Utah couple supports each other through four cancer diagnoses

MAGNA, Utah – Ricky and Lexie Stafford are barely adults, but their challenges are the kind couples face in their golden years: preparing pills, managing doctor’s appointments, administering nighttime treatments.

That reality has taught them wisdom beyond their age.

“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 to practice a lot with trials. It is the theme of their relationship.

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

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

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

During their treatment, the teens grew closer, shared stories, compared scars, and eventually went into remission.

“We’ve been best friends ever since,” she said.

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

Then the friendship grew into something more.

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

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

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

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

Ricky’s treatment was brutal. His body rejected chemo and he underwent a painful bone marrow transplant. Lexie helped him recover against all odds. They married healthy again.

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

Last January, doctors sent Lexie to hospice. But again, she gathered.

Ricky gave up on his dream of playing college basketball to become her caregiver. Off the field, Team Stafford has learned to play by rules that aren’t fair.

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

In the midst of tribulations, they find joy in small things. They remain positive even with the last diagnosis. Doctors say Lexie’s persistent lung problems — another side effect of cancer treatment — are the early stages of lung failure.

That’s another blow they take to heart. Since most couples their age have difficulties raising children and starting careers, they have to deal with a different perspective on problems that usually arise later in life.

“We’re often called old souls,” Ricky said. “We understand what it is like to go through 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 will enjoy life to the fullest.

“When we got married, we knew we’d never be 80-year-olds sitting on our porch holding hands watching the sunset,” Ricky said. “It could be a year; it can be 10 days. We don’t know what the future holds, but what we do know is that we can’t waste it.”

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