Love and Heartbreak at the Office
Korin has an intimate relationship with the city’s hotspots, a challenging career, and an intellectual group of friends. On a typical weekend night, you can find her rubbing elbows with D.C.’s young and successful. But after the happy hours and beneath the girlish charm, is an old soul marked by true love, matured by tragedy, and sobered by loss.
He looked so nervous when he came to pick me up. It was adorable. We had met just a few days before— at Howard University where Dan was attending med school. A good friend of mine invited me to an event the school was having and when I saw Dan, I recognized him from the DC social scene.
He asked me to go to the movies with him and I said yes. I have to admit I was impressed when he came to pick me up– because guys just don’t do that anymore.
We went to Georgetown and walked near the water after getting salads at Sweetgreen. A few hours later we ended up watching the NBA playoffs at some bar and talking all night.
That week we hung out every single day. On the fourth day, Dan announced he was moving to Cleveland. My heart sunk. Maybe this wasn’t all I thought it was. He stayed the night– no hanky panky of course– and when we woke up the next day, he was sitting on the edge of my bed smiling and staring at me like a dork.
He decided to stay one more day.
As quickly as he came, he left. But we Skyped everyday. We made it work. BWI to Cleveland was only a 45 minute flight so we visited every other week. By June we were official. It was the best summer of our lives.
The last week of August I had invited Dan to come on a work trip with me. We were just out and about when Dan asked me to feel a lump in his leg. I assured him it was nothing but we made an appointment to get it checked out.
He went for a checkup the next day and as a medical doctor, Dan was able to read his own scans. After looking at the scans, over and over again, he knew it was cancer. Osteosarcoma to be more specific—a bone cancer common in children. It is aggressive, but children beat it all the time. And I knew we would too.
Dan went home to Toronto later that evening– leaving me behind– to tell his parents the news. He told me later that he cried the entire way there. For the first time my strong, care-free boyfriend was afraid.
By the end of the week, Dan started chemo. I flew out that Thursday and was there for the first round.
It was absolutely horrifying.
We had been together for four months and Dan saw that I was afraid. So in those moments he assured me that if I wanted to leave that he would understand. That this was heavy, and maybe I’m not ready or willing to shoulder the weight.
“I see what cancer does to people,” he said. “It tears them apart. If you’re not ready for this I completely understand.”
After only four months, I was deeply in love with Dan. He tried to give me the out he thought I wanted, but honestly him saying that only made me love him more. And the thought of leaving him never even crossed my mind. I took his hand and promised that we would get through it. After all, cancer was something older people are diagnosed with; not young healthy handsome doctors. In my mind Dan had everything on his side and the fact that we were told the cancer didn’t spread yet only kept me more encouraged.
I became psycho studying this cancer.
My family didn’t get what I was doing. “You’re 23 and taking on a man with cancer,” they said. But I didn’t think about it that way. I knew what we were going through was temporary and that soon, Dan and I would go on with our beautiful, healthy lives. When you love someone you don’t just give up on them, you pray and you fight like hell and you do it together.
Dan’s family, on the other hand, was glad I was there. I was his happy distraction.
One day, while I was in the hallway near Dan’s hospital room, Dan’s dad came out and sat next to me. I thought he was going to tell me to go home– that this was a family matter and that I shouldn’t be here. Instead he began telling me how he met his wife.
And that although he wasn’t a spiritual man, he was convinced I was an angel sent to him and his family. “You were heaven sent to my son,” he assured. “The way I felt when I met my wife, I see that same look when my son looks at you. I want you to know whatever happens, you are already part of our family. You are our family.”
By January the cancer was spreading. And the effect of the chemo was scary to watch. There were times when I couldn’t tell if the chemo was helping or hurting him. He had welts on his lips, hands, and bottom– as if this chemo viciously sought out every soft, gently part of his body and tried to unravel it. Then there were the infections.
