'I got my life back': Breast cancer survivor celebrates end of chemo, surprise proposal

After celebrating her final chemotherapy session, Angelica May got an emotional surprise from her boyfriend of 10 years, Imeek Watkins.

Angelica May is usually wiped out after chemotherapy treatments. It makes her sick, so she spends lots of time at home afterwards.

That changed on March 20 when she finished chemotherapy and rang the bell at the Novant Health Zimmer Cancer Institute in Wilmington, North Carolina.

After celebrating her final chemotherapy session, she got an emotional surprise from her boyfriend of 10 years, Imeek Watkins.

In the video, Watkins plays a clip of his niece, 5-year-old Ava, saying.

“Congratulations, Auntie Geli,” she said in the video. “Will you marry him?”

Loved ones gathered around and cheered them on before Watkins spoke to her himself.

“I’m proud of you,” he said. “It has been a rough 10 years … a rocky 10 years. You had my back. I had your back … When I left and traveled and played ball, you always had my back … I just want to say I love you and I want to know … will you marry me?”

She shared the sweet moment online, drawing heartfelt reactions from family, friends, and social media users who were touched by her story.

“Congrats Love,” wrote a loved one on Instagram. “You did your BIG ONE … and look at the light at the end of the tunnel 💫 the Marathon continues 🙌🏾 congrats to you BOTH!”

Angelica May and Imeek Watkins moments after he proposed to her on March 20, 2024.

May, 27, and Watkins, 25, aren’t sure when their wedding will be but they definitely plan to get married in Wilmington, she told USA TODAY Tuesday afternoon.

She wasn’t expecting the proposal that day.

“I was expecting he was going to propose later,” she said. “I was just focused on ringing that bell and getting up out of there and moving forward.”

Watch:Meet the 6-year-old South Carolina boy who got to be a zookeeper for a day

Bride-to-be Angelica May was diagnosed with breast cancer in September

May was diagnosed with stage two triple-negative breast cancer in September. 

She periodically checks her breasts for lumps and back in July, noticed a lump in her right breast. 

“I immediately started freaking out and I called my doctor,” she said. “She had me come in and she examined it. She thought it was a cyst but she still sent me for a mammogram because I found out I had breast cancer on my dad's side.”

She had two mammograms and then a biopsy, leading to her diagnosis. She had her first chemotherapy treatment on September 27, she said.

'Bills don't stop': Teaching career sidelined due to diagnosis

May’s coworker started a GoFundMe for her because May, a preschool teacher, hasn’t been able to work due to her diagnosis and treatment.

“I'm still out of work,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “You know, bills do not stop.”

Insurance also doesn’t cover some of May’s expenses, like fertility procedures. She and Watkins don’t have kids and would like them at some point, so she wanted to freeze her eggs.

“Insurance only covers but so much,” May said. “They wanted me to pay like 5,000 plus out of pocket for that and at the time, we didn't have that. We're young. We're still trying to figure it out. We don't have that type of money.”

She ended up getting a shot to protect her reproductive system, she said, which insurance did cover. She said the couple wants at least two kids in the future, or maybe even three under the right circumstances.

Angelica May and Imeek Watkins.

Bride-to-be reflects on love story

May met Watkins in high school. She’s two years older than him and he always had a crush on her. She never took him seriously due to his age, she said.

One day, she posted a photo on Instagram that she was done with her exams. He commented and told her to text him. She reached out and that progressed to talking on the phone daily.

“We just ended up together,” she recalled.

Angelica May and her fiancé, Imeek Watkins.

During his proposal, Watkins mentioned how May stood beside him. He has played football since high school and also played in college. He has played in the Arena Football League. They’ve been together through it all, she said.

“When he came back from that last year, I got diagnosed with breast cancer,” May said, adding that he skipped a season and got jobs in the mall and at Planet Fitness to support her.

Doctors helped make surprise proposal happen

May said even her doctors and nurses were in on the proposal this month. They giggled and smiled as they walked her out, leaving her wondering what was going on.

Her doctors were amazing throughout her treatment as well, she said.

“Shout out to Dr. Prochaska, Dr. Fillion … They are so great,” May said.

During her first appointment at the Novant Health Zimmer Cancer Institute, she was kind of zoned out and in shock due to her diagnosis. Her doctors assured her that she would beat it and they would be aggressive with her treatment.

“I felt a little more at ease with it,” she said. “I really didn't know much about cancer. I just thought I was going to die.”

Now that she’s done with chemo, she has to get a double mastectomy. She has a gene that carries breast cancer and ovarian cancer, so the mastectomy is necessary to prevent recurrence. She has surgery in May and will also undergo immunotherapy until October or September. 

Angelica May after her last chemotherapy treatment on March 20, 2024. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2023.

End of chemo treatment, ringing bell caps emotional journey

May said due to the toll chemotherapy takes on the body and her doctor’s concerns about her being around large groups, she had to stay in a lot. 

Ringing the bell on March 20 was huge for her, she recalled.

“I felt like … I won a marathon, like I got my life back,” she said. “Chemotherapy is really hard. It's tough. You're sick all the time. You're tired … I could start living my life and doing what I love.”

She thinks ringing the bell and the surprise Watkins planned for her played a role in how she felt this month.

“Usually with this treatment that I had, (I’m usually) sick, really bad,” she said. “I wasn't sick at all. I think honestly, that proposal and me ringing the bell, that helped me with not being sick.”

Due to how sick she has gotten in the past, even missed a tour her favorite rapper, Rod Wave, was on.

“I was in the house a lot because my immune system was compromised, so I couldn't really do much,” May told USA TODAY. “My fiancé, he would take me out sometimes when I felt up to it just to get out of the house.”

It's been a 'long journey' for breast cancer survivor who credits God

Angelica May and Imeek Watkins. He proposed to her on March 20, 2024, the same day she rang the bell after her last chemotherapy treatment. May was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2023.

She listens to Rod Wave every day and said one of his songs, “Long Journey,” got her through some tough times. 

The single was released the same month she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in it, the rapper reflects on how far he has come and thanks God for his blessings.

May also thanks God for her blessings.

“I just want to thank God for helping me get through this journey and still helping me get through this,” she said. “To any woman out there that's going through what I'm going through, or who's at the beginning stages or the middle, keep going. You're strong. Don't lose hope.”

She stressed the importance of finding something you love to help you get through chemo, and while bad days are inevitable, you can make it through.

“Do not give up because you're going to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I promise you, you are.”

Visit to donate to May’s GoFundMe.

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757. Follow her on Twitter at@SaleenMartin or email her