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A Serendipitous Love Story

It was 25 years ago when Scott met Steffanie.

Scott was in the U.S. Navy and just returned to Virginia Beach after being stationed in Japan for two years. Enjoying being home with family and friends, he decided to pay a visit to his cousin. But, fate had other plans for him that day. When he knocked on the door, he was greeted by a beautiful girl who relayed he was at the wrong house. And, as the story goes, Steffanie opened the door to his heart.

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Steffanie and Scott credit love with helping them persevere through their brain tumor journey.

Their serendipitous meeting has all the makings of a good love story, don’t you agree? But, with every good love story comes the trials and tribulations of life.

As with many couples, in their 25 years together they’ve experienced great joy. They’re the proud parents of two boys, ages 16 and 18. Steffanie earned her college degree with honors. And, they made a life-long dream of traveling to Ireland come true.

If you could meet them in person, you would quickly glean that these two best friends make each other stronger, but are quite different in nature. Scott is the planner and organizer, perhaps an outcome from his military service. And then there’s Steffanie, who is excited by the unexpected.

You’ll soon discover their differences are their superpowers.

In 2008, Steffanie was busy with life—taking care of their two young boys and studying to get her degree. During this time, she struggled with severe headaches, but she just kept going juggling family and school. “I was determined to get my degree,” she remarked. And indeed, she made it happen. Steffanie graduated summa cum laude—the highest distinction—reflecting a 4.0 grade point average.

But just six months later in December of 2008, Steffanie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Before they knew the type of tumor, Steffanie took it upon herself to find a brain tumor specialist and flew from Illinois to California to meet with renowned specialist, Dr. Mitch Berger at the University of California, San Francisco. In June 2009, she underwent brain surgery and was officially diagnosed with a grade II oligodendroglioma.

The surgery was successful—no tumor was found in a follow-up scan—but, there were side effects that affected Steffanie. They included an impact to the high-level processes of the brain like planning, organizing, problem solving, decision making and reasoning. And with all of this, Steffanie remarks, “this does not limit my life!” That’s when Scott’s strengths of planning and organizing became a superpower, as his strengths complemented her weakness.

The next few years consisted of a multitude of follow-up scans, always triggering anxiety with the unknown. And for seven years, Steffanie received a clean bill of health. But in 2016, a scan revealed a small growth. After close monitoring, it was determined that the tumor had returned. In February of 2017, Steffanie underwent her second brain surgery.

Things have been really hard since my diagnosis, but we’re stubborn and we’re not giving up.

Though the surgery was successful, the impact on her family had taken its toll. “The boys just fell apart,” she recalled. “It was a scary situation for them.” As for Scott, he too had a hard time processing the fact that the love of his life was facing uncertainty and the promise of their “tomorrows” was unknown. As you might expect, Steffanie tapped her superpowers and taught Scott how to roll with their new reality and jump back into life.

Together, they learned to accept the unknown and live for today. “A brain tumor diagnosis can take its toll on a family, that’s for sure,” Scott remarked. “Connecting with others in a similar situation through a support group helped me to learn how to better support my wife and how to process the day-to-day emotions.”

“Things have been really hard since my diagnosis, but we are stubborn and we’re not giving up,” Steffanie remarked.

Having just celebrated their wedding anniversary in October, Scott said, “twenty-five years ago I went to the wrong house, and the girl of my dreams answered the door.” And from that magical and unexpected moment, their love story continues.

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