August 27, 2019

At age 40, Josie Rubio, a writer and editor, was dying of cancer and "unexpectedly single" after her boyfriend of 12 years "reconnected" with an old friend in London. In a New York Times opinion piece, Rubio shares what it's like to be "dating while dying." 

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The breakup

Rubio's experience "dating while dying" started after the end of a long-term relationship.

"A year ago, when my treatment was going poorly …, my boyfriend of 12 years took a business trip to London," Rubio writes. During the trip, her boyfriend "reconnected" with an old friend, Rubio explains. Later, Rubio "overheard him talk about how much fun he had riding around on the back of her motorcycle, holding her hips. He also said he enjoyed walking around by himself without thinking about cancer. And me, apparently."

Rubio continues, "And that was it. Our relationship was over. I found myself dying and unexpectedly single at 40. I didn't know which was more terrifying."

Living 'moment to moment'

After the breakup, Rubio initially didn't want to start dating again. "I knew I'd have limited time to spend with people I care about before I got sick again. Why would I want to meet strangers?" Rubio writes.

However, Rubio's friends encouraged her to give dating a shot. One friend told her, "You can't let your last experience be so awful," and eventually Rubio realized "[i]t was time to move on" from her previous relationship.

With the help of a friend, Rubio signed up for a dating app and eventually met someone for her first date. Beforehand, the idea of the experience "filled me with dread," Rubio writes. However the date "was fine," Rubio says. "Fun, actually," she adds.

So, she continued dating.

But after "one great date," Rubio "had a crushing realization," she writes. She questioned whether it was fair to date when her diagnosis made her future feel uncertain. At the time, she thought, "I have only the present to offer, not a hopeful future," Rubio writes.

However, her friend challenged her outlook, telling Rubio, "'You don't know that … [Y]ou could still be complaining to me about dating when you're 90."

Rubio conceded and decided to keep dating.

"What is someone with terminal cancer doing on a dating app?" Rubio asks. "I want what we all want, I guess," she explains. "I want someone to enjoy spending time with. To tell me I look nice. Only it's all for a much shorter time. I don't expect someone to stay with me once I get really sick again."

Still, Rubio confesses that she is "afraid of something working out and hurting someone else." But that doesn't stop her from dating.

Today, Rubio lives "week to week, moment to moment" and "fully," she writes. Since her latest treatment, she "can even walk around sometimes not thinking about cancer." She adds, "I agree with my ex: It's nice."

As Rubio concludes her piece, she recalls the day that her ex-boyfriend last kissed her goodbye on the day they broke up.  At the time, Rubio thought, "This will be the last time a man kisses me." But now, she writes, "It finally feels good to be wrong about something" (Rubio, New York Times, 8/24).

Next, get URMC's end-of-life conversation prompts

When it comes to end-of-life care, most organizations struggle to meet patients' needs. In a recent poll, 87% of Americans age 65 and older said that they believe their doctor should discuss end-of-life issues with their patients; however, only 27% of those polled had actually discussed these issues with their doctor.

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