Just weeks until her wedding, Laurin Long sat down in front of the bathroom mirror, wrapped a blue-and-white striped towel around her shoulders and turned to her fiance.
“Go,” she said.
Michael Bank, 34, switched on the hair clipper and slowly started to shave her head.
“I woke up with bald spots this morning — so shaved head it is,” the 29-year-old then-soon-to-be bride told family and friends in February during a nine-minute Facebook Live video.
Laurin had battled breast cancer before and, in fact, had been bald when she met Michael three years ago.
The breast cancer had returned. This time it was Stage 4 and had metastasized to her bones, liver and lungs.
But despite the cancer and chemotherapy, despite doctors’ concerns about her deteriorating health, and despite their recommendations that she move up the March 24 wedding date, the couple pressed on.
“Mike told me that he fell in love with me bald and that it didn’t bother him at all that he was going to marry me bald,” Laurin said in a phone interview earlier this week.
‘Can we keep this party going?’
The couple, from Columbia, S.C., met March 24, 2015, via the online dating site PlentyOfFish.com.
At the time, Laurin, then 26, was battling Stage 2 breast cancer. Between the end of chemotherapy and an impending double mastectomy, she decided to give herself a present — photographs showing her bald and wearing pink boxing gloves.
They became her dating profile pictures.
“If you met me in person, you were going to see a bald girl, so I just wanted to be open and honest and say, ‘Hey, this is me,’ ” she said.
Michael said her smile captured his attention.
After some initial messages, they talked on the phone for hours. The next day, they met for coffee.
“I cut my hair that day so it would be shorter than hers,” Michael recalled, laughing.
Several weeks later, Laurin had her breasts removed, and when she got out of surgery, Michael was waiting for her with ibuprofen and a bouquet of daisies.
“I come home from a double mastectomy, and he’s in my room — can’t wait to give me a hug, can’t wait to kiss me,” Laurin said. “He was a special guy.”
Laurin said Michael asked her, “Will you just date me already?”
“Mike made it very clear when I got back from my surgery that I was his,” she said.
By April that same year, Laurin said, her test results showed no signs of disease. However, she still had a long road ahead.
For months, Laurin said, Michael took her to doctors’ appointments, distracted her from her radiation treatments and supported her during her breast reconstruction surgeries.
But they also went on adventures — the Bahamas, Cancun, the Grand Canyon, Colorado and Texas.
In June 2017, the couple headed up to Niagara Falls.
There, Micheal got down on one knee, pulled out a sapphire ring and popped the question: “Can we keep this party going?”
“I said ‘yes’ and was kissing him like crazy,” Laurin said.
‘Do you still want to marry me?’
It was decided. Michael and Laurin would get married March 24 — exactly three years to the day since the couple first met. They sent out their save-the-dates and started making plans.
Then, in August last year, Laurin learned that her breast cancer was back — and it had spread to her bones and her liver.
“I looked at Mike and said, ‘Do you still want to marry me?’ He said, ‘Yes, I asked you. We’re not changing anything,’ ” she said.
But Laurin’s doctors urged them to change the wedding date.
Laurin said her doctors told her waiting that long was a risk — she may not live to see it, and if she did, she may be too ill to walk down the aisle or dance with her groom.
But the couple declined.
“Mike and I felt like if we changed our wedding date, it would be a rush; we wouldn’t have it on our terms,” Laurin said.
“For Mike, it felt like we would be giving in to cancer,” she said.
“Not moving the wedding date gave Laurin something to look forward to and to keep pushing toward,” Michael said.
By December, the cancer had gone into Laurin’s lungs.
Again, Laurin’s doctors urged her to move up the date.
“It was looking grim, to be honest,” Laurin said. She said there “were days when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to my wedding day” and if she did make it, “I had no idea what I was going to feel like on my wedding day.”
But again, the couple refused to change their plans.
Laurin was accepted into a clinical trial earlier this year, hoping that an experimental treatment would give them more reason to hope.
‘Holy cow, it’s here.’
Last month, when that special Saturday finally arrived, the couple said everything was “perfect.”
“It was an emotional day for me,” Laurin said. “In the morning, I thought, ‘Heck, I made it to the wedding day. Holy cow, it’s here.’
“I’m going to walk down the aisle and marry the man of my dreams and dance the night away.”
Laurin said she was feeling strong.
Family members and friends traveled from all over to attend the wedding at the Tree of Life Congregation in Columbia.
Laurin, who lost her parents to cancer, said her brother walked her down the aisle. A rabbi, who is a close friend, led their interfaith service.
They then became Mr. and Mrs. Bank.
At the reception, just as Laurin had wanted, she and Michael took their place on the dance floor. Laurin rested her head against Michael’s and they danced to Ed Sheeran and Beyonce’s “Perfect Duet”:
Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight
The couple’s wedding photographer, Tiffany Ellis, said the love and support from family and friends was palpable.
“There wasn’t sadness,” she said. “I thought there would be more tears of sadness, but any tears were tears of joy.”
‘I am on cloud freaking 15!’
Earlier this week, Michael and Laurin posted a picture on Facebook, showing the newlyweds celebrating Laurin’s progress.
“Update, Update read all about it!! I am on cloud freaking 15!!” Laurin wrote Monday on her blog.
“Scans results are in……..BOTH of the tumors we have been tracking went DOWN! The rest of the Metastatic spots are too small to measure and they are stable! We were able to start cycle 3 today as well!!
“Basically…..THE CLINICAL TRIAL IS WORKING!!!!!!!!”
Laurin said that though many patients with Stage 4 cancer want to know how long they have to live, “that’s not anything Mike and I want to think about.”
“We just want to be able to go on our next adventure and make every day that we have count,” she said.
So what is their next adventure? The Banks plan to be in Italy in September for Laurin’s 30th birthday.