A love anticipated

Becca Furbeck, junior in food science, and Jared Ramirez, sophomore in elementary education, stand on Central Campus. 

Carly Reiser

Jared Ramirez didn’t expect to meet the girl who would change his life when he logged into an online chat room and he didn’t expect cancer to be the reason they might never meet.

Sharing the same type of cancer, papillary carcinoma, with the main character in the movie “The Fault in Our Stars” was the best way she could describe what she was going through to her friends, said Becca Furbeck, Ramirez’s current girlfriend.

The movie was being advertised at the same time she was preparing for surgery. She became the real-life Hazel Grace Lancaster, battling cancer and falling in love with the man who was by her side through it all.

“I was not so scared of ‘what if I die,’ said Furbeck, junior in food science. “It was what if I die and never get to meet him [Jared].”

When the couple first met online four years ago, Ramirez, now a sophomore in elementary education at Iowa State, was weeks away from dropping out of high school and was overcoming depression. While seeking someone to talk to and call a friend, he found Furbeck on the other end of the Omegle chat room, looking for the same connection.

Omegle is an online chat site that offers text or video chat with anyone around the world. After chatting for three hours and adding each other on Facebook, they started to exchange text messages, which led to numerous Skype dates, Ramirez said.

Their feelings grew stronger each day, and they eventually decided it was more than friendship.

“I don’t think I’d be here without her,” Ramirez said. “Not even here, I don’t think I’d be around. My life was headed down a very bad path. I don’t think I would have done anything with my life, let alone have one.”

They kept their connection a secret for most of their relationship because they feared their parents wouldn’t approve, Furbeck, from Illinois, said. She convinced Ramirez, originally from New York, to get his GED so they could go to Iowa State together because it was the only way they could finally meet.   

Furbeck was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma, a type of throat cancer, three months after her 18th birthday, she said. Furbeck is diabetic, and the 1-centimeter tumor was discovered by her endocrinologist. She went into surgery to remove the tumor two weeks after she was diagnosed.

Papillary carcinoma isn’t uncommon for women her age, Furbeck said. This type of cancer does spread very quickly, but since her tumor was so small and it was found early, her doctors told her it was treatable. In her case, she had a 95 percent survival rate, she said.  

Yet it was still a setback in her plans to meet Ramirez because they didn’t know the outcome of her surgery. It became a waiting game.

“He was always there to comfort her even though he wasn’t there physically at that time and I think through him just being there in any way that he could, it was like he was there in person,” said Grace Glan, a longtime friend of Furbeck.

She was introduced to Ramirez via Skype about a year after he started talking to Furbeck, Glan said. Furbeck lit up every time she talked about him and she liked seeing her so happy.

“Her parents were skeptical in the beginning like any other parents would be because of the generational gap, but once Becca explained, they started to understand,” Glan said.

Ramirez finally told his parents about Furbeck when she was diagnosed with cancer, he said. His dad is in the medical field and he wanted to find out everything there was to know about Furbeck’s condition.

Furbeck broke the news to her parents not long before she would meet Ramirez for the first time, she said. The two families met via Skype before meeting face-to-face.

Furbeck’s parents were more at ease when they saw real people looking back at them on the computer screen, she said.

After surgery, Furbeck was finally announced cancer-free just in time for her plans to meet Ramirez for the first time face-to-face. Ramirez and his parents drove more than a thousand miles from New York to Furbeck’s home in Illinois so they could attend Iowa State together.    

Walking up to her, Ramirez was very nervous because the couple feared that, after two years, the connection would not be the same in person as it was online. The couple strayed away from their parents after lunch and sat in the grass together just taking in the moment.

“I think I just looked at you shaking and kind of crying and said, ‘I do love you,’” Ramirez said looking at Furbeck with a smile.

“I had only seen him 2D for so long and seeing him in person, I felt like I was on drugs because he was 3D and there in person,” Furbeck said with a laugh. “It was trippy and very, very unbelievable.”

Ramirez and Furbeck have attended Iowa State together for two years and continue to grow as a couple.

“I’ll remember on Skype I said I wanted to do something and now we will do it,” Furbeck said. “We would talk about ice skating and star gazing and one night in the beginning of last semester we just jumped in the car and went star gazing, which is something we always talked about doing.”