Taylor and Brenden’s anniversary session, and entire love story, fully embodies the ‘for better or worse‘ in ways most people could never imagine! From meeting in high school (seriously, it was meant to be), to a terrifying and grim cancer diagnosis, to truly experiencing a medical miracle and surviving… their story, captured by Brenden’s sister Mikaela Marie Photography, has my whole heart. You can feel their undeniable love in these photos and I adore their sweet and simple details celebrating a big move to the city. You HAVE to read Taylor’s recollection at the bottom of this post!
From Mikaela Marie Photography… Where to start with these two? Brenden is my brother and Taylor is my sister-in-law and I am just so proud of these two. When they moved to the NYC area for Brenden to attend law school I just knew that I needed to set up a shoot for them! It wasn’t long ago that we didn’t even know if Brenden would survive, let alone move to NYC to attend law school as a happily married, fully healthy 25 year old! Capturing Brenden and Taylors unwavering love for each other was a breeze. These two haven’t always had it easy but they handle life with grace, strength and a wonderful sense of humor. It rained the morning of our shoot and in true Brenden and Taylor fashion, they rolled with the punches with smiles!
From Taylor… Having someone who dreams your wildest dreams with you isn’t something you expect to find at 15, yet somehow here we are, almost a decade later living the dreams that provided a foundation for what we both thoughts was only going to be a ‘first love’. Brenden and I met each other for the first time, three different times.
When we first met as high school students in driver’s education, and that meeting didn’t go to well. I was a bubbly freshman and Brenden was a sophomore who frankly, would have rather been asleep. Long story short, we exchanged not so pleasantries without even introducing ourselves, and went our separate ways.
The next time we met, Brenden was surprising a friend and he jumped around a corner to surprise who he thought was his friend which Just happened to be me. Embarrassed, we ran separate ways, only to find out later that this was the second time we met. The third time we met was just a matter of days later. As a freshman, Our teacher partnered us up for a practice, round and by the end of class I felt so drawn to this dark haired and eyed boy, compared to my very blonde and blue eyes. But more than anything I was drawn in by his passion for debate, he was well read and he had a knack for masterfully articulating complex details.
From there we started talking nearly 24/7 and haven’t stopped, trust me if you know us you would agree. We bonded over our ambitions that felt too big for our little farm town, and our individual dreams of big city living. We entered our relationship responsibly, as all 15 year old’s obviously do. We agreed that when we were no longer having fun together we were done, no questions asked. Then one week became two, and that became a month, and then all the sudden we were racking up years of photos in the couple’s page of our high school year book.
Like any other Friday in late March, Brenden and I went out on our standing Sushi and dessert date. Brenden had a terrible toothache and we called the date short, so he could rest. The next day he was driving 13 hours to Georgia where his parents had just moved while he stayed behind to finish the last month of high school. Brenden’s pain became unbearable over the drive, and after arriving he went straight to an emergency dentist to see what was wrong. From there it kind of snow balled, the dentist sent him to the ER, the ER ran about every test under the sun and he was admitted to pediatrics for observation because while they still didn’t have any official diagnosis yet, they did know that he was that he was very sick.
On March 21, 2011 Brenden was diagnosed with advanced T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or ALL for short. From there he started chemo and began his 4-year battle with cancer. Through the first year, and hardest part of Brenden’s chemo he lived in Georgia. His abrupt move to Georgia meant that he would not physically finish his senior year and that we would begin a long-distance relationship at 17 years old, which is a uniquely challenging situation before you even factor in his diagnosis.
During the beginning stages of treatment Brenden was in a clinical trial. Due to the combination of drugs they were using in the trial, he suffered an incredibly rare set of complications. Brenden was giver less than a 5% chance of survival in early June of 2011. We were told if he did survive, his quality of life would leave hi his severely handicapped. We were also told to prepare for the significant possibility that he would die and if he did indeed survive that he would spend the remainder of his life in a vegetative state and needing around the clock care. A major stroke, a craniotomy, and another brain surgery later I stood huddled over the virtually lifeless body of the boy that I had fallen in love with not so long ago.
As I was told after the fact, I stood unwavering and afraid for 3 days strait watching what we were told to assume were the final hours of life for this beautiful boy of mine who had given me his class ring and a promise ring just a few months earlier. In a miraculous act that rewrote medical books, we watched Brenden slowly get better. Over the course of a year he continued a high regimen of chemotherapy while learning to walk, talk and live again. While the summer of 2011 came crashing down around me far away from all of this at home in Kansas, I clung to the notes we had written each other and the promises we had made to one another. After the fact, Brenden and I would later come to find that summer, more than ever we would both loose ourselves in the dreams we had dreamed together. Our idealistic dreams as high school sweethearts like traveling the world and moving to the big city far, far away where we would live, Brenden as a lawyer and I as a child life specials. Dreams of one day having a beautiful home, 4 kids, 2 dogs and a cat, all which had pre-selected names, because that’s type of wanderlust dreams and ambitions you have at 16 before you give up on your dreams and settle for what comes easily.
On the night before his last chemotherapy appointment Brenden told me to dress up to celebrate his final appointment with a dinner at his favorite steakhouse. What he didn’t tell me, was that before dinner we were going to a rose garden and arboretum, and he just happened to have an engagement ring to replace my promise ring from years ago. After he was given a clean bill of health we packed up and moved to attend Missouri State University and being a new chapter of our lives together. Before we knew it, we were wrapping up our bachelor’s degrees and preparing to begin master’s degrees. We did take a break from our near contestant mounting to do lists and go back home and get married in Kansas.
On our wedding day, the majority of things that could go wrong did. It rained all day and night on June 24, 2016 accept for one golden hour that somehow lined up perfectly with our outdoor ceremony. I had dress issues, nearly half of our venders had major issues and our wedding ice cream cake melted before we could cut it. Yet somehow all of this chaos just fell into the background because we were finally, and blissfully living out the first of many dreams we had once clung so tightly too for hope.
When we got married, had you told me we would celebrate our second anniversary in NYC I would have laughed at you. Brenden applied to Seton Hall Law School along with nearly 20 other schools. Seton Hall has a unique program opportunity called the Legal Education Opportunity fellowship. When applying perspective student write an essay on hardships they have overcome in their life. Brenden of course submitted a summary of the last 7 years of his life and was fortunate enough to receive this scholarship. In June of 2018, the weekend of our second anniversary at that, we loaded all of our earthy belongings into our tiny car and a rental truck and then drove two days east to move into our tiny city loft sight unseen.
I truly believe our meeting not once, not twice but three times before it actually stuck and laid the groundwork for our relationship was an adventure that you only see in romantic comedies. I know that the way our lives and relationship changed in 2011as two scarred kids was an unlikely heart break with a hiding blessing at the end that we are still reaping benefits from. Now we are here, in the busiest city in the world, starting the life and living the dreams we dreamed nearly a decade ago. This leap of faith we are taking together in the fearless pursuit of what sets our soul on fire is our greatest adventure thus far, and little did we know that we were being prepared for this very adventure in what felt like the most hopeless time of our lives.
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Photography: Mikaela Marie Photography | Floral Design: Mikaela Marie Photography | Dress: Morning Lavender | Film Lab: The Find Lab