Anger and Empathy: The 2:1 Kindness Ratio

My regular readers (what a gift, to think I have some regular readers!) might have noticed that I have only been posting once a week of late, instead of twice. I seem to be experiencing a bit of writer’s block, not in the sense that I don’t have plenty of material (in Cancerland, there is never a shortage of material), but in the sense that I can’t seem to get myself to sit down and focus long enough to do the work.

I think it’s because I’m angry.


Anger is, of course, one of the five stages of grief (cf: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). While I’ve certainly been grieving (my identity as a “healthy, active” person, my breasts, my mobility, my peace of mind), I don’t think I’ve spent seven months stuck in denial. Which makes me think those stages are rather like descriptions of the writing process (cf: planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing)–neither grief nor writing ever follows a nice, neat linear narrative, even though we talk about both as if they did.

One of my friends recently noted that she liked the anger stage of grief because it was at least galvanizing for her. I feel, at present, more paralyzed. Overwhelmed. I’m angry that all the treatments make me feel worse than the disease ever has. I’m angry that I’m over half a year in, and I still have at least half a year to go. I’m angry that while I’m presumably cured, just in case I’m not really cured (sneaky little bastards, those cancer cells), I have to have 2 x-rays and 6 million photons of radiation shot into my body five days a week for five weeks. I’m angry that not one of seemingly hundreds of studies on creams, lotions, and gels have resulted in any definitive conclusions about what really does and doesn’t protect your skin from radiation, making the risk of long-term damage (for me=potential issues with reconstruction) ultimately an individual genetic crapshoot.

And then I feel guilty.

Because while it sucks to have cancer, I am getting excellent medical care. The chemo worked! I am healing! I can afford to hit my cancer yet one more time with radiation because I have the gifts of time and good insurance–not everyone does. My surgeons, doctors, nurses, and technicians are skilled, smart, supportive. My husband is amazing, and friends and family and even strangers encourage me everyday.

So I get that I’m lucky, and I’m profoundly grateful.

But I’m still angry.

Internet blues

Having been forcefully reminded just how precious and precarious is this life, I’m angry with how badly people treat one another these days. And I don’t just mean in comment threads on social media, though the vitriol online makes me shiver. From our highest government leaders to our neighbors down the street, it seems like we’ve abandoned empathy and simple acts of kindness almost everywhere. One recent example: Roanoke has a number of rather short C-shaped on/off ramps connected to the freeway that runs through town. Yesterday, driving between appointments, I moved over into the left lane at one such ramp to let two cars merge. I needed to gain access back into the right lane almost immediately, as my exit was coming up, so I put on my blinker, thinking the silver VW Bug I’d moved over for would likely return the favor. Instead, the driver accelerated to where he was just close enough that I couldn’t move over safely–and then stayed there, keeping pace, even after I tried accelerating myself to pull ahead of him. I had to brake and go around him from behind at the last second, or miss my exit. He smiled smugly as he passed me on the right.

Did the young man have something against middle-aged women? My plaid fuchsia hat? My “animal friendly” license plate? Was he just pissed because my blue Cube is way cuter than his Bug? Seriously: why the deliberate act of meanness?

Uh oh: make this girl mad and she’ll…make nice?

It’s possible (though I think unlikely) he was simply oblivious, but even so: in this age of near-permament distraction, if we start using distractedness as a justifiable excuse for unkindness, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

Blowing my horn and flipping him off (oh, yes, she did) didn’t make me feel much better. There’s something else that I think will. But I need your help.

According to relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman, couples who share five positive interactions to every one negative interaction are much more likely to have happy, lasting relationships. I propose we apply a version of this formula to the world at large.

Now, I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve seen so many negative news reports alone that if I were to try to counter them five to one, I’d never be able to keep up. But how about two to one?

This is my Do Good to Feel Good challenge to you: counter negatives you experience (or create) with double the positives. Embrace the 2:1 Kindness Ratio.

The 2:1 Kindness Ratio

If someone is a jerk to you in traffic, do two good deeds toward other drivers to offset it.

If someone insults you, pay two compliments or offer kind words to two people, as a kindness-counter-gesture.

Cute kitty!

