Dad and I at the cancer treatment center on his last day of in-patient treatment

My father’s cancer came out of remission in January. Even though it was fairly obvious my dad was having health problems—over New Year, his weight seemed to have reached a new low and his voice had become significantly quieter—the news was still jarring.

February and March both included visits to be with dad at a cancer treatment center near Chicago. My mom still works and couldn’t be with dad for the entirety of his treatment, so I flew up to keep him company and lend a hand where I could. I was there with him when he received his final in-patient treatment. He and mom spent the last week in Florida, enjoying the warmth as he regained his appetite, now that the big part of his chemo and radiation treatments is over.

The one thing that really surprised me over the past months was how helpful and comforting I found the kind words of others. I am the sort of person who feels uncomfortable expressing strong emotions. And I’ve always been reserved when asking about difficult situations that impact others. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I am afraid that by asking how they’re doing or expressing my sadness for them, I might open their wounds, embarrass them, or cause an emotional scene.

Being on the other side, I was surprised at how touching I found the words of others. Friends who took the time to ask how my dad was doing, share food with me, or tell me about their own experiences buoyed me on many occasions. Even conversations about my dad’s situation with relative strangers, a taxi driver or a woman from yoga class, left me feeling more hopeful about the future.

From this experience, I’ve become more mindful that small gestures have the power to help others who are feeling down. I hope that in the future I’ll be less worried about saying the wrong thing and more confident that my words and deeds can be a source of comfort to those facing difficulty.