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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.

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Thinkstock image by Kwanchai_Khammuean