When Brad Aronson decided to write a book while his wife was going through cancer treatment, he never imagined it would be published during a pandemic. But as it turns out, his new book HumanKind has never been more timely.
“This is a time when my book is needed,” Aronson, 48, tells PEOPLE. “One of the things that keeps us all going right now is the stories of incredible acts of love and kindness being displayed by people across this country and the world.”
“HumanKind is filled with those stories and gives us hope and inspiration, and is a reminder of what’s important,” Aronson adds.
The book was originally inspired by the struggles faced by the Philadelphia dad after his wife Mia was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2014. Shortly after her diagnosis, Mia’s nurses encouraged the couple to attend a weekend conference for young cancer patients and their caregivers — something Aronson says they were initially hesitant about going to.
“When Mia got sick and was in treatment, we were in the hospital every day,” he recalls. “It was totally draining… But the nurses were incredible, so we decided to give it a try.”
“While we were there, a patient advocate kept saying, ‘If you have two-and-a-half years of treatment, you need to come up with a project to distract you, give you a purpose, and something to do while you’re in the hospital all the time,’ ” he notes.
Mia decided to keep a journal, their son Jack, now 10, committed to playing Wiffle ball for 200 days straight, and Aronson chose to write a book about kindness.
Part of his inspiration stemmed from the simple things done by family and friends while Mia was in the hospital, such as helping Jack get to Little League practice or sending care packages to the hospital.
“It was just overwhelming how considerate and compassionate and kind people were [during Mia’s treatment],” says Aronson, a tech startup investor. “I felt like sharing that, along with other people’s stories about how small acts of kindness have changed their lives.”
He says he was also inspired after attending a high school graduation in an underserved neighborhood of Philadelphia where the graduation rate was low, yet all the students were accepted to college. After realizing this wasn’t covered in the news — and feeling like there wasn’t enough positive news in general — Aronson took matters into his own hands.
“I decided that if I wanted good news to be out there, I should just start writing it.”
Over the next five years, Aronson worked on compiling the feel-good stories.
“I started asking everyone I knew, ‘Did someone ever save your life? Did a little thing ever change your life, or do you know someone?’ And stories just came out,” recalls Aronson, who also serves on the board for two youth mentoring nonprofits: Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region and Hopeworks ‘N Camden.
“It’s really inspiring and heartwarming, and it’s also really emotional when you hear what some of these folks have been through and the challenges they overcame,” he explains. “It’s been such a privilege… The people in the book have done amazing things, and I really felt a lot of pressure to tell their stories as well as I possibly could.”
The stories he heard were full of hope and love: people giving when they had nothing, generous donations of money or food, the formation of unlikely friendships, and the reminder that people are more similar than different.
“It’s important to look at what we all share — and what we all share is the desire to help other people and to see the world in a better place,” he says.
Aronson believes that his book, which includes action-steps at the end, may help readers feel less overwhelmed about how to help and where to begin, particularly in this uncertain time. “I think you can start by just looking around and saying, ‘Who do I know who could use help?’ ”
After all, he remembers, that’s what kept him going during his family’s own “rough time.”
“The simplest email saying, ‘Hey, I was thinking of you. I just want to let you know that I’m in your corner,’ made all the difference,” he says. “It gives you that energy boost that gets you through another day.”
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Now cancer-free, Mia is also giving back: Through a program called Imerman Angels, she is matched to other people going through cancer treatment to provide comfort, understanding and hope.
“She told me, ‘It’s really difficult because it’s kind of like reliving your own treatment, which you want to forget about. But so many people helped me that I feel like I’m going to mentor every single person who asks because I want to pay back,’ ” he says of Mia’s philosophy.
And Jack helps his dad with service projects for Hopeworks and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which will receive Aronson’s book royalties.
Ultimately, Aronson wants people to know one thing: Every kind action matters.
“We live in an incredible world where the smallest things we do can completely change someone’s life,” he says. “What’s even more amazing is that every single one of us has that power to change a life. As long as you’re helping one person, it makes a difference.”