If you read and share articles about scary and frustrating things happening in our government and world via social media (and I think we must, to stay aware and informed, even, or especially, when truths are hard; we must also vet all sources, and resist fake news!), then also make an effort to read and share a few stories of good news, too. (If nothing else, there’s always cute cat photos.)

Of course, the best way to curtail unkindness is to make sure you yourself aren’t initiating it. So be civil. Period. Pay attention to those around you, and practice choosing empathy first. Would the young man in the Bug have been nicer if he’d known I was heading to radiation treatment for cancer? I don’t know–but none of us should need a reason to be nice. Your mama, like mine, no doubt taught you that things like rudeness, name-calling, and stereotyping are ugly, and she was right. So stop it. And if you goof up, pick your two positive actions and make them happen.

Perhaps anger really does galvanize one to action. But anger is exhausting. So let’s all try to dig ourselves out of this karmic hole we’re in. Two to one in favor of kindness: is that a bargain, or what?

Feel Good-> Do Good-> Feel Good: Make a “Good Citizen” Resource Folder

More good news to report today: at my weekly “fill” appointment, my remaining drain was removed. After sporting it as a mandatory fashion accessory every day for a month, I was only too happy to say farewell. Toasted with a celebratory Starbucks, and done!

And more good news: my “Be the Tea” t-shirts arrived today, and they came out (if I do say so myself) super-cute! Even better, $130 and change in proceeds has now been donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation as a result. Thank you to DB, Donna, Katie, Laura, Lauren, Lucie, Sam, Sherry, Steve, Tony, Tracy and Nick! I am hoping to put the design back up again, possibly on a tote-bag or tea-towel, so stay tuned if you’re interested in supporting cancer research.

Feeling good about all this good news, along with the fact of the new year, inspired a Do Good to Feel Good post. This one is a little different, more about preparation and planning for action than the actual action itself, but having a plan can be key to following through on good intentions when life gets busy.

DGTFG: Make a “Good Citizen” Folder (paper, virtual, or both)

There are two parts to the “Good Citizen” folder, as I’m imagining it: Engage and Contribute.

Part 1–Engage: Part 1 contains all the information you need to contact your government representatives: the White House, your congressional representatives in Washington DC, your state representatives, your governor, and relevant local officials. For each one of these officials, include phone numbers and mailing addresses  (in many cases, for both local/district and government/capitol offices) and email addresses.

Collecting all necessary contact information in one, easy-to-access place makes it easier to let your voice be heard on issues important to you. Our government representatives need to hear their constituents’ voices clearly and be held accountable. I created a folder in my browser’s “Bookmark” function, titled it “Engage to Do Good,” and placed bookmarks for contact information and forms for all my relevant government representatives. I also printed out much of the same information to keep in a folder on my desk. When an urgent issue arises, I don’t have to spend any time looking up how to make my voice heard; a couple of clicks, and I’m ready. You might also consider putting the phone numbers of your two senators and your district’s representative in the House directly in your phone, or use the Call to Action web app, which will connect you quickly and easily. Calling is especially important, as calls are more influential than emails or letters.

Find your representatives’ info here: and Engage!

Part 1 of my Good Citizen e-folder
Part 2–Contribute: Part 2 of the Good Citizen folder contains contact and donation information for causes and organizations that are important to you. I have too often been guilty of “planning” to send support but then neglecting to follow through. Again, easy access to information means you are more likely to act.

Many organizations can now process donations online, which makes things very simple if you have good internet access. I created a second folder in my Bookmarks section and titled it “Contribute to Do Good.” I selected 12 organizations–one for each month of the year–then bookmarked the links to each of their donation pages and saved it in the folder. I also printed out a list of the organizations as a back-up. I plan to donate to one organization on the first day of each month, as a way to start the month off on a positive note. My list includes organizations that support a wide variety of causes: human rights, animal welfare, the environment, etc. Some are national or international in scope, while others are local.

You might prefer to set up an automatic monthly donation to a single cause, which makes it even easier to contribute regularly. If you have limited funds yourself but would like to invest in a good cause, consider a micro-loan program like You can donate as little as $25, and once it is repaid, you can re-loan the same $25 again, and again, and again. I kicked off my project with my January donation going to Kiva.

Choose your causes and Contribute!

It feels good to do good. (And to be drainless at last!) Cheers!



