Mt. Pleasant Twp. teen races to marry sweetheart after rare cancer returns
The way Brady Hunker figures it, he doesn’t have any time to lose.
On Thursday, he asked his high school sweetheart, Mollie Landman, 18, of West Newton to marry him. She said — yes.
Although they’re as happy as any newly engaged couple could be, they face an uncertain future.
“I just felt, what’s the point in waiting? We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know we want to share it together,” he said.
Brady, 17, of Mt. Pleasant Township is in the third year of his battle with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer that attacks the bones and the surrounding soft tissues.
He had a tumor removed from his right leg soon after the diagnosis in July 2016 and saw the cancer go into remission. It was soon after a relapse in March 2018 that he began to think about a marriage proposal, said his mother, Jen Hunker.
“I know they started talking about it because he was afraid of having regrets over things that he couldn’t accomplish because of the cancer,” she said.
The young couple went to the Jumonville Christian Camp & Retreat Center near Hopwood, a special place for both of them. Brady proposed on one knee in front of the camp’s landmark white cross.
“He planned to do it on Good Friday, but the weather outlook wasn’t so good, so he changed it to Thursday,” his mother said.
Brady took Mollie to the camp after school — he’s a senior at Mt. Pleasant Area Senior High School — under the pretense of looking at Easter decorations. When they got to the large cross, a photographer friend was waiting — and Mollie got suspicious.
“I was surprised at the timing of it, but I wasn’t surprised at the proposal itself because we want to appreciate all the time we have together,” said Mollie, a senior at Yough Senior High School.
The couple announced the engagement on social media on Easter and started a GoFundMe campaign Monday. To date, the campaign has raised more than half of the $15,000 goal, which will go toward expenses for the July wedding.
“In a world full of possibilities and opportunity, if I lost my fight, I would only regret not marrying Mollie,” Brady said on the GoFundMe page. “We don’t know when that day will come, or if it ever will, but what we do know is that we don’t have a reason to wait.”
The couple met as seventh-graders at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior High School, soon after Mollie’s family moved to the area so that her father, the Rev. Randy Landman, a United Methodist minister, could assume a new pastorate. He is pastor at First United Methodist Church of West Newton.
Mollie remembers their first dance — the seventh-grade Christmas dance at school — and someone suggesting, “You should dance with Brady.”
Even early in their relationship, Brady couldn’t stop talking about her.
“It was, ‘Mollie this, Mollie that,’” he said. “I just knew she was somebody special that I wanted to keep.”
Brady and Mollie were boyfriend and girlfriend by the time of the cancer diagnosis in 2016. Mollie has been by his side, helping him through the many difficult days of chemotherapy, ever since.
“It’s definitely hard because there are times when Brady’s really sick,” she said. “At my age, people aren’t doing that. People don’t understand (what it’s like). … There are a lot of hard days.”
Mollie said she relies on her Christian faith and the support of people who have had similar experiences with a sick spouse.
“She never misses a hospital visit or a chemo treatment,” Jen Hunker said. “He can be having some very rough days with this battle with cancer, and she’ll come in the room, and his whole face lights up.”
Since the cancer returned, Brady has developed numerous cancer spots on his spinal column, right arm, shoulder blades, upper legs, right calf, both lungs, pelvis, ribs and possibly other areas not visible on the scans, according to the GoFundMe page.
Most recently, Brady suffered severe pain in his lower body, caused by a lesion on his lumbar spine, said Jen Hunker, who is a nurse at his high school. His most recent overnight stay at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh was for pain control.
“I have been continuing treatment for 13 months now, but none of these chemotherapies have worked as well as my treatments did in 2016,” he said.
Brady has been under the care of Dr. Lisa Maurer, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s.
While the couple’s youth and Brady’s uncertain prognosis may seem like strikes against them, they feel they are ready for marriage.
“We’ve been through a lot together. We share a bond that you normally wouldn’t have,” Mollie said. “We don’t fight over silly things. We cherish every moment we have.
“We want our love story to change other people’s lives the way it’s changed ours.”
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .