The first thing Marybeth Rizio noticed about Chuck Ogles wasn’t his easy smile, his good nature or his dark sense of humor. It was his 17 tattoos, multiple facial piercings and spiked hair.
“It was not love at first sight,” says Marybeth, a 51-year-old social worker. “In fact, my first thought was, ‘Who the hell is that guy, and what will my [patients] think of him?’ ”
She never expected that they’d become best friends, let alone fall in love. He didn’t, either.
“She thought I looked like a convicted felon, and I thought she was kind of stuck up,” Chuck, 47, recalls, laughing.
Nor did she anticipate that one day he’d inspire her to get her first tattoo, of his initials in cursive, on her ring finger. Or that he’d receive a toxic round of radiation treatments to fight his terminal illness only two weeks before their wedding day.
They were introduced at work by a mutual friend in early January 2012 at Charles E. Smith Life Communities, an assisted-living center in Rockville. Marybeth noticed Chuck darting in the hallways, between shifts, and pumped the nursing staff for information.
Despite his intimidating outward appearance, colleagues assured her, he was one of the most beloved and hardest-working volunteers on the staff. Impressed, Marybeth asked him to keep her abreast of any issues concerning her patients.
Chuck surprised her by taking her up on her suggestion, and began regularly approaching her with concerns, advice and questions. A friendship quickly formed, and within a few months, they were sharing meals two to three times a week at work.
The outings quickly became one of the highlights of their shifts. Small talk soon progressed from strictly professional matters to personal topics such as goals and ambitions.
“She’s one of the most easygoing people I’ve ever met,” Chuck says. “She’s very low-key and low drama.”
During one such meal, they discussed their ideal day. Chuck listened attentively and decided to re-create Marybeth’s vision a few weeks later on July 1, for their first official date: a romantic picnic beneath the stars, followed by an action movie at the cinema.
Marybeth was impressed but hesitant to jump into a new relationship too quickly. “I told him, ‘I have a lot of passions in my life — my family, friends, church and job — so if you want to be a part of it, you’re going to have to accept that,’ ” she says. Chuck replied, “I don’t consider that to be a negative. I consider that to be a positive.”
In August, they took a weekend trip to Frederick, Md. “I think I’m falling in love with you,” Chuck confided. She admitted, “I already have.” After their first year together, Chuck began dropping not-so-subtle hints about marriage, but Marybeth always changed the subject.
Marriage was messy and complicated. Both having been divorced, they were now in a happy and committed relationship. A piece of paper wouldn’t change that. Why rock the boat?
But everything changed in July 2016, when Chuck began experiencing debilitating weakness and fatigue. For months, he chalked it up to exhaustion associated with his demanding schedule as a suicide hotline counselor and an emergency medical technician, which often involved 12- to 14-hour shifts.
It wasn’t until Oct. 3, when Chuck had trouble swallowing, that he asked a colleague to check his vitals. He was found to be severely anemic and rushed to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville. It wasn’t long before an X-ray revealed a mass in his throat.
Four days and several tests later, their worst fear was confirmed: Chuck had Stage 4 esophageal cancer and was given a one-year prognosis with treatment.
“I was trying really hard to keep it together and be strong for him,” Marybeth says, “but a day after the diagnosis, we both broke down together and cried.”
Over the next few weeks, they learned to accept and adjust to their “new normal,” which included a revolving door of medical professionals and regimen of chemotherapy treatments. Marybeth threw herself into the role of caregiver and advocate, keeping track of Chuck’s appointments and medications as the cancer robbed him of his memory, his energy and his focus.
The more obstacles they faced, the clearer it became to Marybeth that Chuck was not only her best friend, but also her soul mate. He began attending Catholic services with her more regularly and was baptized into the church in April, in a show of his love and devotion.
During long stints in the hospital, Marybeth would crawl into bed with him — each time navigating a new web of tubes and wires — just so they could fall asleep side-by-side.
It wasn’t long before she reopened the discussion of marriage, but this time Chuck resisted, worried that his illness had spurred her change of heart. “I didn’t want to burden or pressure her,” he admits.
But as time progressed and his condition worsened, it became clear that marriage was something they both wanted. On New Year’s Eve 2016, he proposed to her with an amethyst ring over a romantic dinner at Ripple in Cleveland Park.
With little time and resources for a formal wedding, they planned a small and sentimental legal ceremony for May 31 at the fire station in Rockville where Chuck was a live-in volunteer at the time of his diagnosis. Station members, who had become somewhat of a second family to the pair, made up the wedding party.
They both dreamed of a sacramental marriage within their church. So, when a friend of Chuck’s suggested over Facebook that they apply for assistance to Wish Upon a Wedding, a foundation that provides weddings and vow-renewal ceremonies for couples facing serious illness or a severe hardship, they decided to go for it.
Thinking their chances were slim, they were shocked to learn several weeks later that their application had been accepted and that a majority of the wedding costs — including the catering, decorations and programs — would be covered.
“We didn’t think in a million years we’d be so lucky,” Marybeth says.
“It has taken so much pressure off of us,” Chuck adds.
On Aug. 25, about 35 family members and friends gathered at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in the District. As the couple pledged to honor one another “in sickness and in health” and “till death do us part,” the bride choked with emotion. The groom, in an effort to comfort her, rubbed his thumb gently across her palm.
“We are in this together, for better and for worse,” Marybeth said days before the wedding. “We don’t know what the future holds, but until then we are going to try to take life one day at a time and enjoy it.”
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