Uncertain future but no second thoughts: Utah couple supports each other through multiple cancer diagnoses

Dec 21, 2021, 10:11 AM | Updated: 12:56 pm

MAGNA, Utah – Ricky and Lexie Stafford are barely adults, but their challenges are the kind faced by couples in their golden years: Preparing pills, managing doctor appointments, administering nightly treatments.

That reality has taught them wisdom beyond their years.

“The joy in our lives has little to do with our trials, but everything to do with how we face those trials, right?” said Ricky Stafford, 23.

The Staffords have had plenty of practice facing trials. It’s been the theme of their relationship.

They met in the cancer ward at Primary Children’s Hospital when Lexie was 15 and Ricky was 17.

He had leukemia, she had stage four neuroblastoma, a tumor the size of a cantaloupe.

“I was really, really sick,” said Lexie, who is now 21. “I was just learning to walk again.”

Throughout their treatment, the teens grew close, sharing stories, comparing scars and, finally, going into remission.

“Ever since then, we’ve been best friends,” she said.

About two years later, Ricky’s leukemia returned with a vengeance while he was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Doctors decided he was initially too sick to return to Utah for treatment. So, Lexie visited New York to be his cheerleader.

That’s when the friendship blossomed into something more.

“When he saw me, he started to cry and it melted my heart and I knew,” Lexie said.

Ricky added, “I don’t even know if I waited before I gave her a kiss, and I said, this is happening.”

He knew he would need her to get through the treatment ahead. He proposed and she accepted, with his health very much in question. Some family and friends didn’t understand.

“Why are you guys getting engaged when you don’t even know if he’s going to make it?” Lexie said. “I would tell them, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. I love him and he’s my person.”

Ricky’s treatment was brutal. His body rejected chemo and he endured a painful bone marrow transplant. Lexie helped him recover against all odds. Healthy again, they married.

Then it was Lexie’s turn. She has been in and out of the hospital with illnesses related to her cancer treatment. They have both learned, even after your treatment is done, you’re never really done with cancer.

Last January, doctors sent Lexie home on hospice. But once again, she rallied.

Ricky quit his dream of playing college basketball to be her caregiver. Off the court, Team Stafford has learned to play by rules that aren’t fair.

“I feel like people learn from their trials and become the people that they need to be,” said Lexie.

Amid the trials, they find joy in small things. They remain positive even with the latest diagnosis. Doctors say Lexie’s persistent lung problems — another side effect of cancer treatment — are the beginning stages of lung failure.

That is another blow they take in stride. As most couples their age face issues of raising children and starting careers, they deal with a different perspective of problems that usually come later in life.

“We get called old souls pretty often,“ Ricky said. “We do understand what it’s like to endure physical difficulties, emotional difficulties. And that stuff usually comes later in life, right?”

They don’t know how much time they have left, but they’ll live life to the fullest.

“When we got married, we knew we were never going to be 80-year-olds on our front porch, holding hands looking into the sunset,” said Ricky. “It might be one year; it might be 10 days. We don’t know what the future holds, but what we do know is that we can’t sit and waste it.”

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Uncertain future but no second thoughts: Utah couple supports each other through multiple cancer diagnoses