When I would leave Cleveland I had to have Skype on all time. I wasn’t physically there but Dan found peace in just seeing me while he was on house arrest. It became part of my daily routine to immediately turn on my computer when I walked in the door. Sometimes we wouldn’t even talk, he would just watch me watch TV, read, or do my hair as if we were in the same room.
I always thought positive and didn’t want the negative thoughts to win. But the prognosis just kept getting worse. The cancer was spreading. I would go to work and just cry. I wanted to scream.
I moved to DC from Texas one month after graduating from college. I came with nothing but two suitcases and like most young people new to the city I went to work, happy hours, events, fancy receptions. I had just graduated and I was out all the time. I was loving life.
Looking back, I now know I was obsessed with the wrong things. It was all about who I was with and getting into the best parties. But after meeting Dan I gave it all up. Because he made me feel like I was living with a purpose.
It was the loneliest time of my life. I could count on my hands the friends I had. The few who did stick around would pray with me; we’d talk about faith and purpose and I would be recharged. Then I could be that positive person again.
A dear friend at work would schedule meetings so that I could just cry for an hour, then go back to work. That was my lifeline.
Meanwhile, after every surgery Dan would bounce back and look great. You hear all these stories about people fighting and making it. I was positive we were going to have a happily ever after and we would move back to DC after his residency. I was determined to find a cure and truly believed everything would be OK.
So when Dan asked me to marry him, of course I said YES.
It’s September and I have officially moved to Cleveland. Dan is fully up and running. He’s working and looks so handsome. It was the happiest time of my life. I found myself getting excited about the little things– rushing home to make dinner or just being able to cuddle together on a Friday night. My life felt perfect. So perfect we couldn’t help but forget about the cancer destroying Dan’s body from the inside out.
As soon as November hit, our bliss was interrupted by Dan’s shortness of breath. It became harder for him to walk around the hospital so they gave him desk work to do. Every month he’d review his scans, and every month he’d say to me he prayed when he looked the cancer would have magically disappeared.
But it hadn’t.
Instead, every month he had 5 to 7 new tumors in his lungs. We’d schedule a surgery to have them removed, until the day we found one that was inoperable. The location of this tumor forced his lung surgeon to have to remove two thirds of Dan’s left lung. He informed Dan’s family and I that Dan’s treatment wasn’t working and that he would not go back in to do any more lung surgeries because it was too risky.
Our doctor told us he wasn’t sure how much time Dan had left. He encouraged us to move up our wedding and for me to take leave from my job. He said getting married would make it easier for me to advocate on Dan’s behalf. Then he pulled out a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. He began speaking to Dan more like a doctor than a patient. Dan signed it and I had to sign it too. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
I remember saying to the doctor “you usually give us so much hope and we’re not getting that today.”
“I hope everything works out and I wish there was more that I could do, but I’m just trying to get him more time,” he says.
He kept saying more time instead of what he used to say – save his life. It was a very surreal experience. When he left the room Dan immediately began crying. That’s when I told Dan that we need to live life. He drove us home and in the car we decided to push up the wedding and focus on having a family since the unknown could mean months or even years. He was healthy enough to drive and didn’t look sick so we had no reason to think that the storm would hit anytime soon.
A few weeks later we got married in the Mayor’s office. That same week Dan became very ill. He couldn’t keep any of his food down and we assumed it was from the new chemo medication he started taking. After the wedding we took Dan to the hospital to get checked out and to get fluids. We ended up spending our entire weekend there; and before the discharge papers could grace his lap we were told the cancer had spread to his brain.
After hearing that news our world became very dim and we realized the end was sooner than we thought. Dan and I, and his family decided to make the best we could out of what ended up being his last two months on this earth. During that time we laughed, cried, and hoped more than ever before.
They say God will go to great lengths to get our attention. I hope our story helps you put things in perspective. I was privileged to bear witness to all the lives Dan touched during his short time on this earth. As for me– I’m embracing life, cherishing those around me, and smiling because life is beautiful.