Their love story started like many others: with constant text messages. Jennifer Batugo was introduced to Brian Gargano in 2011 by a friend, and although they lived hundreds of miles apart, the attraction was undeniable. The pair began texting, and that lasted a few weeks before they finally had their first date. Brian drove from Arizona to Los Angeles after a 12-hour shift, just to meet Jennifer for Pink's hot dogs.
The relationship endured over the following months and kept getting stronger, and on Valentine's Day this year, Brian proposed. The couple started planning a beautiful, big wedding for August. Life had other ideas.
Just a few week after the engagement, Jennifer was diagnosed with an aggressive and typically terminal cancer, angiosarcoma of the breast. Doctors told her there was a good chance she wouldn't make it more than a few months. She would have to prepare for the worst. Jennifer gave Brian "options," wanting to ensure his happiness, but Brian was completely committed to the idea of making Jennifer his wife.
Jenn says she's glad he proposed before her diagnosis, because otherwise she would have been afraid he just felt sorry for her. Knowing that he wanted her to be his wife motivated Jenn as she began treatment for her cancer. Even though they were far apart, they were in this thing together.
Wanting to make the most of the time they had left together, the couple decided to move their wedding to April. Brian became determined to give Jenn a beautiful wedding before she could potentially be taken from him. The groom-to-be contacted an officiant that he found by searching on Yelp.
That officiant turned out to be breast cancer survivor and author Elysia Skye. Elysia was so moved by Jenn's story that she not only immediately agreed to officiate, she also convinced the couple to allow her to start a crowdsourcing campaign to give them a real dream wedding. They made a video to help get the money they needed to make this day really special.
As soon as the campaign began, donations started pouring in. Wedding planner Laura Guerrie read about the couple on Elysia's Facebook page and immediately wanted to get involved. Elysia was grateful for the assistance, and Laura got to work immediately on a wedding she'd have onlyna week and a half to plan. She called her regular clients to let them know she'd be busy for a little while. Instead of being angry, many of them donated to Jenn and Brian's wedding fund. Laura was "shocked" by the amount of support and help she received while she tried to make a wedding happen in just 10 days.
"We needed everything," Laura said. "I didn't know how far the money was going to go. But I started making phone calls, and people were volunteering. Before I could even finish, the vendors were saying, 'Whatever you need, whatever you need.' We had real wedding vendors with no contracts just saying, 'I'll do it, tell me when.'"
Laura met Jenn for the first time when she picked her up to choose a (donated) wig for the wedding. She showed up on this stranger's doorstop, introducing herself a few days before the wedding. "Hi, I'm Laura. I'm your wedding planner!" is exactly how both women remembered the introduction. Laura immediately fell in love with Jenn's powerful, positive spirit.
Later in the week, she was struggling to find a nice car to transport the couple to their hotel after the wedding, and she called one of her vendors, who said that he thought his cars were booked. Later, he called her back to say that he had a 1959 white Rolls-Royce reserved for Jennifer and Brian, and that he'd like the chauffeur them in it himself. Laura said that was the first time she really lost it.
Meanwhile, Elysia's online fundraiser has raised over $18,000. Because of the generosity of the vendors that got involved, that money will end up going almost entirely toward Jenn's chemotherapy treatments as well as helping to fund Brian's move to finally join his new wife in Los Angeles. Jenn also hopes to work more with Elysia in the future to help other people fighting cancer.
Elysia, pictured above with the couple on the day of the wedding, had never met Jenn and Brian before this process began, but Jenn says they now have a "bond for life." Elysia also describes Jenn as being part of her family. Laura also said she was changed by the experience because it gave her "a different perspective on the definition of what's important."
"At first you empathize with a young woman being sick," Elysia said, "and then you think about a husband losing his wife and what that would be like." But it wasn't until the cancer survivor met Jenn's mom and dad at the ceremony that she says she was taken with "overwhelming empathy."
"For a parent to bury a child — that just shouldn't happen," Elysia said.
Laura described the day of the ceremony and how the generosity and positivity echoed throughout the event. "All of the vendors showed up a half an hour early," she said. There was no chasing people down for this wedding: "They showed up early, and they stayed late."
Jenn's happy to report that her husband Brian will be joining her in California permanently on May 1. "I just wanted a nice wedding," she said, sounding like she still couldn't quite believe the kindness of strangers. As she undergoes rounds of chemotherapy, the bride doesn't want to focus on the disease itself, she just wants to remain positive — and to make sure you notice how much Brian is smiling in their wedding photos.
Jenn's story is heartbreaking in many ways, and there are no doubt many struggles ahead for the newly wedded couple. On that day, though, they were given the gift of just being a normal couple. "Obviously there is a bittersweet component to this," Laura admitted, "but it did not feel like that at all. It just felt celebratory of the couple's love and relationship and the family they've become."
Laura thought "Jenn was feeling really hopeless" before Brian got in contact with Elysia and they began planning their wedding. But since this outpouring of support has happened, she's seen a change. "She's bolstered by the well wishes."
"The generosity of strangers has been so inspiring to everyone involved," Elysia gushed. "I received a random email from a man in Istanbul telling me this moved him to tears and thanking us for what we did. We have gotten thousands of responses online from people who haven't met Jenn, rooting for her and sending her love and light."
"That is magic," she concluded.