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Connections

A stranger’s prayers lifted me

During a family crisis, one encounter had a big impact.

Gracia Lam

I went out for a run as I do most mornings. It was a crisp, cold day in late February, and it felt good to be out in the fresh air. I was training for the 2013 Boston Marathon and had purpose to my run — 10 strong miles. Only this wasn’t a normal training run. My head ached and I hadn’t slept much. My 20-year-old son had been diagnosed with cancer three days earlier.

He would have an MRI of his brain in a few hours to determine if the cancer had spread there. It had already spread to his abdomen and his chest and had formed a huge mass in his lung. My young, strong, collegiate-athlete son was very sick, and we were reeling. I needed to run, to have the biting wind at my face. To feel alive.

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Midway through my route, I approached an intersection and had to decide whether to turn left and cut my run short or to go straight and continue. I thought about what a great kid my son was. Such a good kid. He didn’t deserve this. I stopped just before the crosswalk. Left or straight. Left or straight. The decision was just too much. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. No one was around as I stood on the curb sobbing, my face in my hands.

Cars were approaching. I stepped back, trying not to be noticed. One car stopped. I heard a voice ask, “Are you OK?” I looked up and lied, “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? Are you OK?” she asked again. It was a woman about my age, maybe younger, and I felt I had to justify this public breakdown. “My son has cancer,” I said. I was shocked I had said that. To a total stranger. On the street. “My son has cancer, and I just can’t cry around him. I have to be strong for him.” She yelled from across the intersection: “Oh! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”

“That’s OK,” I told her. “He’s going to be OK. I just know he’s going to be OK. I’m just scared. He’s going to have an MRI of his brain today, and I can’t take any more bad news.”

“What is your son’s name?” she asked. I told her and she said: “I will pray for him EVERY DAY. I will keep him in my prayers.” This made me sob even harder. “Thank you,” I managed to say. “Thank you!” Cars had begun to line up behind her. She drove on. I composed myself and continued my run. I went straight.

That happened a little over a year ago. My son went through three cycles of chemotherapy and surgery. He’s in remission and back to swimming and rowing and living a very normal life. I never saw that woman again, but I’ve thought of our brief encounter over and over. That gesture, those kind words meant so much to me. Thank you for stopping. Thank you for your prayers.

When I finished last year’s Marathon, I called my husband — we had planned to meet at the finish line, but because of my son’s suppressed immune system, they had decided to avoid the crowds. They’d gone directly to Dana-Farber for my son’s chemotherapy. I heard the bombs go off as I made my way to the T to meet them. The bombs were as shocking and unimaginable as a cancer diagnosis. How could this possibly happen?

This year I’m running the Marathon again, to benefit Dana-Farber and in honor of my son and all those affected by cancer. But I will also run in honor of all those affected by the bombings that day. And I will keep them in my prayers.

Laura Nanda now lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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