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9 words that helped this cancer patient: 'You look like you could use a mom hug'

Katie Ortman Doble with her mother Ann Doble.
Katie Ortman Doble
Katie Ortman Doble with her mother Ann Doble.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

In 2014, Katie Ortman Doble was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called ocular melanoma. Doctors gave her 16 months to live. But her father, who was a physician himself, was able to find a clinical trial that could save her life.

So a few days after Christmas, Ortman Doble flew to New York to see if she would qualify for the trial. As she endured a series of tests, she found herself missing her mom, who passed away when Katie was a teenager.

"My mom was just my biggest fan. She could look at me and she could tell what kind of mood I was in or what was wrong. I both loved and hated that about her," Ortman Doble said.

On particularly hard days, her mom would offer what she called an "energy hug."

"Those were hugs that she'd squeeze extra tight and extra long," Ortman Doble remembered.

As she sat in waiting room after waiting room that December, Ortman Doble yearned for one of those special hugs.

"My brother and I had been there for two days and it had been a rush of running all over midtown Manhattan getting to these appointments. I had eye exams, I had blood work, I had scans, I had EKGs and echocardiograms," she said.

Finally, it was time for her last two appointments: an echocardiogram, and a meeting with the doctor to find out if she was eligible for the 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 on 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."

Soon, a nurse came out and called the daughter back.

"The girl gets up and I watch her go back to get her echocardiogram. 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.'"

With tears in her eyes, Ortman Doble nodded and said yes.

"It was just one of those moments in life where somebody showed up and gave you something that you needed," she recalled.

In the summer of 2023, Ortman Doble and her family celebrated her second anniversary of being cancer free.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Autumn Barnes