POTTSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Running to the Wawa on Route 724 in North Coventry to get coffee every morning before work became so routine for Kristin Williams that she started recognizing faces in the crowd.
For more than three years — morning after morning — Williams would see Dennis Wade with his friends while she filled up her mug and made small talk with the cashiers.
Soon, because of Wade's infectious charm and kindness, they began talking.
"We would smile and say hello," Williams said about their first interactions.
And for Wade, Williams made an equally kind impression.
"We would talk for a while every day. She has such a sweet heart," he said about a woman that was once a passing face but is now a close confidant.
Suddenly Williams' morning routine changed.
Four years ago, then 41-year-old Williams, was diagnosed with breast cancer after going in for her first-ever mammogram.
The fourth-grade teacher at Limerick Elementary School, who had been an active participant in the Relay For Life before her diagnosis, said she didn't want her new routine to interfere with her life.
"The diagnosis doesn't define who you are," she said. "It is not a life sentence."
Williams began going to radiation treatments before teaching all day and taking care of her own children at night.
The change in her schedule meant she was not getting coffee at the same time she used to and she lost touch with Wade.
But little did she, or Wade, know that their lives intersected in more ways than getting coffee at the same place.
In September 2010, Wade was having trouble breathing. After a chest X-ray and a surgery revealed an adenocarcinoma, doctors were forced to remove half of his left lung.
Around the same time, Williams heard her diagnosis and started treatment.
Wade began chemotherapy in December of 2010 with regular PET scans to track the progress.
When one of the scans revealed a mass in Wade's right lung and another in a thyroid gland, he underwent several more surgeries to have them removed. Wade suffered several strokes in 1997 which have compromised his cognitive skills so he asked his wife Susan to document his "Survivor Story."
In one year, Wade, underwent five surgeries in order to save his life, according to his wife.
Then one day, after the years apart, Wade and Williams bumped into each other at the grocery store.
"We recognized each other then he started apologizing to me for being away for so long," Williams said about their run-in.
"His cancer was far worse than mine. I just stood there dumbfounded. We stood (in the store) crying and hugging," Williams said.
At first, Williams said she didn't understand why Wade was apologizing. Neither Wade nor Williams realized each was battling cancer. He assumed she was still practicing her morning coffee ritual.
But as they spoke, they uncovered other previously unknown parallels in their lives.
The pair live only miles apart from each other in North Coventry and were being treated by the same oncologist at the Pottstown Memorial Medical Center.
During their treatment, they never crossed paths but now they are using each other for support and guidance.
"This is a club you don't want to join," Williams said about having cancer. "But once you are in it, there is support everywhere."
Both Wade and Williams are currently cancer-free.
"I'm just in awe of his strength," Williams said about her fellow survivor.
And now, to honor his strength, Williams chose Wade to be the Grand Marshal for the 2014 Relay for Life of Pottstown on May 31.
Wade, who went through almost three years of treatment, now drives the Road to Recovery busses which help get cancer fighters to treatment — a practice he recognizes and deeply empathizes with.
On average, chemotherapy treatments can last between two and three hours. However, Wade often faced day-long treatment regimens.
"Because my blood count was so low, I couldn't get chemo," he said. "I would have to get blood transfusions and I would be in the hospital from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m."
And Wade admitted those days were not easy.
"After my second lung operation I was so sick. I laid in bed and prayed for the Lord to take me," he said. "But he didn't and that was my sign that he wasn't done with me yet."
He sees his volunteer work as a mutually beneficial act. He said he is a person the cancer patients can speak to; someone they know will understand what they are going through but it also helps Wade.
"It fills my heart with joy," he said.
According to Williams, Wade's commitment to the patients does not end when he drops them off at their house or even when they are cancer free.
"I realized he embodies it all," she said. "He is a survivor who is willing to give back."
The self-described shy man said he felt honored at the prospect of leading the relay this year.
"I'm not a public person but when it comes to this, I can talk with other people," he said.
Information from: The Mercury, http://www.pottsmerc.com