October 17, 2019

How a ‘Horrible Situation’ Turned Into a ‘Wonderful Blessing’

How a ‘Horrible Situation’ Turned Into a ‘Wonderful Blessing’


Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, couples share thoughts about commitment and tell us what they have learned along the way, revealing their secret to making it work.

Who Cathy Quon, 62, and Joel Klein, 57.

Occupations She’s a business management consultant at Emerson Human Capital Consulting; he’s an independent sports and orthopedic massage therapist.

Their Marriage 17 years, 2 months and counting.

Cathy Quon and Joel Klein married June 29, 2002, before 25 family members and friends in the backyard of their home in San Mateo, Calif. A mutual friend, Ted Weinstein, who was ordained as a Universal Life minister, officiated. “We planned the wedding in three weeks,” Ms. Quon said. “It was a rush because of my pancreatic cancer surgery.” Ms. Quon wore a red dress, which in Chinese culture represents good luck. After the ceremony, she changed into a Chinese “wedding gown,” a brocade and embroidered skirt and jacket that had been in her family for several generations.

The two met in August 1996 at Mr. Weinstein’s birthday party at his home in San Francisco. “Joel knew Ted from middle school, I knew him from work,” said Ms. Quon, who was 39 at the time. She had been previously married for 10 years, and divorced when she was 31.

As Mr. Klein walked into the living room, she said, “I saw he had these rubber figurines in his shirt pocket, and thought, ‘Wow this guy is fanciful.’ We talked the whole evening. He seemed like a really nice guy, but I wasn’t looking for a date.”

At the time, Mr. Klein, then 34, lived in Los Angeles; Ms. Quon in San Francisco. After everyone left the party, Mr. Weinstein asked Ms. Quon if she would consider dating Mr. Klein. Unsure, she replayed the evening to her co-workers who encouraged her to email Mr. Klein. She did a week later. He wrote back, thrilled. Mr. Klein was beating himself up for not asking for her number.

A first date followed three weeks later when Mr. Klein returned for a friend’s barbecue. “The next day he wore cargo shorts and mentioned he was a chubby kid and was always self-conscious about wearing them,” she said. “He had beautiful legs, but I thought, this is a guy who’s at ease to admit he’s vulnerable. That melted my heart.”

More dates followed. In 1999 Mr. Klein relocated to San Francisco and the two moved in together. Three years later, Ms. Quon received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. “It was clear the hospital was not going to treat a boyfriend the same way they would a husband,” she said. “It wasn’t hearts and flowers, but Joel took my hand while they were running tests and asked me to marry him.” They married later that month. Three weeks later Ms. Quon endured a 17-hour surgery.

Ms. Quon I’m an independent person, but being on a medical journey for 17 years, Joel became my rock, anchor and security blanket. Things I didn’t think I needed as a single person. We both felt very committed to each other, but when you’re in a marriage, you’re stronger together than alone. You don’t realize that until you’re in a relationship with the person who gives that to you.

We share similar values. We care about the world and society. We love museums, movies and cooking. I’m organized; he’s not. I finish things in advance; he procrastinates.

A marriage becomes strong when you constantly work at not taking each other for granted. Everyday we say how much we love, respect and admire each other. That reinforcement keeps you in love.

I’ve learned a good marriage requires teamwork and unconditional love and accepting of this person. I focus on the positives and what he brings to my life. I’m a better person because of him. He’s made me more easygoing. He’s very playful; we are silly together. He’s lovable and funny. He provides a role model to be nice, to use a kinder tone of voice when I’m irritated. I bring a bigger world to what he knew before. I help him with his self-confidence, and made him aware of how valuable he is to others and to me.

I’m a survivor of two different types of cancer: pancreatic in 2002 and colon in 2018. I still have active tumors in me now. Life is precious. I don’t live everyday in fear. But that’s because of Joel, and this marriage. Husband is a very powerful word. He epitomizes what the word means. I feel proud to be his wife. Getting married was a wonderful blessing, in a horrible situation.

Mr. Klein Marriage was not a successful thing in my family. I’d been in a bunch of relationships that were unequal or unsustainable. It was never balanced, so someone moved on. With Cathy, it kept going. I never had a relationship where we so completely had each other’s back and someone would love me no matter what.

I was used to being on my own and wanted someone to care about me. I didn’t know how to get that, and how to give back to someone who does. Cathy gives me unconditional love. I don’t have to worry if I’m lacking something.

She’s helped me prioritize what’s important and to become a more process-oriented person. She’s good at getting stuff done, so I’m really good at that now, too. I’ve become more assertive, I’ve learned to advocate for someone who is critically ill, to pay attention to details and focus on tasks. I’ve made her more relaxed over the years and she’s made me more serious.

I communicate better. Growing up we never talked about anything in my house. I’m with someone who’s made me feel relaxed enough where we talk about everything. We resolve stuff before they become big issues. As a result we don’t really have any.

Life seems unending until you or someone you love gets sick. If we feel something we say it in the moment, we don’t hold grudges. There’s no screaming. No one goes to bed mad.

I don’t have to hold on too tight anymore because I know how it’s going to be. The force of holding on is not what keeps you holding on, you have to trust the process, the partnership, and the person. That trust is something I could only have with her.

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