Ava O’Toole was used to experiencing back pain since she was 15 years old, but something was different on January 24, 2019.

“When I was 15 I underwent a nine-hour surgery to have my spine moved to a certain position and there are two rods in it now,” she said. “I woke up [on January 24] in a significant amount of nerve and muscle pain that rippled through my back. Nothing I did seemed to help it.”

The 22-year-old thought it was just a normal part of her day and decided to work out to deal with the pain.

She was in the basement of Laurier University’s Athletic Centre when it continued to worsen.

“I thought I was being a baby about it,” said O’Toole. “Nothing was wrong with me.

Then I met Nicholas and his friend Andrew.”

Laurier student Andrew Tse and Laurier athletic staff member Nicholas Burton say they saw a couple people pass by O’Toole, who looked like she was in a lot of pain.

“We asked ‘hey are you okay?’” said Burton. “And she’s like ‘yeah I’m fine.’”

The two decided to then contact the physio department down the hall, who called 911.

O’Toole was taken to hospital where doctors checked her spine for loose screws or rods.

“They found the mass in my chest and they told me it looked like Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” she said.

The cancer had hid itself in O’Toole’s body and had been causing her pain since July of 2018.

“I ended up having a major chest spasm that I thought was attributed to my scoliosis from the surgery,” she said.

O’Toole had been feeling sick, going to the doctor, and getting inconclusive results until that point.

The next month included back and forth transfers between Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s as well as powerful painkillers that provided little relief.

A year later, O’Toole says she is doing much better on her recovery.

She wanted to reunite with the strangers who refused to walk away from her.

“To see how much of an impact that had on you and your life is truly amazing,” said Burton to O’Toole.

“Maybe this story will help spread a little awareness as to how people can really impact others’ lives,” said Tse.