For a Romance in Revival, Dual Diagnoses Were a Common Bond

Cancer makes an odd building block in a relationship. But for Vera Golosker and Mark Rafael Gilfix it would become a keystone.

The two, both lawyers, met in 2013 at a poolside fund-raiser in Los Angeles. A first date followed, which Mr. Golosker judged promising. A second date, though, lacked luster. Then, he said, “She just ghosted on me.”

A few years later, he tried asking her out again, as they remained connected on social media. She didn’t respond.

Ms. Golosker, now 35 and an associate principal counsel at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, Calif., described their early lack of romantic progress as a blessing in disguise.

“If we had gotten together back then, we would have messed it up,” said Ms. Golosker, who graduated from the University of Southern California and received a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

In December 2019, Mr. Gilfix, now 43 and a partner at Gilfix & La Poll Associates, a law firm in Palo Alto, Calif., spotted pictures on social media of Ms. Golosker hiking Mount Rainier. Then living in San Francisco, he concocted a Rainier trip of his own, reaching out to her for advice with the hope that he could spin his contact into another chance at wooing Ms. Golosker, who was living in Los Angeles.

“This girl had stayed in my mind for all these years,” said Mr. Gilfix, who graduated from Stanford and received a law degree from Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University.

Her response to his outreach, he said, was practically corporate, “like she was my travel agent.”

He offered to take her out in return for her aid. But she didn’t read beyond the “thanks” in the subject line. “She ghosted me again,” he said.

As Mr. Gilfix was still lamenting the situation some days later, a friend advised there was no harm in trying one more time. He soon sent another message.

“In the meantime, I had seen pictures of him popping up on my feed,” said Ms. Golosker, who took a closer look at the man with whom she had recently reconnected. “He was so handsome, so outdoorsy, and I thought, That’s him?”

In Los Angeles visiting friends at the time, he met her for drinks in West Hollywood, Calif., then they went back to her apartment where the two shared a first kiss. More dates, including New Year’s Eve, followed before he returned to San Francisco.

By Valentine’s Day in 2020, they were in love, and found in the arrival of the coronavirus shortly thereafter a not-unhappy opportunity to spend weeks together on end.

Months later, in May 2020, Ms. Golosker discovered a lump that proved to be metaplastic carcinoma, an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer.

Not entirely fortunately — but fortuitously, as things turned out — Mr. Gilfix just a year earlier had faced his own bout with cancer. A lump in his leg turned out to be malignant, a liposarcoma. He was told that his survival odds might be as low as 50-50.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘I’m a goner,’” Mr. Gilfix said. “Luckily, it turned out I just needed surgery.” So when Ms. Golosker received her diagnosis, he recalled thinking, “‘Wow, this was meant to be.’”

Mr. Gilfix drew on his own experience to cosset Ms. Golosker, transforming her predicament into something very romantic, she said, as both were attuned to the fragility of life.

“He made me feel completely feminine and accepted and loved, even though I lost all my hair,” she said. When her doctors suggested that cancer treatment might affect her fertility, she asked Mr. Gilfix if he would be willing to create embryos with her for potential future use.

His response: “This is really real, and I’m all in,” said Mr. Gilfix, who proposed in May 2021. “This is the right thing.”

The two, who split time living together at her home in Los Angeles and his in San Francisco, are now in remission. They were married April 30 at Loma Vista Gardens in Big Sur, Calif., before Rabbi John Fishman. Wary of Covid, they arranged for an entirely outdoors event, and asked their 125 guests to take tests before arriving.

Following Ms. Golosker’s diagnosis, Mr. Gilfix said that he calculated the odds that two relatively young people would face life-threatening cancers within a year of each other.

“One in 10 million,” he said. “It’s been quite a journey.”