“I’ll wait for you—and if I should fall behind, wait for me.” —Bruce Springsteen

Lexi Gould Stafford is 18 years old. Her newlywed husband, Ricky, will soon turn 20. It will be years before either of them is old enough to rent a car.

But the young Staffords could aptly be called old souls. Together, they’ve both endured far more trials, fears, and setbacks than anyone their age expects or deserves.

Their love story—tethered to their shared faith in Christ’s healing hands—seems pulled from the pages of a young-adult novel:

A pretty teenage girl with big dreams is shocked to learn she has cancer. At the clinic she meets a handsome young man named Ricky, a cancer survivor. Ricky knows Lexi’s fears and frustrations. They talk and talk and talk. He makes her laugh. Ricky’s victory over the disease comforts Lexi. The two fall for each other—but they’re high school kids, so they simply call each other “best friends.” Ricky leaves for his mission. His cancer returns. This time, Lexi is there for Ricky. Their love grows, and Ricky asks Lexi to be his wife. She says yes, just as she always knew she would.

But the Staffords’ story is no Hollywood contrivance. It’s the true and painful and joyful story of two young people holding tight to their faith and friendship to absorb life’s unexpected jolts and jostles.

Lexi had planned to marry a man she loved in the temple long before she ever heard the ugly word “nueroblastoma” or learned the “clinic-speak” common to all cancer patients.

She was two weeks into her sophomore year at Utah’s Cyprus High School when she felt a sharp pain stretch across her abdomen and back. “I thought I had appendicitis,” she said.

A visit to the emergency room revealed grimmer news. Lexi had nueroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells.

Her life changed in an instant. While her classmates were cheering at football games and picking out prom dresses, Lexi’s days and nights were spent with cancer specialists and oncology nurses. She drew strength from her parents, Kris and Emily Gould, along with the rest of her family and her Latter-day Saint faith.

Then a few months into her treatment she met Ricky, who was at the clinic for a checkup following his cancer remission.

“He had hair,” she said, laughing, “which was super weird for people in that unit.”

Ricky was a leukemia survivor. The talented young basketball player from Orem, Utah, had discovered his own illness when he was 15 and being treated for a sports injury.

“When I met Lexi I immediately thought, ‘What a beautiful girl,’” remembered Ricky.

By the end of their first chat they were trusted friends. They understood each other’s unique teenage-cancer-patient challenges: losing hair, chemo treatments, missing out on benchmark high school moments, facing uncertain futures.

“I was drawn to her—she had a spirit that was so attractive. I just wanted to be around her all the time,” he said.

Ricky and Lexi may have just met, but they related to each other in ways others could not. “Cancer is a weird thing—you have to go through it to really be able to understand it,” said Lexi. “We instantly became best friends right after we met.”

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