British Columbia·Point of View

The kindness of strangers: Courage, cancer and a chance encounter at the gas station

I met you at a gas station in September 2015. A few months earlier, in June, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was going through the typical course of treatment: surgery, then chemotherapy and then radiation.

Are you the stranger in this story? Get in touch with The Early Edition

Hilary Horlock pictured in 2015 while she was battling breast cancer, with the scarf she was wearing at the gas station. (Submitted by Hilary Horlock)

CBC Radio One's The Early Edition asked listeners to share their stories of kindness from strangers in hopes of connecting those listeners with the people who made an impact in their lives. Hilary Horlock's story is the first in a CBC series about the kindness of strangers that airs from Dec. 10 - 14.

Dear stranger,

You came up to me at a Kitsilano gas station in September 2015.

A few months earlier, in June, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was going through the typical course of treatment: surgery, then chemotherapy and then radiation.

When we met, it would have been before my second round of chemo or maybe just after.

I was bald at that point and wearing a bright, exquisite headscarf that my best friend had sent me. I wore that all the time instead of wearing a wig.  

I was pumping gas, trying to maintain as much normalcy in my life as possible.

You walked up to me and said, "Excuse me, I'm wondering if you have breast cancer."

I just looked at you, shocked.

First off, most people don't come up and talk to me like that — they might feel uncomfortable or not know what to say. 

Secondly, that's a strange question.

"Why would you ask me that?" I blurted out.

You told me that your wife had just gone through surgery and you wanted to be able to tell her that you'd seen someone with breast cancer who was living life.

You told me I was beautiful. You asked if you could tell your wife about me — tell her that, like me, she'd be fine — to give her hope in her struggle.  

I walked away feeling great.

What stuck with me was the incredible act of selfless love for your wife and courage to talk to a stranger.

It would have been easy to tell your wife you saw me without ever coming up and saying a word to me.

For cancer patients, so many of us get stared at — we can feel people wanting to say something, but they don't know what to say.    

But it seemed you were more concerned about your love for your wife and wanting to be able to support her and tell her the truth, that you actually talked to me and heard my story.

You should be proud of being such a caring, loving and supportive husband — it's a big part of the unconditional support that cancer patients really need, because there are some rough days out there.

If I ever saw you again, I'd say that I hope your wife is doing well and that there's a good future in front of her and the two of you.

Yours, 

Hilary Horlock

If you are the stranger in this story, or know who it is, email The Early Edition at earlyed@cbc.ca.

With files from The Early Edition

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