THE WOODLANDS, Texas – A soon-to-be-bride in The Woodlands was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer and was not expected to live more than six months.
The treatment Haley Houston Odlozil needed to extend her life would make her lose her hair, get sick and swell up, and it was all going to happen in the middle of her wedding and honeymoon.
The wedding, which had taken more than a year to plan, actually came to fruition just 10 days after her diagnosis. When Haley, 22, was diagnosed, her sister and fiancé Taylor Odlozil immediately organized a photo shoot with her photographer, venue, dress and makeup.
“They got everything together so he could see me how I wanted to look before I was swollen from steroids, before my hair fell out,” Haley explained. “I still consider that day our wedding day.”
Taylor was the only one who knew this "first look" could be a last.
“I spoke to the doctor alone and that's when she informed me she [Haley] was probably not going to make it,” Taylor said.
He did not tell Haley the life they planned would be shorter than anticipated.
“We went on our honeymoon, me knowing this was probably our last trip and she didn't know. I just can't describe to you what that, that was a very alone feeling,” Taylor said.
The couple’s honeymoon video has been watched more than a thousand times on YouTube.
After the honeymoon, they threw a Hail Mary and flew to New York for a radical operation that most surgeons would not perform.
“I told him going into the surgery. I said I want quantity over quality, like you do what you have to do,” Haley said she told her surgeon.
Once she woke up from anesthesia, she couldn’t believe what Taylor was telling her.
“It took the doctor about three times telling me, ‘Haley, I got everything.’”
Watching his new bride recover after doctors removed several major organs, Taylor had a calling to train for an Ironman.
“I felt like I was physically fighting my anger,” he said.
“I remember when he told me in the hospital he was going to do an Ironman, I kind of just rolled my eyes and said, 'OK.' But he really is doing it!” Haley said.
To compete in an Ironman, such as the North American Championship in The Woodlands Saturday, participants must qualify by time or fundraising.
He called on two people he knew from high school (Tyler Blanton, Brandon Loughride) and asked for training.
“Psychologically, I wanted to take on that pain and also I wanted to bring on awareness,” Taylor said.
Training, selling t-shirts and spreading awareness is the couple’s way of fighting cancer and so far, they’re winning.
“We just had a great appointment; she is in clinical remission,” Taylor said.
“For the most part, just being alive and to live life with him and experience things, I mean, we didn't think we would make it to our first wedding anniversary,” Haley said, noting they’ve now had one year of holidays and anniversaries together.
Haley said her blood tests show her cancer is under control but it’s still in her body and that means there’s a good chance it can return. She said her biggest frustration is women not being aggressive enough when presenting symptoms to their doctors.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle: weight gain, weight loss, bloating and indigestion.
To be diagnosed at such a young age, Haley also said there are not enough support groups for people her age.