“On Cancer and Kindness” by Heidi Schwarz Sadler

4 Thoughts on Kindness

by Heidi Sadler


Like cattle waiting their turn to be slaughtered, women were herded through the medical center in a crisp, robotic manner. The staff seemed to regard the threat of cancer as something that was merely clinical; we appeared to be just another number to be tested and sent home. Being treated like an inconvenience, I felt untouchable. Unclean.

Thankfully, my tumor turned out to be benign. But because I had cancer as a child, I understood the emotions that the other women must have been experiencing. My own concerns about the status of my health status were heightened by the impersonal nature of the hospital and its staff. 

For those of you who have experienced the personal impact of cancer, you know it touches every aspect of our being. Therefore, it is imperative that anytime there is the potential for a cancer diagnosis, people should be handled with care.

Since this episode in 2006, my mother has gone through extensive chemo and radiation treatment for her own bout with cancer. And last week, I was once again faced with the possibility of a new cancer diagnosis. 

Upon arrival at the breast cancer center at the Providence hospital in Portland, I was greeted by a staff member who graciously ushered me into a comforting room with calm music playing in the background. I was offered cocoa and tea to drink and a heated robe to enjoy until my name was called.

As I waited my turn, I casually observed the other patients. On their faces I beheld a mixture of anxiety, exhaustion, hope, and distress. Some avoided eye contact, while others scanned the room, desperately looking for someone to provide a comforting prediction, some measure of reassurance that everything was going to be okay.

Thinking back to my prior hospital experience, I was struck by the stark contrast. The simple acts of kindness that were now being shown to me and to the other women brought tears to my eyes. I was witnessing a living example of what it means to bear one another’s burdens.


 After receiving negative test results from the radiologist (big smile here), I went home with four takeaways that I see as essential when encountering people in pain:

  1. Our actions profoundly impact others. Small gestures can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
  2. Treating people as individuals rather than tasks on our to-do list is essential to fostering community.
  3. Creating simple yet peaceful environments for hurting people is integral in the healing process.
  4. We should acknowledge those who have shown us kindness.

With all this being said, a heartfelt thanks to the staff at the Portland Providence Breast Cancer Center! Thank you for treating your patients with care and compassion.



(To read more of Heidi and Ben Sadler’s inspirational writing and to learn about their ministry as missionaries for Jesus in the Greater Portland area, check out their website – Chasing Ebenezer.)

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