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I DM-ed a man on LinkedIn and we were engaged a year later. Then I was given 16 months to live.

Katie Ortman Doble   

I DM-ed a man on LinkedIn and we were engaged a year later. Then I was given 16 months to live.
  • In 2013, Katie Ortman Doble, a headhunter, sent a LinkedIn message to a man about a potential candidate.
  • The message led to a meeting and a year later, the two of them were engaged.

I didn't set out to start a romantic relationship on LinkedIn.

I'm a headhunter, and my job is to help companies find candidates and fill open roles. LinkedIn is the first website I open at the start of each workday. It's also a digital Rolodex for a friend hoarder like me.

In my 20s, I watched my connections climb to over 1,000, then 3,000, then 5,000. I was the queen of networking, but I was perpetually single. I dated — frequently — but I rarely made it to the second date. Perhaps I was being too picky, but I wanted sparks and could never seem to find them.

In July 2013, by then in my early 30s and living in Denver, my colleague shared the résumé of a copyeditor whose background matched the description of a local job posting I'd seen that day. I looked up the company on LinkedIn and scrolled through the Denver employees to find the hiring manager. That's when I found Nick, the manager of the company's Denver office.

I clicked Connect.

A few days later, he accepted my request and I pitched the copyeditor my colleague had met. Based on Nick's profile, he appeared to be from the UK and new to Denver. I ended my message with, "It doesn't look like you're from here. I hope you're enjoying it!"

I was thrilled to find a response from Nick a couple of days later. He didn't need help filling the role, but he asked: "How long have you called Denver home?"

Thus began a series of semi-flirtatious LinkedIn exchanges. After about four messages back and forth, I signed off with, "If you ever want to grab a coffee or a beer, I love networking."

I later found out that after reading this, Nick announced to one of his coworkers, "I think I've just gotten a date off of LinkedIn."

I couldn't tell if it was networking or a date

We planned to meet on a Saturday afternoon at a trendy cocktail bar in Downtown Denver. This meeting felt familiar and different at the same time — after all, I often meet first-time clients for a coffee or a beer, although it was usually the former and never on a Saturday.

I texted him on my way there, "I'm wearing a red-orange jacket." He replied, "I'm wearing a claret and blue checkered shirt."

My gay stepbrother once informed me that if a guy uses a color outside the basic Crayola box, he's probably gay. I wasn't even certain what "claret" was.

I was nervous, but this exchange diffused the situation for me. I mean, I met this guy on LinkedIn. What were his expectations? What were mine? Remembering that I knew little of this person, including his sexual orientation, brought it back to the reason I was happy to be there — I love meeting new people.

Then he walked in, with his very long torso, legs for days, and darling chin dimple peeking out from under his short beard. Please don't be gay, I thought, smiling as we made eye contact for the first time, and I learned that claret is actually just burgundy.

We ordered drinks, and the conversation flowed effortlessly as we talked about our jobs, family, and where we were from. He told me claret and blue were the colors of the football team he supported back home, West Ham United.

Neither of us stopped smiling the entire evening. There they were — the sparks.

Bringing up the cancer conversation

In the past several months, one thing that hindered my dating experiences was that I had been diagnosed with and treated for uveal melanoma, a rare cancer that starts in the eye. Thankfully, it had been contained in my eyeball, and a biopsy of the cells revealed a less than 2% chance that it would spread.

I was trying to keep this part of me under wraps, as the first dates where I had revealed this information brought blank stares. One guy had even said, "Your current situation isn't conducive to starting a romantic relationship," and suggested that I reach out to him when I was healthy again.

Toward the end of our "networking," I let it slip to Nick that I had just sold my scooter, which seemed to disappoint him. I explained that cancer had caused full blindness in my left eye, making it too dangerous to ride. I held my breath and waited for him to run.

"Can we go back to the scooter? What was it like to have to sell it?" he asked, clearly more upset that I no longer had my cool red scooter than the fact that I once had cancer.

I exhaled in relief.

When the bartender presented the bill, Nick grabbed it, saying, "I wouldn't be much of a gentleman if I let you pay." He asked if he could see me again as he handed his credit card to the bartender.

OK, I thought. This is not a networking event.

We left the restaurant and walked through a narrow path to get to the street corner, where we would say goodbye. He could tell I was struggling to see, so he grabbed my hand. When we got to the corner, we kissed. To this day, we argue about who leaned in first.

I knew I wanted to spend my life with him

Soon, we were spending all our time together. In the next year, we met each other's friends and family, traveled internationally, and made plans for the future. I knew within weeks he was the person I'd spend the rest of my life with.

Nick invited my sisters to go ring shopping with him shortly after we celebrated one year of dating. They mapped out an elaborate plan that involved him proposing in front of family and friends on Thanksgiving Day.

But my liver hijacked Nick's plans. Despite the 2% chance of the cancer spreading, a routine ultrasound two days before Thanksgiving revealed more than 12 suspicious lesions on my liver.

My sisters frantically texted Nick, suggesting he postpone the engagement.

"It doesn't change a thing," he told them. "She's still the girl I want to marry."

The day he proposed was the most emotional day of my life. The week following, I got confirmation that the melanoma had spread and that I had 16 months to live.

I was filled with conflicting emotions. Being given a Stage 4, incurable cancer diagnosis with a 16-month shelf life is pure terror. Being asked to spend forever, however long that might be, with the man you love is pure joy.

I felt hopeless and hopeful.

Playing whack-a-mole with my cancer

While my first oncologist told me I had only one treatment option, which basically guaranteed I wouldn't live to see 35, my physician father spent every waking moment trying to find us a clinical trial that would offer more hope — more time.

Nick and I busied ourselves by moving in together. In January 2015, I enrolled in my first clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) in Manhattan for five weeks. By February, we were married in an intimate ceremony.

The clinical trial at MSK stabilized my tumors for eight months. When I experienced tumor growth that eliminated me from the trial, I enrolled in my second trial in Denver. This game of whack-a-mole would continue over the course of seven years.

I enrolled in four clinical trials, had two liver embolizations, a gamma knife when it spread to my brain, a laparoscopic liver resection procedure, and surgery to remove half of my liver. Each trial and treatment bought Nick and me more time together.

We never gave up hope

We spent our 30s in fight or flight mode, but we never gave up hope. We continued to make plans. We built a house, we got a puppy, and we traveled the world.

We both maintained our careers, although I did take a much-needed break from my job and LinkedIn networking in 2019.

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I enrolled in my fourth clinical trial at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania. I responded very well to the treatment, but one tumor went rogue.

The next year, my doctor surgically removed it and all of the remaining cancer, rendering me NED — no evidence of disease.

Unexpected connections can end up sustaining us

This week, Nick and I celebrate nine years of marriage.

Meeting on LinkedIn over 10 years ago was unexpected for both of us. I also never expected to be in that 2% of having my cancer spread. I'm not sure I expected to be here now, but life has a way of surprising us.

I'm not suggesting using LinkedIn as a dating app, but we go through life making connections with strangers. And sometimes, when we least expect it, those chance connections end up sustaining us.

Katie Ortman Doble is a headhunter, Stage 4 cancer survivor, patient advocate, keynote speaker, and author. She and her husband, Nick, reside in Denver with their doghter, Alice.

Did you make an unexpected connection on LinkedIn and want to share your story? Email Jane Zhang at janezhang@insider.com.


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