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Southwest employee's amazing effort to help cancer patient forges lifetime friendship

A Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Pittsburgh has turned two strangers into lifelong friends, united in the battle against cancer. (Courtesy Stacy Hurt)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - A Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Pittsburgh has turned two strangers into lifelong friends, united in the battle against cancer.

It's a friendship - like so many - that was unanticipated. Stacy Hurt, a 46-year-old Pittsburgh resident, was in Nashville last month for a speaking event at a colon care advocacy retreat.

It's a volunteer job Hurt took on after she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer on her birthday three years ago. Faced with a lifetime of chemotherapy due to the diagnosis, Hurt left her work in the sales and home care maintenance field to help spread the message of hope to support others fighting cancer.

Hurt says she is now on chemo treatment number 52 and it is common for her to carry medication, to treat the side effects of the treatments, and comfort/good-luck items with her. That was the case during her Nashville trip.

It's something those going through chemo can relate to. "You need these things which help you feel empowered," Hurt says.

On July 23, Hurt was supposed to get on a Southwest flight with a group of others from Nashville that would layover in Baltimore before taking them to Pittsburgh. However, Hurt says she found a different flight that would take her straight home from Music City, so she opted to take it.

She landed in Pittsburgh and was told her luggage would arrive with the original flight coming from Baltimore. It was supposed to arrive at 6:30 p.m., but hours passed and still no luggage - no medication, no lucky T-shirt, no rosary, and none of the things which help her get through chemo.

At 8:30 p.m., Hurt called customer service at Pittsburgh International Airport and spoke with employee Sarah Rowan. Rowan informed her the original flight had some maintenance issues, had to turn around back to the airport, and was canceled.

Knowing she had a chemo appointment the next morning, Hurt says she was thankful she had taken the earlier flight, but she became emotional while on the phone with Rowan. What was she going to do without her sentimental support items?

Rowan, whose father died six years ago from leukemia, told Hurt not to worry, that she would take care of it.

Hurt's bag didn't arrive at the airport until after 2 a.m. the next day. Since all the airport couriers had gone home for the day, 27-year-old Rowan took it upon herself to drive the bag to Hurt's home and leave it on her doorstep at 3 a.m.

Hurt opened her bag after getting a text from Rowan and found a note left on tissue paper inside the luggage that contained the priceless items.

"Stacy, sorry for the delay getting your bag to you! Myself + my Southwest family are thinking of you + wishing you all the best. KICK that cancer's BUTT! with LUV, Sarah from PIT."

Overwhelmed with gratitude, Hurt emailed Southwest the next morning as she sat in her chair receiving chemo treatment. She says she received a type of automated response and that wasn't good enough. She wanted to make sure Southwest knew about the young woman who had gone out of her way for a stranger.

Hurt says she called Southwest and local media outlets, alerting them to the amazing deed. It wasn't long before the company called her back and media outlets arranged for Hurt and Rowan to meet in person. There, at the Pittsburgh Airport, the two women separated by 19 years of age came face to face.

"She's such a mature, beautiful young lady," Hurt says of Rowan. "Now we are friends forever."

Hurt says Rowan shared the story of her father's battle with leukemia and his passing. Hurt responded by ensuring Rowan she now had a friend for life: "I told her, 'I will be dancing at your wedding one day. I will beat this.'" Rowan responded, "Yes, you will."

But that's not the only friendship Hurt has made in the wake of her Nashville visit. Her story has been shared by national outlets and on social media, reaching others battling cancer.

Speaking with FOX 17 News Nashville, Hurt becomes emotional when thinking of the larger impact: "I never expected and had no idea of the far-reaching effects this would have."

Hurt says cancer patients across the country have reached out to her and thanked her for being their voice.

The medication, the personal items that empower, these are things that unless you have been faced with chemo and a cancer diagnosis, you might not understand.

Hurt's story is helping others understand sometimes it's the little things that mean the most. Sometimes, it's a stranger's big heart and compassion that can lead to a lifetime of friendship.

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