about not having enough of anything! We don't appreciate how well we have it here!

    I am thankful I do not live in a country where war ravages everyone, but especially takes a toll on the poor, the old, the weak and the young.

    I am thankful because I can see, hear, smell, taste and feel. I am SO blessed and MOST thankful, for caring, thoughtful, kind and very loving adult children and grandchildren and other family!

    After a very difficult year.....I still can see how very blessed I am and it has taught me that I will still fight with every breath and reach for the sky with every ounce of energy I can muster and I WILL make 2009 a better year!

    I challenge YOU to do the same and to "Reach For The Sky" and to NEVER give up.....no matter how hard things are. YOU have the power in your hands to change your life's attitude if you only believe and work hard. Even though you may not be able to change your physical body or maybe even your financial situation.....you can change HOW you perceive things.

    So....GO FOR IT and make an attitude change for the better!!

    Here’s to a better 2009 for everyone who had had challenges in 2008!!! Peace, Health, Love & Happy New Year.....God Bless!!


    January 1, 2009 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Julie Moore

    I agree with you more than you can imagine. My 16 year old daughter recently had a friend of hers burn in a horrific accident that is now being treated at Boston Hospital, Boston, Mass. The output of the community that has extended to this family has greatly impacted me. So much that when the family was overwhelmed with people asking what they could do, they asked for a blood drive. I just can't imaging how little this request became so huge. Not only was this family giving to the community, but they were giving to us as a community to allow us to help them. What a gift!!!! If you'd like to see the act of giving for this young girl from a whole community, just go to caringbridge.com and type in CaitlinBazinet and you will see the thousands of messages posted from the community for support for this family and this young girl. Your right act of kindness is so good for the soul, I would know I organized the blood drive for the family and the community responded along with her high school friends and collected 104 units of blood which means 314 lives were saved that day!!!!

    January 2, 2009 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. GF, Los Angeles

    I'd like to remind people not to forget our elderly who may not be sick but do need help now that they are older. My mother lives alone and luckily I have neighbors that check on her, shovel her driveway, and give her Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners if she's home and not visiting family out here in CA. After a recent snow storm her neighbor offered to drive her to the grocery store. Those random acts of kindness have not only touched my mother but myself. I try to pay that forward towards the elderly that live around me.

    January 2, 2009 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Gary

    I am grateful for my 18 year old son,;David, who is severely autistic.
    David reminds me and everyone else he meets that there is innocence left in this world. I would love to see a cure for autism and strive in this endeavor to find a cure. Yet, you most love a boy that laughs so hard without provocation and think he has got life right.
    I am also grateful for his younger sister and brother who are so patient with him and have modified their little lives accordingly to compensate for their brother's condition.


    January 7, 2009 at 02:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. T. Matchett

    Prayer helps everyone to be more kind and grateful for what we have. Teri

    January 8, 2009 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. B. Hamilton

    I am grateful for the many dear friends and neighbors who have held my boys and me up in prayer during a very trying time in my life. The back half of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 have been very challenging emotionally and through their kindness and generosity, I have been able to endure. When most would have collapsed under the weight of all that has been laid upon me, their support has held me up and enabled me to continue on, day to day to day. I thank you all. I am blessed and grateful for such dear and wonderful friends.

    February 9, 2009 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Health Care

    This is a great post thanks for very useful information to share with us , I am thankful because I don’t live in a third world country, where my son spent time deployed this past September, transporting food and checking out medical facilities, after the ravages of several hurricanes.
    you can get more feedback from there,

    April 24, 2009 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 11, 2010 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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