'I Met The Love of My Life, 3 Years Later We Made a Heartbreaking Discovery'

In just a few weeks I am marrying the most amazing man I've ever known, but I honestly don't know how long our marriage will last. In fact, it's likely he will leave me in the next five years or so.

I didn't dream about getting married as a little girl. But from the age of fifteen I had a steady stream of romantic relationships and being married to someone forever grew into a subtle expectation in the back of my mind, one that became important to me.

After a difficult childhood, I was on an unconscious search for the love that might finally make me feel okay. Not surprisingly, from that space I chose relationships that repeated childhood patterns and reinforced old beliefs I had about not being good enough and the world being a lonely, hopeless place.

In my ocean of failed relationships there was one bright light: my marriage at age 25 created two beautiful daughters, and mothering these wise, kind humans served as a balm for my soul.

Unsuccessful at creating a lasting partnership, I started pursuing my sense of wellbeing through professional success. I graduated law school as a single mom, worked for a large Denver law firm, managed a team of attorneys for a legal publishing company, then started my own law estate planning practice inspired by the attorney who had helped me put my mom in a nursing home when I was 22.

My law firm grew quickly and was successful by most definitions, but the awards and swanky corner office weren't enough to eliminate a constant sense that I was running out of hope whenever something went wrong. Each time my bank account or relationships looked bleak I felt like the ground was falling out from under me. In 2013, the business had a financial crisis and I found myself on my office floor, sure that my only option was to end my life.

Catherine Hammond and Her Fiance Brian
Catherine Hammond and her fiance Brian Van Way. Catherine Hammond

Then, Brian and I met online in 2016. From our first date it was clear this relationship was different from anything either of us had experienced before. We spent hours talking about the meaning of life and exploring the subtleties below the surface. We loved hiking, cross-country skiing, and cooking together. We traveled regularly, everywhere from California to Slovenia and his beloved Chile. Until one evening in 2019 when Brian collapsed on the bathroom floor. As they wheeled him into surgery hours later the doctors told me there was a 50/50 chance he would survive. He had a 19cm tumor that had perforated his intestine, and we would soon find out it was cancerous.

I sat on the white vinyl hospital sofa and surprisingly, I felt peacefully confident. No matter what happened to my beloved, I had a sense that I would be okay. It struck me as a stark contrast to the many years I would have fallen into despair in the same situation.

Several years earlier I read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which changed my worldview in one sitting. I'd been studying hope for years, and when I read about Frankl's experience in the concentration camps, the very worst circumstances I can imagine, I was stunned to learn that he never lost hope. He found ways to tap into its ever-present wellspring even in the horrors of those camps. And if he could find hope there, I could certainly find it when my bank account was low, or a relationship ended.

Brian survived the surgery, and soon after his recovery the pandemic started. With the recent cancer scare we walked through endless days and weeks home alone with a deeper sense of gratitude than many of those around us. We began weekly nacho nights, took virtual cooking classes, and began eating dinner on the sofa we named Earl.

In June 2021, we were easing back into the world when Brian got a call that would change the trajectory of our lives: his periodic CT scan that morning showed the cancer was back, presenting as tumors throughout his abdomen that were growing aggressively.

It had taken less than two years for his cancer to return with a vengeance. We both knew this meant our time together was likely limited as his cancer—a rare, aggressive form of mesenteric desmoid fibromatosis, which is a type of sarcoma—has no known cure. Once it returns, we can treat it, but without a miracle it will likely take his life.

Two days after that discovery our middle granddaughter asked if I would marry Brian, with him smiling behind her. We had talked about getting married someday, but now, suddenly the time was right. We had a shocking reminder our time together is limited, something I know well from my work as an estate planning attorney.

Catherine Hammond and Her Fiance Brian
Catherine Hammond and Her Fiance Brian

Brian spent six months on chemotherapy, beginning immediately after we discovered the new tumors. While he didn't lose his hair or vomit through that treatment, he was bone-tired and spent those months laying on the sofa. I went to our company holiday party alone during his final month of chemo, praying it would be one of the last events I would attend without him. Through those months I got a taste of what our future together might look like, one that may include fewer activities and less enthusiasm than we both wish we had now that we've finally found each other, and more longing for him as he lays on the sofa across the room.

He's currently not on any treatment, taking advantage of the time he feels good by skiing, playing pickleball, and cooking dinner with me again. It thrills my heart to watch him enjoy life, but some days it feels bittersweet knowing these treatment-free days are likely limited.

We are getting married in June on the patio of a beloved local restaurant surrounded by pine trees, followed by a taco bar and dancing. We will honor the sacred wholeness of life, love, and our relationship, no matter how short it may be. Planning our wedding helps us remember that our love, like our lives, is a circle. We are on the path of return, to each other and to our maker.

We're headed to northern California for our honeymoon, with time in the city balanced by quiet in the redwood forest. It's not unlike how we picture our future as a married couple, the noise of cancer treatments and occasional fears about exactly how things will go, balanced with the quiet inner knowing that somehow, no matter what happens, we will be okay.

In the years since 2013 my understanding of what gives me hope has changed drastically, in ways that are now being tested by my upcoming marriage to Brian. But, Brian and I will hold tight to each other on this winding path we're on, opening our hearts to love and life as each day passes. Hope can hold it all, the agony, and the ecstasy, and we're resting in that. The only forever I truly need now is the one that lives in my heart.

Catherine Hammond is an estate planning attorney, financial advisor, life transition guide, and author of the Amazon bestselling book hope(less): The truth about hope and where to find it. Her favorite role is Mimi to three young granddaughters. Follow her on Instagram @CatherineHammond.life.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.