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Both Lost Spouses To Cancer, But Now Their Unexpected Love Story Is Touching The World.

Few things in life bring people closer together than shared experiences, particularly grief.

Support groups, funerals, military reunions, they all provide, to one degree or another, a venue to begin the healing process. But as much as those groups may help, sometimes that healing process starts with just one person.

This incredible love story begins in September 2016, when a column called “When A Couch Is More Than A Couch,”ran in the New York Times. It centered around writer Nina Riggs’s battle with breast cancer and was so moving that it prompted Lucy Kalanithi to get in touch.


Lucy’s husband, Paul (pictured above), had passed away from lung cancer in March 2015, and that common ground — the shock of the diagnosis, the struggles, the grief, the loss — served as the basis for what would soon become a deep friendship between the two women. But it also served as the foundation for the love that eventually blossomed between Lucy and Nina’s husband, John Duberstein.

Nina passed away in February 2016, almost a year after Lucy lost Paul. In the days leading up to her death, Nina grew increasingly worried about her husband and his ability to cope with the loss — so she suggested he get in touch with Lucy, who could help guide him through the grieving process.


“I had so many questions,”he said. “I was bursting with this intense need to get things squared.â€

So he did, and the two began exchanging emails, each still in the throes of grief but cementing their bond through that process. And another common thread that linked the widow and widower? Their spouses’ books were both published posthumously.

Paul Kalanithi’s New York Times bestselling memoir about his battle with lung cancer, “When Breath Becomes Air,”was published in 2016.


Nina Riggs’s own memoir, “The Bright Hour,”written as she continued her battle with breast cancer, was posthumously published in 2017.


Lucy and John never actually spoke over the phone during the following months, but their correspondence became more and more frequent — and more and more intense. The spark was obviously there, but there was a problem: Lucy works at Stanford University in California, and John works as a lawyer in North Carolina.

Then last April, a business trip took Lucy to Raleigh, not far from where John lives, and they agreed to a face-to-face meeting.


The chemistry was immediate, but they decided against sharing their blossoming romance with their family, including Lucy’s 3-year-old daughter and John’s 10- and 8-year-old sons. But by the end of the summer, the couple decided to come out of the shadows.

The families spent New Year’s together, and they’re now talking about how to manage the intricacies of a cross-country relationship.


“I’m still surprised,”Lucy said. “I’m surprised by how ridiculous it is and how natural it is at the same time.â€

“Everything seemed almost bizarrely to fit,”John agreed. “It was kind of stunning.â€

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