A little over a year ago I shared my story about being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer and being told I have about 10 years to live — 15 if I’m lucky. So much has happened since then — from landing a dream job at a new company to deciding to remove my ovaries as part of my cancer treatment, my life post-terminal cancer diagnosis has surprised me in so many ways.
Perhaps the best and most surprising change, though, is that I now have a boyfriend.
When my terminal cancer diagnosis happened, I felt like I was watching all of my dreams shatter like a mirror falling to the ground before my eyes. I wouldn’t survive the cancer, so why would I continue spending all my time trying to climb the corporate ladder? I wouldn’t survive the cancer, so why would I buy a home only to leave my family with the responsibility of a mortgage that would likely outlive me? But the shattered dream that saddened me the most was the dream I had of finding my person — after all, what man looking for a serious relationship would sign up to be with a woman who would likely not live to age 40? What man would knowingly sign up to be a widower long before retirement age? I can’t say I would blame anyone for not wanting to sign up for this kind of life. Before this cancer experience, I can’t say that I would have jumped at the opportunity to be with a man whose remaining years on this earth could be counted on one hand. I resigned myself to a life of singledom, with my dog, Scout, as my only life partner. I watched my friends get engaged and married, buy homes and welcome children, and I cheered them on while each celebrated milestone grew the ache in my chest that longed to live those milestones, too.
And then I met David. We met at a mutual friend's wedding and hit it off right away — we both love the outdoors, national parks, travel and Taylor Swift sing-alongs in the car, and our personalities couldn’t be more similar. He knew I was sick — our mutual friend had told him — and I tried not to get too attached, because there was no way he would be interested in a romantic connection with me given my incredibly short lifespan. When he asked me to spend a day together a few weeks after the wedding, I said yes, thinking it would be platonic. Our hangout was a few days before my birthday, and when he picked me up he brought me gluten-free brownies he had made from scratch. After that, we spent at least one day every weekend together and against my better judgment, I started falling for him. I thought I was destined for heartbreak, but the happiness he brought to my life felt worth a thousand heartbreaks, so I continued to spend time with him.
One night we were talking on the phone and ended up expressing that we had feelings for each other. I was shocked that he felt the same as I did. But would he want to be with a terminal person? Later that night, while we were texting, I expressed my fears about cancer, my prognosis and how I feared that it would affect our relationship. I expected him to take a step back, to find someone with a longer life expectancy. Instead, he wrote words that I’ll never forget, words that brought me to tears: “Just because you live long doesn’t mean you’re happy or your life is meaningful.” He added, “If we can’t cure you, you will leave us a little earlier than the rest of us, but I will be so happy to know we had something real.”
Before he sent me that message, I don’t think I knew what it was like to be so loved for every part of me. Some of my exes loved me for what I looked like, or my body or the promise of the life we could live together. David loves me for who I am today, for every part of me, both good and bad. He makes me a better person and shows me a love I thought I’d never get to experience in this lifetime.
Our relationship isn’t without its struggles, of course, and cancer is a big one for us — the first time we kissed I ended up with an infection that landed me in the ER with a neutropenic fever. And, with David coming from a traditional Chinese family, telling his parents about my diagnosis has been a struggle for both of us.
I also know that loving myself first is a big part of this. I thought I loved myself pre-cancer, but loving yourself is not just learning who you are, what you like and dislike, and accepting your flaws. It’s also taking care of yourself — your mental and emotional health along with your physical health. Physical health is one that many young people tend to ignore — we’ve always been told that youth equates to health. But if I’ve learned anything since my diagnosis in 2020, it’s that youth and health are not synonymous. If I hadn’t advocated for myself when I found a lump in my breast — even after a doctor nearly laughed me out of the room given my age — I might not be here today. I’ve since learned that women under age 45 make up 9% of all breast cancer diagnoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
My story is not unique. I have met countless other young women whose doctors told them that they had nothing to worry about due to their age, despite the fact that breast cancer in young women is more likely to be found at a later stage and be more aggressive and difficult to treat, according to the CDC. It is because of my own advocacy, and my love for myself, that I am still here today and am able to be in a place to love David and be loved in return.
I don’t know what the future holds for David and me — maybe (hopefully) I’ll get to live my dream of a wedding and we’ll sail off into the sunset, or maybe we won’t be each other’s forever. But whatever happens, I’m grateful for the most selfless man I’ve ever met showing me a love I could only dream of during a time when I thought all love was off the table for me. Like he said, we have something real, and I’m the luckiest girl in the world to get to experience it for however much time I have left.