ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — An engaged couple from Zeeland is putting the words “in sickness and in health” to the test after being diagnosed with cancer eight days apart.
Clay Slenk and Mariah Nelesen will marry on April 9, moving up their wedding day to battle cancer together as man and wife.
Slenk and Nelesen got engaged on Dec. 26, 2020. Still in their early 20s, the Holland Christian High School graduates were in no rush to get down the aisle.
“We had a long engagement (and) were hoping to get married June 10 of this year,” Slenk said.
Soon after the save the dates were sent out, cancer came into the picture.
“I got a phone call Jan 11th of this year that I had ovarian cancer,” Nelesen, 23, said. “That’s not a call that anyone expects to receive.”
Eight days later, her fiancé received a similar call. Slenk had gotten bloodwork done after suffering from what he thought were lingering side effects of pneumonia.
“All of the 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 Leukemia,'” Slenk, 24, said.
Slenk’s condition required immediate and aggressive treatment. He spent the next 40 plus days in the hospital.
Meanwhile, Nelesen explored treatment options of her own and began the process of freezing her eggs, just one of the many life-altering choices the couple faced.
“Now, we’re into it deep,” Slenk said. “And it’s not just one person, it’s both of us.”
They wasted little time being angry.
“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.”
Instead, they’ve chosen to make every day count. The couple will wed in early April, moving up their June wedding date to marry ahead of Slenk’s most invasive treatment yet: a stem cell transplant.
“We moved up our wedding date so we could be married during that time,” he said. “So she would be here to take care of me and we could go through that hard part together.”
It won’t be the wedding they imagined, as Nelesen explained how cancer put everything in perspective.
“I was caught up in planning and excited for all the little details, like the venue we were going to be at and the food that we were going to have,” Nelesen said. “(Now), replanning the wedding, I’ve just thrown all of that out the window. It’s going to be a special day no matter what and we’re going to have burgers and brats on the grill.”
Grounded in their faith and supported by family, the couple takes comfort in knowing they’ll soon be married.
“It won’t be easy going forward, but we know that it’ll be more meaningful to go through it together,” Slenk said.
Slenk said he’s edited his vows since the cancer diagnosis, as their bond has grown stronger through these uncertain times.
“There’ll be a little more sickness before the health, but that’s alright,” he said.