When Hank met Lea

It was a case of Hope meeting Love.

Hank Hiraishi, a Japanese-American based in Hawaii, met Lea Ramos, a Filipina, through an online dating site in August 2016. He was instantly charmed not only by her dainty features, but more importantly, by her honesty. Lea disclosed in her profile that she was battling cancer. Despite her illness, Lea found the courage to share her story to inspire others. She also didn’t consider her condition as a hindrance to finding true love.

Hank believed that people dealing with cancer could either become so humble or become very bitter because of the challenge. In his mid-50s at that time, he was looking for someone with a humble heart and he sensed that in Lea.

He initiated messaging her but got disappointed when he did not get any reply. Unknown to him, Lea was undergoing medical check-ups for her health condition.

When he finally got a message from her after a few days, their first online chat lasted all of five hours. “We shared about our past relationships, family and some personal problems. We talked about her cancer, about what we were looking for in a partner, and where we have traveled to,” Hank fondly recalls.

Both felt so comfortable with each other after sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings even though they have not physically met. “The funny part is that the next day, we talked even longer for about seven hours!”

Hank before the great shave-off

After exclusively chatting for two months, Hank decided to visit Lea in the Philippines. On their first meeting, Hank remembers that Lea arrived late. ”But then, I saw her beautiful smile and she had that certain glow about her. I could tell that she was cautious and nervous.” He gave her a hug and she responded by giving him a pat on the back which, of course, he found strange. A few days after his visit, she told him that she didn’t like his mustache. Before that first visit was over, Hank had his handlebars shaved off.

Going mustache-free was the least of Hank’s many selfless gestures to show Lea that he was serious in his intentions. Within their two-year long distance relationship, there were bumps along the road—mostly owing to Lea’s cancer recurrence. “I thought he might not want to be with me if he learns about my cancer coming back,” Lea shares. “To my surprise, he returned to the Philippines and stayed with me for two weeks during my radiation treatments.

Lea and Hank, along with other Carewell and ICanServe members, help in promoting cancer awareness.
Lea celebrating her 37th birthday at the hospital

Ultimately, things led to something that was reminiscent of a line from the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” with the character Harry telling his loved one: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Hank and Lea announced their engagement in July 2018. On August 26, 2018 they had their Christian wedding at The Blue Leaf Events Pavilion in McKinley Hill, Taguig City, witnessed by close family members, work colleagues, and Lea’s friends at Carewell and ICanServe – her cancer support groups.

Emotions ran high when they exchanged vows. Hank, between sniffles, promised Lea:  “Mahal, I will love you and honor you and cherish you with all my heart. “I will always be true to you, support you, stand by you, care for you, and walk with the Lord with you.”

The delicate-looking Lea showed her inner grit and solid faith when she declared: “No matter what, I will fight. I’m not going to give up. I know the Lord is here with me…I am going to survive, I know.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The commitment came with tough choices. Hank was prepared to bring Lea to Hawaii, but she didn’t want to leave her family, being its main breadwinner. Hank thus decided to move to the Philippines, which meant quitting his job and selling off many of his stuff. His move took longer than expected because his mother got sick and eventually passed away.

Meanwhile, Lea was in and out of the hospital because of the complications of her illness. In her most recent confinement, visiting friends saw a complete opposite of the perky Lea they have known. Her debilitated frame could hardly move, and her eyes, which used to sparkle when she smiled, now could only give blank stares. Yet, when Hank tends to her, those eyes soften in affection.

Lea was recently taken off all her intravenous medications and other contraptions. The word ‘miracle’ was invoked several times in the context of her recovery. She is now being taken care of at home. Friends and family are still hoping and praying for that miracle.

Through it all, Hank and Lea never wavered in their faith. “My strength comes from the Lord. Only God knows when one will die. If you believe that you are going to die, in six months your body will shut down. Just stay positive, be happy and live life to the fullest,” Hank says.

In these times mostly ruled by cynicism, it may be difficult to find people capable of caring in such a deep, all-giving way. Hank and Lea are such rare finds. Lea has defied expectations and continues to fight for her life, for her family, and for Hank.

Hank has chosen to live up to his promise to Lea during their wedding:  “We don’t know what will happen in the future. We live day-by-day, living life, enjoying each other. Every second of each day, I will always be there for you, my love.”

Pray tell, how can you lose with a love so pure?

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