To the Stranger at the Gym on the Day of My Mother's Mastectomy

I found out my mom had breast cancer on a Sunday night. There is no right time for a mother to tell her daughters she has a life-threatening disease. I made the decision to go to work the next day even though my heart was broken.

At 27 years old, I knew I had to be a big girl and return to my life as usual. On this particular Monday, nothing made sense. I didn’t hear anything anyone said. Food was insignificant. Social media was completely irrelevant. Friends didn’t understand my pain.

I really couldn’t believe my mom, out of all the moms in the world, had cancer. The morning before her surgery, I decided I would go to the gym to workout. I knew if I didn’t, I would be a bigger emotional wreck than I already was. I usually go to the gym in the evening, but on this day, I had to go at 6 a.m. I didn’t know anyone and I was completely out of my element, just hoping the rest of the day would not be disastrous.

I sat next to a young man on a workout bike. This is much too early for me to be doing anything, I thought. The young man asked me if I was new. I let him know I had been going to this gym for five years but just had never attended a morning class.

“So what made you come in early today out of all the days?” he asked with a smile on his face.

I didn’t know what to say, some bullshit story or the truth?

“My mom has cancer so she is going into surgery today to remove it.”

His face froze.

I could almost hear his heart drop next to me. “I am so sorry… I really hope the best possible outcome for her,” he said.

I almost felt guilty for telling him my sob story. I usually keep to myself, but today I just decided to speak my truth to the stranger at my CrossFit gym. I can’t tell you why I did it. I can’t tell you if it was necessary or not, but in that moment, it just felt right. It was early and a stranger seemed like the best ear to talk to.

I went about my workout as best I could. I put in effort in honor of my mom’s cancer battle. I just kept thinking about her and how much I loved her. That 6 a.m. class seemed so different than any other. Everyone was in a happy mood. Everyone was excited to wake up and live another day. There was a certain hopefulness in the air.

As I walked to my car, I almost lost my footing because of all the thoughts going through my head. I heard someone scream my name. “KAREN!” I looked over, and it was the man I had just met. As he was approaching his car, he said, “I will keep your mother in my prayers. She is going to be OK.”

My heart swelled up with so much emotion. This stranger not only remembered my name, he made sure to let me know my mom and I would be in his thoughts and prayers that day. I was just another stranger to him at that gym that morning, as was he.

I wanted to hug him and tell him those words meant the world to me, but he drove away. He drove away leaving a glimmer of love and hope in my heart. Humanity can be kind and empathetic after all, I thought.

His words carried more weight than anyone else’s. The kindness that came from that stranger at 6 a.m. changed my attitude for the entire day and week. It was time to go be strong for my mom.

Thank you, stranger, for making the day my mom had a mastectomy so beautiful for me. Your words made me stronger than all of my workouts combined. While I may never go to another 6 a.m. class again, your words will forever live on in my heart.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by Kwanchai_Khammuean

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Breast Cancer

patient and doctor at table, with stethoscope and papers on table

I Love My Oncology Team, But I Hope Never to See Them Again

I’ve got an unusual, almost weird relationship with these people. Usually, when I meet people I like so much, I ask them their spouses’ names, ask them about themselves, even ask them over for dinner. But “these people” are my oncologist and his team in the infusion room where I get my chemo. I alternate [...]
Deb wearing a flowery shirt and holding a stuffed Lama, her arm rests on the pillow as she is receiving a chemo treatment.

How Making Dancing Videos Helped Me Cope With Chemo and Radiation

The email arrived on my 52nd birthday in the wake of a bilateral lumpectomy for breast cancer. While healing from the surgery and post-op infection, I did my best to adjust to my diagnosis and tried not to dwell too much on the upcoming chemo. I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory as I opened my laptop [...]
Patient having a conversation with doctor as doctor types on laptop

Why Learning the Science Behind My Condition Helps My Mental Health

When you are first diagnosed with breast cancer, there are so many things you must learn: what stage of cancer is a well-known descriptor, but you also learn about the various characteristics of your exact cancer. The important next words, from the reports from the initial needle biopsy, had to do with estrogen and progesterone [...]
Double exposure photo with female silhouette and woman in the deserted landscape. Freedom and travel concept

The Joys and Struggles of 'Total Disability'

In December 2016, I opened up a letter from my insurance carrier. The sentence leapt off the page, “We have reviewed your claim, and have decided that you meet the criteria for total disability.” I read it again, just to be sure I understood it. There it was: “total disability.” I blinked, stunned, and then [...]