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A stranger gave this woman the mom hug she needed while dealing with cancer

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Katie Ortman Doble. In 2014, Katie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called ocular melanoma. Doctors gave her 16 months to live. Her father was a physician himself. He was able to find a clinical trial that could save her life. So a few days after Christmas, Katie flew to New York to see if she would qualify for that trial. And as she endured a series of different tests, she found herself missing her mom.

KATIE ORTMAN DOBLE: She could look at me, and she could tell what kind of mood I was in or what was wrong. And she would say, I think you need an energy hug. And so those were hugs that she'd squeezed extra tight and extra-long. And fast-forward to December of 2014. I was just desperate for one of those hugs from my mom. And unfortunately, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when I was 13 years old, and she passed away when I was 15. So at this point in my life, I'm 32 years old. And I'm sitting in the waiting room, and my brother and I had been there for two days. And it had been a rush of running all over Midtown Manhattan and getting to these appointments. So I had eye exams. I had bloodwork. I had scans. I had EKGs and echocardiograms, and we were down to the wire. We had two appointments left. One was my echocardiogram, and one was meeting with the doctor to find out if I was eligible for this treatment.

So my brother is waiting on one floor for my name to be called, and I'm sitting in the waiting room all by myself, two floors above him. And I look over, and I see this girl who looked to be about my age, and she has her head laying in her mother's lap. And her mom was stroking her hair and pushing it behind her ears, and I was just so jealous and missing my mom and missing those energy hugs. And so I watched this play out, and I wondered about this girl. I wondered why she was there. And the woman comes out to call someone's name, and the girl gets up, and I watch her go back.

And when I turn my head back around, the mom is standing right in front of me. And she says to me, you look like you could use a mom hug. And I immediately - if I hadn't already been, I immediately started bawling. And I just desperately nodded my head, and I said, yes. And so she just wrapped her arms around me. And I just pictured my mom's arms, and I just pretended like that was my mom hugging me. And it was just one of those moments in life where somebody showed up and gave you something that you needed.

KELLY: Nothing like a mom hug. Katie Ortman Doble of Denver, Colo. In the summer of 2023, Katie and her family celebrated her second anniversary of being cancer-free. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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