Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith's love story went viral after she posted about it on Twitter as part of the "how it started/how it's going" trend

By Joelle Goldstein
October 20, 2020 03:33 PM
Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
| Credit: Lauren Bliss Photography

A couple who met while undergoing treatment for the same type of cancer have a become viral sensation after sharing their heartwarming story as part of Twitter's recent "how it started/how it's going" trend.

Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith tell PEOPLE they never expected to receive such an overwhelmingly positive response to Gorczyca's Oct. 12 tweet, which showed the progression of their relationship over the last year.

"I could never have anticipated that," Gorczyca, 21, says of her tweet, which has since received over 1 million likes. "I feel like, especially when we tell our story, people think there's no way something good could come out of something so terrible... I think that's kind of why a lot of people started to like it."

Adds Smith, 21: "Everybody sees cancer as this looming, terrible disease and nothing good comes from it. But if something like our relationship and both of us beating cancer comes from that, it's kind of like a flower that's growing between the concrete."

Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
| Credit: Courtesy Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith

As demonstrated in Gorczyca's tweet, their relationship was certainly the silver lining to an unpleasant situation both Gorczyca and Smith found themselves in.

At the end of April 2019, Gorczyca was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. Four months later, Smith was also diagnosed with AML.

The news came as a shock to Gorczyca and Smith, who were both healthy collegiate athletes prior to their diagnoses.

It was also surprising because AML is considered uncommon before the age of 45 and usually affects adults at an average age of 68, according to the American Cancer Society.

"It's a very rare cancer and it doesn't typically happen in people who are 20, 21 years old," explains Gorczyca, who is from Hackettstown, New Jersey.

That shared commonality was ultimately what prompted Gorczyca to contact Smith over social media in October 2019 while receiving treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

"A girl from my high school who goes to Ryan's college retweeted an article about a 'basketball warrior battling cancer,'" she recalls. "I started reading it and learned how Ryan was the same age as me, also a collegiate athlete and was battling the same exact cancer. When I saw that I was like, 'I have to reach out.'"

Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
| Credit: Courtesy Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith

Though Gorczyca's tweet included a screenshot — the image shows that she'd texted her friend, "there's a boy my age with the same cancer in the hospital right next to me... imma date him" — Gorczyca admits "it wasn't a romantic thing at first."

"It was more in a joking manner like, 'Oh my gosh, he's so cute and a basketball player and he's my age... Imagine if I dated him,'" she explains. "I never thought I would actually end up dating him!"

"It was more just as a person going through the same thing. I've always thought it was a nice thing to reach out to people that I find and offer some support if they need and we can just be there for each other," continues Gorczyca, who underwent a successful bone marrow transplant at the end of October 2019.

Smith, who was receiving treatment across the street at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), says he didn't initially realize that Gorczyca was that close, but the pair quickly developed a friendship. His mom, however, had other ideas.

"Just kind of looking through her Instagram and everything, my mom is like, 'Ryan, she's really pretty. Talk to her,'" recalls Smith, who is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "I was like, 'I kind of agree with her.'"

Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
| Credit: Courtesy Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith

Eventually, the pair met in person while Gorczyca was in the hospital. They continued their friendship after both had been discharged, but it wasn't until March 19 that things turned romantic and they made it official.

"It was right before I went in for my transplant," Smith explains. "I decided to ask her if she wanted to start dating because a month away [from Molly in isolation, ahead of my transplant] was tough."

"But when it was my transplant date, she drove down to Philadelphia and she waved a sign outside my room and said, 'Happy Transplant Day,'" he adds. "That was just really special."

Though battling the same cancer provided an instant connection for Gorczyca and Smith, they note it's not the only thing that defines their relationship.

"We have an overwhelming amount of similarities. The way we met is not even some of the biggest things that we have in common," Smith shares. "We can relate to each other, but we are both athletes, we're both driven, we're both hard-working."

Adds Gorczyca: "It's a great connection, but we really try to emphasize it's what brought us together and it's how we met, but it's not our relationship. We're not the cancer couple. We're a great couple and we just happened to meet through something like that."

Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
| Credit: Courtesy Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith
Molly Gorczyca and Ryan Smith

And they're not the only ones. After posting the tweet, Gorczyca and Smith say they've received tons of replies from people who also met their significant other through other health challenges.

"I think it's really cool to make connections with other people going through similar situations," Smith shares. "I got multiple DMs saying, 'Sending love from Turkey, sending love from India.' It's crazy the amount of people that it reaches and the amount of people that care so much about you."

"I never would've expected to get such genuine support and love from people that we've never met before. It's been a beautiful thing," Gorczyca says. "People are just so kind for reaching out to us and wishing us well... those things have meant so much."

Now, as both continue to do well in the wake their respective transplants, the couple is marking their seven-month anniversary and looking forward to a happy — and healthy — future together.

"She's been just overwhelmingly straight up and loving to me," Smith says of his girlfriend.

"Ryan and I have this connection that I've never had with anybody," Gorczyca shares. "It's full of love and he's somebody who, no matter what I'm going through, is always there in my corner supporting me, understanding me and rooting for me 24/7, no matter what."

"Having somebody like him in my life now, he's just a great guy," she adds. "It's amazing that we get to be in a relationship and he makes me really happy."