Be the Tea, Buy the Tee to Support Breast Cancer Research

Be the Tea: A Parable about Adversity

I was inspired by the following story (many versions feature coffee, but I drink tea!) to create an original t-shirt design through the fundraising site Booster. Shirts are $15 and all profits ($5 per shirt) go directly to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Order by December 28th:

A young woman is struggling through a difficult time in her life, and she seeks her mother’s advice. The mother leads her daughter to the kitchen, where she has placed three pots on the stove. After each has simmered a while, the mother asks her daughter to lift the lid of each of the pots, and tell her what she sees.

The daughter lifts each lid, one at a time, and then replies, “I see eggs, carrots, and a bag of tea leaves. Each is boiling in hot water.”

The mother nods, and asks her to look more closely. “What happens to an egg in boiling water?”

“It was fragile, but then it becomes hard,” the daughter replies.

“And what happens to carrots?” asks the mother.

“They begin hard, but in the water, they become soft and lose color,” replies the daughter.

“And what about the tea leaves?” asks the mother.

“The tea leaves turn the boiling water into tea,” replies the daughter.

“Yes,” says the mother. “Remember that. When in boiling water, the egg grows hard, and the carrots grow soft. But the tea? The tea changes the water it is in. When you find yourself in hot water, when you face challenges and adversity, strive to be the tea.”


As I face surgery at the beginning of next week, I have needed to remind myself of this tale, and its lesson, again and again: instead of letting difficult circumstances harden what is fragile, or weaken what is strong, use them to transform not only yourself but the world around you for the better.

Healing from cancer is a long and arduous journey. I hope you will consider supporting breast cancer research efforts by purchasing a “Be the Tea” t-shirt designed by yours truly between now and December 28th:

Thank you!

Do Good to Feel Good: Plant a Tree

Last weekend, Steve and I took advantage of a beautiful fall afternoon (and  little extra energy) and went for a short walk on one of the trails in Mill Mountain Park, a forested space we are lucky to have just minutes from our home. Our walk was more stroll than hike, and it included a peaceful interlude resting on a bench halfway through. In a sense, we were doing what the Japanese call “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku), immersing ourselves in the woods for a while, which has been shown to have powerful physical and psychological benefits.


As Steve noted in his recent guest blog on Taxol, the chemotherapy drug I am currently taking, trees offer us and our world so many benefits. So, for this installment of doing good to feel good: consider planting a tree!

Plant a Tree

Trees help remove pollution from the atmosphere, clean our water, cool the earth, provide habitat to wildlife, and even reduce crime (see the National Arbor Day website for more detail). Trees are, of course, also a source of great beauty.


And research has shown that walking in the forest, breathing in the phyto-chemicals released by trees, can help fight cancer. In honor and celebration of today’s last chemotherapy treatment, I want to say thanks to the trees!

So, do good to feel good: visit the Arbor Day website to explore what trees flourish in your area, and what might be successfully planted this time of year. Consider planting a tree sapling in your yard today, or if that isn’t feasible, consider support planting trees in another area of the world.

Trees are good for the planet, and good for you!


∼Science–and common sense–tells us that doing something good for others is good for us: it raises our endorphins, boosts our self-esteem, gives us an emotional lift. Doing good is good for others and for healing ourselves. In this feature, I occasionally suggest a small action each of us can take to make the world a better place. I will if you will!∼

Do Good to Feel Good: Thank Someone Who Made a Difference

Science–and common sense–tells us that doing something good for others is good for us: it raises our endorphins, boosts our self-esteem, gives us an emotional lift. Doing good is good for others and for healing ourselves.

So, in this feature, I will occasionally suggest a small action each of us can take to make the world a better place. I will if you will!


Say Thanks to Someone Who Made a Difference

Is there someone in your past or present life–perhaps a teacher, a caregiver, a mentor–who made a real difference to you, personally or professionally, and about whom you’ve sometimes thought: I should tell ______ what a difference s/he made?

Now’s your chance! I recommend writing a letter, card, or email (or go public with a blog or even a Facebook post!), so the recipient can hang on to your thanks and revisit the good feeling it will no doubt elicit. But you know your recipient best, and a call or other intentional communication will also surely be much appreciated.

Feel free to post your intentions in a comment below, if you are so inclined.

Do good to feel good!