CHARLESTON, SC (WMBF) – A young couple from Horry County truly understood the vow “in sickness and in health.”
The love between 18-year-old Justice Dunlap and 19-year-old Eric Mason is something many people can learn from regarding commitment, dedication and selflessness.
“One of the things that drew me to him was that he was so genuinely nice,” Dunlap said.
Mason sent her a message on Facebook in January 2017, telling her how beautiful he thought she was, and his smooth talk won her over.
“This is like the most millennial getting-together story ever, but I added him on Snapchat, and we started talking on the phone every single day,” Mason recalled.
Phone calls led to days spent together and days turned into weeks and months. The two quickly fell for each other, but their love would soon be tested.
Mason was dying and doctors didn’t give him much time to live.
“He goes, ‘They did some scans on me, and they found a bunch of tumors in my stomach,’” Dunlap said.
Mason recovered well at first. But over time, his cancer would continue to come and go. Early this year, doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina said he had just days to live.
But a couple so in love refused to let their relationship finish in the stage it was in. They wanted to take the next step.
“I decided to just ask him,” Dunlap said. “I was like, ‘Do you want to do this while we still can? While you’re still in your right mind? While you can get up and walk for a few minutes? Do you want to go ahead and do this?’ And he was like, ‘Absolutely.’”
Nurses and staff at MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Center came together on March 14 and transformed a waiting room area into what the couple called their commitment ceremony since they weren’t able to legally get married. Staff members chose the waiting room because it overlooks the water.
There was a makeshift aisle, a hospital cart turned into a catering table and a sheet became a tablecloth. One of the first nurses to care for Mason purchased a white two-tiered cake.
Doctors also made sure Mason had medication that allowed him to get up and walk around for a bit without having to be tied down to machines.
Through sickness and in health, Mason and Dunlap refused to let the doctors’ predictions on his life expectancy come crashing down on them.
“Everything was just perfect, and the staff on the seventh floor arranged the waiting room so that I’d have an aisle, so that there’d be seats, so that there’d be sparkling cider and cake so that we can smash it into each other’s face at the end of the ceremony,” Dunlap remembered.
For a brief moment, everything was right.
Then, three days later, after committing his life to Dunlap, Mason died.
“He said his last words, which were ‘I love you babe.’ And two hours later he passed away,” Dunlap said with tears in her eyes. “Which was the most perfect ending I could’ve asked for.”
Despite everything the two had gone through, Dunlap said she will never forget about the times she had with Mason.
“It is a happy ending. And even though he’s not able to be here with me, I know he’s still with me in my heart,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said her future is uncertain because she’s still processing the loss of Mason. But she said wherever life takes her, she’ll never forget the things she learned about love from him.