Unlikely love story: Brain cancer brought this couple together

NEWPORT BEACH – Mark Franklin noticed he was losing the ability to communicate. He couldn’t think of everyday words, such as dog or pen.

While working as a flight attendant, Cindy Godshall had a seizure in the middle of a Beijing hotel lobby.

Both were diagnosed with glioblastoma, a fast-growing cancer of certain cells that support neurons in the brain. They underwent surgery and radiation therapy at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach.

Godshall and Franklin joined the hospital’s brain cancer support group. There, in a small conference room, they listened as group members shared fears, successes and setbacks – and even showed off new hairpieces.

After a year of monthly support meetings, Godshall asked Franklin out for a glass of wine. Then, just over a year ago, they started dating.

Seated last week on a couch in the office of their neurosurgeon, Christopher Duma, the couple recalled their separate struggles and how they came to heal. The first objects he was able to identify, such as Duma’s wristwatch, after waking up from surgery; the Bob Seger songs she requested to calm her nerves heading into a scan.

Godshall, 65, laughed when Franklin described her as a Sofia Loren look-alike and himself as “her butler.” Franklin, a 58-year-old former software company owner, said Godshall is good at filling in any blanks and sometimes finishing his sentences.

He wouldn’t say what he has planned for today – it’s a Valentine’s Day surprise, he said.

The pair like to rib each other over whose tumor was larger.

“His tumor is on the left and mine’s on the right, so we joke that if we stand together we have a brain between us,” Godshall said.

Godshall, of Mission Viejo, underwent surgery in December 2012. Franklin, of Irvine, had his operation six months later. After a few weeks of healing, both underwent a treatment that predicts where any leftover tumor cells might migrate and targets radiation treatment to those areas.

Getting a diagnosis like glioblastoma and going through treatment was overwhelming, said Godshall, who found herself withdrawing from life.

“For that first year, my calls and emails were going unanswered. … I wasn’t reaching out,” she said. “I was just in my own little cocoon for a while. You kind of put your life on hold, because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.“

Thinking about going through the motions of dating felt especially daunting. But Franklin “just kind of melted in” to her life, she said. She would call to check on him, and talk him through some of his low points.

Now the couple schedule their medical appointments for the same times. They’ve beaten the odds by staying in remission for three years, Duma said.

And they have a special bond.

“We don’t have to explain anything,” Franklin said. “We both know exactly what we’ve gone through. There’s no pretending.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7990 or mnicolai@ocregister.com

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