First She Got the Doctor's Call. Then Her Fiance Did

Mariah Nelesen, Clay Slenk move up wedding date after cancer diagnoses within 8 days of each other
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2022 11:19 AM CDT
Updated Mar 19, 2022 12:40 PM CDT
They Were Set to Wed in June. Then, 2 Cancer Diagnoses
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Rawf8)

Mariah Nelesen and Clay Slenk's wedding on June 10 was supposed to be a grand affair, with every detail meticulously planned out. Now they've moved the date up to April 9, and they're planning on a reception meal of "burgers and brats on the grill," Nelesen tells WOOD. The reason for the decidedly more grounded event: The Michigan high school sweethearts were each informed earlier this year they had cancer, all within just eight days of each other. After getting engaged on Dec. 26, 2020, the couple kicked back for a long engagement, but soon after they'd sent out their "save the date" announcements, the bad news came. Nelesen, 23, got the call from her doctor first, on Jan. 11 of this year, which is when she was told she had ovarian cancer.

"That's not a call that anyone expects to receive," she tells WOOD. On Jan. 19, Slenk—who'd recently had some blood work done to find out why he still didn't feel well after having pneumonia—received his own doctor's call. "I think you have leukemia," is what Slenk remembered his doctor saying, imploring him to immediately go for further tests. Those tests confirmed he had acute myeloid leukemia, which "required immediate treatment" and "a long hospital stay," per the couple's Caring Bridge page. Meanwhile, Nelesen had to start looking into her own treatment options, which included possible surgery and chemo, and took steps to begin freezing her eggs.

That's when they knew they wanted to shift their wedding date up two months, before Slenk was due for a stem cell transplant, so "we could go through that hard part together," he tells WOOD. "Now we're into it deep," he adds. "And it's not just one person, it's both of us." They say they'll draw strength from each other as a married couple, and Slenk has even rewritten his vows to reflect that. "There'll be a little more sickness before the health, but that's all right," he notes. A GoFundMe set up to help the couple with medical expenses and lost income has raised more than $23,000 as of Tuesday morning. (More engagement stories.)

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