Melanie and Paul Peitzmeier are one of those couples.
Their love for each other radiates when they enter a room, and it’s evident, upon first glance, that they’re soul mates.
Upon meeting as teenagers, Melanie and Paul knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Little did they know that their “forever” would be threatened by death.
Melanie met Paul while playing an online video game at age 17.
She was from New Jersey.
He was from Missouri.
They chatted electronically and on the phone until 2011, when they met face-to-face at a tournament in Atlantic City.
And it was love at first sight.
“I felt like I was always gonna be with him,” Melanie says.
A couple years later, while she was attending Penn State University, her parents decided to move to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“So I thought, ‘What the hell?’ ” Melanie recalls. “I had no ties to New Jersey anymore, I was 23 and not tied down, so I decided to move down south to be with Paul.”
Shortly thereafter, she relocated to Joplin, Missouri, to be with her boyfriend. It was a huge move – and life wasn’t so easy at first.
“The first years were a lot of adjusting to him, to a new culture,” Melanie says. “We never had a physical relationship, so it was a big adjustment. I’m just now kind of getting used to the people here … it has taken some time to get over the culture shock.”
Once things settled down, life was great for the young couple – until tragedy struck.
In 2015, Melanie went to the doctor for a tooth infection, for which she was prescribed painkillers and antibiotics.
But they weren’t working.
“I got a fever,” she says, “and I was out of breath, so I went to my regular doctor. He noticed a spot on my chest that had turned into a bruise, and he ordered me to get labs done.”
On April 1, 2015, Melanie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the blood and bone marrow.
“It was moving really fast,” she says. “My white blood cells went from 30,000 to 70,000 to 90,000 by the time I was admitted to the hospital.”
Melanie immediately started treatment at Saint Louis University Hospital, where she and Paul remained for more than a month.
That put her in remission, but she was far from out of the woods.
“I had two options,” Melanie says. “More chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant. Based on my age, there was an 80 percent cure rate with the bone marrow transplant.”
So two weeks later, on May 22, 2015, that’s what she did.
Melanie was scared – but never felt like her life was being threatened.
“I never really felt like I was gonna die or that this wasn’t curable,” she explains. “I don’t know … I just had to roll with everything that came, good or bad. There was no option.”
The bone marrow transplant went well, and for the next couple months, Melanie’s health continued to improve.
“Then I noticed a growth where my (chemotherapy) port was taken out,” she says. “They all thought it was just a fluid pocket, and they sent me to get it drained twice. But nothing was coming out.”
When doctors finally took a biopsy, it came back with leukemia cells.
Melanie started 13 days of radiation before getting a bone marrow biopsy, which confirmed her cancer relapse.
“So I started chemo again,” she says. “It went well, and I was back in remission, but sure enough, I got another bump, in my breast. The dermatologist who removed it found more leukemia cells. I went back to the hospital, and that’s when they told me the chemo had failed, that the AML was moving aggressively again.”
Melanie’s only option was to try Mylotarg, a drug that could be very dangerous, but used as a last resort in treating AML.
“And that pretty much put me in remission,” she says. “I was feeling hopeful, my boyfriend was feeling hopeful … I finally got to go home.”
But it was a short-lived sense of relief.
On Feb. 15, cancer was found in Melanie’s blood – and there was nothing else doctors could do.
“They told me to go home, to do what was important,” she says, fighting back tears. “But still, I just never felt like I was gonna die. I am hearing this man tell me I have a few weeks to live, if that. I don’t even feel sick or look sick. It just blows my mind. It’s so hard to think about dying. This process is hard.”
Shell-shocked, Melanie had no choice but to get her priorities in order.
The day after leaving the hospital, she bought a wedding dress and picked a date to marry the love of her life.
On Feb. 26, Melanie and Paul got married, surrounded by family and friends.
“I looked like a princess, and I felt like a princess,” she says. “It was amazing.”
It’s been two weeks since the wedding, and now, all they can do is spend as much time together as possible.
On March 8, Melanie took her first dose of a clinical trial medication that’s only been tested on animals.
She’s not expecting to be cured, but hopes to get a little more time with her husband.
“He’s been amazing through everything,” Melanie says of Paul. “He would never cry in front of me, he’s such a trooper. The last time, when we got told I only had a couple weeks, he had some tears … I just sing his praises a million times.”
Melanie doesn’t know how much longer she has, but she’s making sure to cherish every moment.
“Make sure you get everything done that’s important to you,” she says. “It’s not like we’re gonna have a second chance. Dump your crappy boyfriend … travel. Life’s too short.”