My 16-year-old niece, Kate, has had severe health problems since the day she was born. She has never had a pain-free day in her life.

Two years ago, she spent a month at the Mayo Clinic learning how to cope with the pain. The doctors had come to the realization that the pain wasn’t leaving, so they needed to teach Kate how to survive with her ever-present companion.

I feel a strange mixture of helplessness and inspiration when I’m with my niece. There is nothing I can do for her, yet she is constantly raising the bar for me. My own maladies are trivial when I pause to remember what Kate battles every day. I have no excuse for not giving everything I do my all.

I was struck by a letter I received from Varen Herman, an uncle who found a way to give his nephew an amazing experience, and at the same time, found great kindness from others.


“As I walked to the starting line in a parade of people for the Fargo Marathon this May, I was filled with trepidation. I had back surgery a year ago, and my 10K effort on this crisp North Dakota morning would be my longest organized run since.

“Adding to my nervousness was the fact that I was pushing a jogging stroller to the starting line. I was concerned about runner reaction as I jockeyed for position with this obtrusive object among the thousands of participants.

“Thankfully, the racers treated us with indifference, and the few comments that I received were very supportive. ‘Way to go, Dad!’ and ‘Good luck, Dad!’

“Spectators were fantastic, as well. One moment in particular occurred on Elm Street by El Zagal Golf Course on one of the few hills on the 10K route. As we started up the incline, I commented to my running companion, ‘This is when you feel heavy, Cam!’

“Without warning or prompting, a stranger running next to us silently slid over and grabbed the other side of the stroller handle and pushed it up the hill with me. At the top, he simply released the handle and said ‘Great run, Dad!’

“I was actually pushing my almost 6-year-old nephew. Cameron was born with spina bifida and will never run an event such as this on his own legs.

“When I started running again post-surgery, part of my inspiration was drawn from the potential opportunity to let Cameron see this great event in his hometown (and mine) from the inside.

“He has had more surgeries than I can count. We actually had surgeries around the same time last year, and when I visited him in the hospital and showed him my scar, his eyes rolled from my back up to my eyes and he simply stated, ‘Mine’s worse.’

“He was right. His ‘normal’ is quite different from the ‘normal’ of my own children experience. At the heart of it all, however, is a young boy full of energy with an inquisitive mind, an aptitude for observation and a desire to simply experience all that life has to offer.

“I also think of his mom and dad, my sister and her husband. I would like to say their efforts are tireless, but that would be completely unfair to them. They do get tired. They are completely overwhelmed at times. Yet, they continue to advocate for their son’s health and well-being with every ounce of energy they have on any given day.

“As is so often the case in these types of stories, I was completely humbled by the opportunity to push Cameron in the Fargo 10K.

“When we crossed the finish line and the medal was hung around Cameron’s neck, I knew together we had accomplished something neither one of us would soon forget.

“Thank you, Fargo, for your unknowing support in the life of a young boy and his uncle.”

Thank you, Varen, for sharing your story. I hope everyone who saw you and Cameron along the course will know the impact of their kindness – especially that runner who helped you up the hill!

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.