Over the last few years,  photography has given me an opportunity to meet and work with some wonderful people and document some extraordinary events in peoples lives but back in October of this year I documented one of the most outstanding acts of love that I have ever witnessed with an incredible backstory.

The “C-word’. A word that turns peoples lives upside down, brings people closer together, rips people apart, can test your will to survive as a human and in some instances is unescapable. The second leading cause of death in the US. One of those words that you don’t pay much attention to until it affects you personally in some way because you find out you have it or someone you love has it.  At this point, you’ve probably guessed the “C-word” is Cancer. Cancer is not an easy road to travel. Lots of downs with few upsides. Lots of struggles. Lots of disappointment. Lots of scars-physical and emotional. Cancer is not biased, prejudiced, sexist or racist. It can affect anyone, anytime and until you have first hand experience as a patient or caring for a loved one who is a cancer patient, theres really no way to understand or empathize with it.

No matter the age, sex or religion of a person, when given a diagnosis of cancer, the uncertainties that come along with the diagnosis are terrifying and life changing. Take a moment to imagine your life today, right now, sitting, reading this article and now the phone rings with the doctor on the other line. You have cancer – life changing moment.

Tiffany Milohov; You don’t know her. Six months ago she was a healthy 28 year female who did cross fit, had a full time career, enjoyed cooking a hobby and listened to the same music on the radio you do. Sounds like a pretty average healthy 28 year old, right?!  One week in June she came down with flu like symptoms and was feeling ill but just like everyone else, she knew it would be a couple days and she would be feeling better. Just a really bad cold she thought. Then, one morning she woke up and noticed a small lump on the side of her neck had developed. A few days later the lump had grown. “Swollen lymph nodes from being sick last week ” she was told. But Tiffany didn’t take a chance. She went to the doctor and got checked out. A number of tests were ordered and performed and few days later she was sitting in her doctors office. She listened as the doctors said she would lose her hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, lose weight, and have constant bouts of nausea. All of these as a result of the chemo therapy she would need to treat her Lymphoma cancer diagnosis. Right then, the life of this 28 year old changed forever.

Tiffany has since then been undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer.

But that’s not the main story of the blog post which leads me to Aaron. Tiffany’s boyfriend. He wasn’t her husband, fiancé or even a family member at the time she was diagnosed. He could have easily decided that he wasn’t ready for this battle. There was no “in sickness and in health” type stuff yet. But Aaron did just that. He stood by her and cared for her during this tough time when he didn’t have to. And thats what makes the rest of this story a great act of love.

I had never met these two until October of this year well into there battle with cancer.  One afternoon in September, my phone beeped to alert me of a new email. I saw an email from someone named Aaron. I opened it and this is what I read….

 “Hello Gary,

  I am super excited to be sending this message!!! My  girlfriend and I were introduced to your work through a friend of hers and we both literally fell in love with your work and we have been following you via Facebook . I am writing you today because I have a very interesting situation & I want to see if I can have your help with navigating it. Tiffany and I have been together for almost 2 years & I recently had her engagement ring made. The thing is, Tiffany was very surprisingly diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer  earlier this year at just 28 years old. It completely changed our lives. She has gone through so much recently and now Im so excited to get her through this most difficult time with a lifelong commitment. I want to propose in the month of October. The complicated part is that her health is pretty unpredictable. She just finished her third round of chemo and she’s currently in bed with a host of symptoms so I want to plan the proposal on a week where her symptoms are not as bad.

     I am not sure if you do proposals very often but I know this will be a huge moment for Tiffany and myself. I am envisioning a picnic on the beach prior to dusk. A street performer (world class saxophone player named Justin Ward that we met in San Francisco) is gonna come down & surprise her. I wanted this event documented & I think photographs are best and I couldn’t imagine having anyone else document this for us. 

    I would like to hear from you about your thoughts on this situation. Im hoping to have you and Justin there in covert fashion. My plan is to have Justin come out as the sun starts to set and walk up to us and start playing our song on sax as I get down to a knee and then have you taking pictures to document the whole thing. Then it would be great if you could appear & overtly photograph us. =)

    My girlfriend Tiffany is so nosy & I can’t get away with a phone conversation without her hearing, cancer or not lol  so that’s why I’m reaching you here so that she doesn’t get suspicious of anything.  If you are able and willing to do this, I would love to discuss details with you and narrow in on the plan. I am targeting Manhattan Beach for now because that’s my hometown & the pier there affords some areas for hiding & for good angles to shoot from. I am open to more ideas as well. 

I definitely appreciate your time & consideration with this.

Thank you so very much for your thoughtfulness during this very challenging time.

Talk soon,

Aaron Grasse”

I was speechless when I got this email. There was no way I wasn’t going to be there to document this special day so after a number of email exchanges I finally had the chance to meet Aaron. One saturday morning, he told Tiffany that he was going to put new tires on her car, but in actuality, he met me in Manhattan Beach. We walked along the pier and talked for a while as I learned more about this story. We then walked the beach, set up our plan before he had to hurry back. She had already been texting him and began inquiring about what was taking so long.

Then a few weeks later, we synchronized our watches, exchanged a few short text messages and waited for the moment to happen.

Aaron and Tiffany, this is such a romantic and magnificent story and it was truly my pleasure to be there to document this for you. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this.

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