Clay Slenk and Mariah Nelesen, from Michigan, met when they were in high school and had begun dating by the time they reached their senior year, according to their wedding website on The Knot.
After Nelesen suffered a health scare in February 2020, which resulted in a two-week stay in a Chicago ICU, during which Slenk rarely left her side, the couple knew that they had become an “inseparable team”.
“Something in our relationship changed during that hospital stay,” the couple wrote. “It brought us together in ways no other experience could.”
Slenk proposed on 26 December 2020, with the couple telling KTLA that they were enjoying their long engagement and planned to get married on 10 June.
However, the couple decided to move their wedding up by two months, shortly after sending out their save-the-dates, after Nelesen learned on 11 January that she had ovarian cancer, and Slenk learned that he had leukaemia eight days later.
“I got a phone call Jan 11th of this year that I had ovarian cancer,” Nelesen, 23, told KTLA. “That’s not a call that anyone expects to receive.”
According to the couple’s GoFundMe, she was diagnosed after a cyst on her ovary turned out to be an Adult Granulosa Cell Tumour.
Just eight days later, Slenk, 24, who had recently undergone blood work because of what he thought were lingering symptoms of pneumonia, received a call from his own doctor. “All of a sudden, I got a phone call at like 8 o’clock, and my doctor was like: ‘I want you to go to Spectrum right now. I think you have leukaemia,’” he recalled.
Slenk’s diagnosis with acute myeloid leukaemia required him to be hospitalised immediately, according to the couple’s GoFundMe, which notes that doctors determined he should remain hospitalised “while they determined best options”.
While Slenk spent the next 40 days in the hospital, Nelesen began the process of freezing her eggs, and exploring cancer treatment options of her own, according to KTLA.
However, rather than spend their energy angry over the situation, the couple instead focused on their time together, and their plans for the future.
“Why be angry?” Slenk said. “If I’m angry and frustrated and down and negative, all it’s going to do is make this day that much worse.”
To make sure that they will be able to be by one another’s sides as they continue with their respective treatments, including Slenk’s upcoming stem cell transplant, he and his fiancée decided to move their wedding up to April.
“We moved up our wedding date so we could be married during that time,” he explained. “So she would be here to take care of me and we could go through that hard part together.”
According to Nelesen, who said that she had been “caught up in planning” all of the little details before the diagnoses, the shift has resulted in significant changes to their big day, as she said she’s “just thrown all of that out the window” and is now planning to “have burgers and brats on the grill”.
However, she noted that the day will still be as special as it was going to be. “It’s going to be a special day no matter what,” she said.
Slenk also made changes of his own, telling KTLA that he’s changed his vows slightly. “There’ll be a little more sickness before the health, but that’s alright,” he said. “It won’t be easy going forward, but we know that it’ll be more meaningful to go through it together.”
On the couple’s GoFundMe, where they have raised more than 33,000, surpassing their goal of $25,000, it says the money will go towards medical bills and lost income as a result of hospital stays, surgeries, treatment and recovery, as well as home payments and the couple’s wedding and eventual honeymoon.
On Facebook, where Slenk’s profile photo shows a photo of himself and Nelesen wearing “fighter” shirts,” he revealed that his soon-to-be wife had purchased the shirts shortly after they were both diagnosed with cancer.
“Mariah bought these shirts after we both were diagnosed with cancer eight days apart. Orange for my leukaemia and teal for her ovarian cancer. This year will not be an easy year, but we are fighters,” he wrote.
The Independent has contacted Slenk for comment.
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