Aleesia and Mark’s story is one of incredible love and commitment so we’re just going to let them tell you the story and we’ll accompany it with some gorgeous Tucson engagement session pictures taken by Elite Circle photographer Scott Rice Photography. We usually ask questions about dating, and the proposal and other “couple” things like that but when you read their story, you’ll see why we skipped right over those…
Love at First Sight and One Heck of a Journey
Mark and I met by total chance when he decided to “friend request” me, of all places, on Facebook. We had a number of mutual friends and just shared a few innocent conversations back and forth before becoming literally inseparable in late-July of 2014. As hokey as it sounds, once we met, it was love at first sight for the both of us, which was very unique given both of our pasts with relationships and what we had experienced so far. We had both pretty much written off that true love might not exist, and then when we both least expected it, it hit us like a brick wall. Mark has two sweet little boys from a previous marriage whom I fell in love with instantly, and without any doubt in my mind knew that I would take them in as my own and we would love them unconditionally and raise them together. They call me “Mama,” which warms my heart to no end. Almost immediately we moved in together and eventually got our own place.
We were together just shy of three months when Mark decided to take me skydiving for my birthday. This was something I had always wanted to do and had only mentioned it a few times. Little did I know that he’s a man who actually listens and pays attention to detail. It was October 20, 2014, and the next thing I remember we were on our way to Eloy for a once in a lifetime adventure…jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 ft. That ride up was the final carefree adventure we would have in our, at that point in time, short relationship so far. The jump was amazing and I enjoyed every minute of it, however, it started to get very interesting once we landed. From the moment we touched down on the ground I lost all recollection of anything from that point in time for about the next 11 days. This is where Mark comes in to tell the story…
At first, she was just very light-headed and dizzy. She had a tough time walking at first, but I figured that was some motion sickness because to be totally honest, I was feeling a little nauseous myself the first few minutes after landing; but hers wasn’t getting any better. As time passed on she was getting more and more sick and started to become disoriented with not knowing where we were at or what we were doing there. This is when my “red flags” started going up. Being a firefighter and paramedic for 10 years, at that time, I did a couple of quick checks and things were only getting worse. It got to the point where the entire left side of her body wasn’t functioning properly, she couldn’t walk at all, and had become completely disoriented and disconnected from reality. I thought she was having a stroke or an aneurysm at this point so I picked her up, scooped her into the truck, and rushed her to UMC back in Tucson. To make a long story short, they thought she was having a stroke as well, but after tons of tests they determined she had a large mass on the right side of her brain as well as a vertebral artery dissection on that same side. The next 11 days in the hospital were a miserable blur for her, but she’s the toughest woman I’ve ever met and did it with grace. Now, back to Aleesia…
I spent the next few weeks out of the hospital getting regular brain scans and check-ups because they didn’t remove it in that first 11-day stint due to wanting other things to heal first. The docs kept monitoring the tumor and it initially looked benign in all the imaging, but as time went on my symptoms were getting worse and the characteristics of the tumor were changing so drastically to the point that the neurosurgeon “called it” and scheduled my surgery right away. Come December 2, 2014, I was laying on the surgical table having my brain operated on for about four hours. The surgery was a success due to the most incredible work by the most meticulous neurosurgeon. Dr. Thomas Norton is truly a saint in our eyes for what he did and how compassionate of care he gave my family and I in all of this. When I was in recovery, it was the following night when Dr. Norton delivered the news that changed our lives forever. He looked at us both and said how sorry he was to tell us, but pathology reports the tumor as cancer. Not only cancer, but also the most aggressive and deadly cancer someone can have in their brain—Grade IV astrocytoma (aka glioblastoma). Needless to say Mark and I were both heartbroken and shocked at the news and just held each other. Now it was on to the next phase of this journey.
This is where I learned that no matter what happened, Mark was going to be by my side. He proposed to me on December 17, 2014, when I had just started my chemo and radiation therapy. Little did I know that he had bought the ring prior to our skydive in October and was planning on originally doing it sometime that week. Needless to say, our plans got a little bit altered that day. He had shown such love, dedication, and commitment to helping me through everything and never left my side for a single moment throughout either hospital stay. He slept on the uncomfortable hospital room chairs and neither my family nor his could pull him away from me, even for a single night. We could hardly make him go to the cafeteria for a few minutes to eat. He saw me go through the worst thing I had ever had to do in my life—aggressive chemo and radiation therapy while still recovering from brain surgery. He saw me lose almost all of my hair and was there to console me through all of it. He saw me so physically ill all of the time and couldn’t get out of bed some days and he still loved me like the day we met. He never missed an appointment. He was taking care of me day in and day out, no matter what it was. He withdrew from school for the rest of the year to take care of me and do as much independent research as possible to make sure we were doing everything we could to try and beat this. This was a major thing because his withdrawal from school meant giving up a life-long career goal in which he had been working unimaginably hard for when we met, which was also time-sensitive in order to attain. This was his last shot at that goal and he gave it up in a heartbeat for me, which I still can’t believe and I can’t thank him enough for all the sacrifices he has made.
For being in a new relationship and having all of this happen, I was positive no one in their right mind would possibly want to stay with me and endure this stressful life; but he never waivered or had to even think about it. He told me that he knew since the moment we met he would be by my side through thick and thin, and man did he mean it. I couldn’t be more blessed to have such an angel of a man in my life who is also my best friend, my one true love and soul mate. It has been well over a year now since this journey began and our love has done nothing but grow stronger and more intense each passing day. Scans are still stable at this point and we pray it stays this way, but the reality is it’s a waiting game and can come back at any time. We don’t know what the future holds, but we embrace the present and all the positive around us and are hopeful that a long happy life together is in the cards.
P.S. – This is Mark now. I just want to say, that no matter how sick she was or how awful she felt, she was always the most amazing partner and mother to our two little boys. I can’t imagine the headaches she’s had and how terrible she’s felt, but that didn’t stop her from taking care of all of us as well. She would still make herself get up and keep up on the house, make sure me and the boys were fed, had clean clothes and a nice place to call home, and even that they got their homework done every night. This is a REAL woman and quite frankly the strongest woman I’ve ever known of. She says a lot of sweet things about me above, but honestly I consider myself to be the luckiest man for having her in mine and our boy’s lives. I can’t picture my life without her, and I really REALLY hope I never have to, but I do know that I will love her forever no matter what.
P.P.S. Mark and Aleesia, we love you. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Congratulations (in advance) on the wedding!
All photos: Scott Rice Photography
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