Not very many couples meet as early as Little League, and eventually turn a childhood crush into a lifelong commitment.
But that’s what happened with Chelsey and Lucas Brace, of Waverly.
As a fourth-grader in Janesville, Lucas noticed when Chelsey open-enrolled out to Waverly-Shell Rock, and four years later, when he spotted her in the school gym, where she was practicing with the volleyball team, he felt like a friend he had missed had returned into his life.
Eventually, the two started dating in high school and strengthened their relationship through the heartaches and breakups so typical of teen-age years.
Later on, in 2010, when they adopted a peppy pup named Mojo, it was clear to Chelsey that she wanted to build a life together with Lucas.
They ended up adopting two more dogs — Moose and Lily — and one time, when the two were taking photos with all three, Lucas added a special, and frankly, a rather unexpected twist to the moment.
When the photographer, Jamie Tobin, asked Chelsey and Lucas to do an “action shot,” which she intended as a bear hug, Chelsey found herself facing Lucas, on his one knee, holding an engagement ring. He had kept the ring in the house for about six months as he was looking for an opportunity to do just that.
The family photos with the dogs gave him just that forum.
Needless to say, the photographer, who was in on the surprise, got more than just a great action shot — she captured a great moment in the couple’s history.
As it turns out, both were nervous — Lucas about popping the question and Chelsey, somewhat intuitively, telling him, on the way to the photo shoot, that she felt unusually unsettled.
Now, they laugh about it.
On Oct. 20, 2018, the two married at The Centre in Waverly, with Chelsey’s brother, Nick, officiating and family by their side.
Just before they were to go on a honeymoon in February of 2019, their plans took a different turn.
Chelsey had found a lump in her breast before the wedding and in January, felt a painful swelling in her right armpit while playing with the dogs.
Her doctor reassured her she was just fine, and attributed the enlarged lymph node to a cold she had been battling at the time. No mammogram was done, Chelsey said, because she was 27 years old, much younger than the recommended for the test.
When it was time for Chelsey’s annual exam, Lucas, who had just gone through his father’s battle with cancer, insisted on a biopsy, and two days later, the results were in:
Chelsey did have breast cancer, and it had spread in the lymph nodes.
“I was shocked because that thought didn’t really cross my mind,” Chelsey says. “But I guess I knew at this point that I was a fighter and we would get through it.”
It took Chelsey awhile to absorb the news and the fact that she did not have anyone by her side as the news was delivered, aggravated an already tough situation.
But once she told Lucas and then the rest of her family, she was surrounded with love, support and encouragement.
The couple’s employers — Chelsey works at Stokes Welding in Janesville and Lucas at Jerry Roling Motors in Waverly — have also found ways to help and lighten the burden off of their shoulders.
A fundraiser at the Riviera Roose in Janesville on July 20, organized by Lucas’s sister, Natalie, and Chesley’s brother, Nick, is in the works. On Wednesday the couple stopped at Waverly Newspapers to share their story shortly before leaving for treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Chelsey is going through 16 rounds of chemo — she has 11 behind her — and then facing bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, plus six weeks of radiation.
“I’ve never been mad, because it’s not going to change anything,” Chelsey said. “I did ask why and there is no answer, I guess, I am just the lucky one.”
She is taking it one day at a time, but has shown tremendous fortitude and has kept working through it all.
On Instagram, she has found a group of women all over the world, who are in her age group, and dealing with breast cancer.
“We have a mutual understanding of what each other is going through,” she said.
Chelsey’s positive approach inspired a cousin to create T-shirts, which pun on her last name and sum up her attitude:
“Brace yourself, she is a fighter,” next to the breast cancer logo and a pair of boxing gloves on the front.
The back is just as telling: It reads, “Knock Chelsey down 9 times and she will get up 10!”
Lucas said his wife’s courage has been humbling to him.
“I’ve always known she is very strong and bull-headed at times,” Lucas said, “but through this, I found out she is even stronger than I could have imagined.”
Chelsey says that living with breast cancer has changed her perspective on life.
“I used to let small things bother me, but not any more,” she said. “What I have learned through this is that you know your body the best, and if you think something is going on, get it checked out, trust your body, and if you do not get the answers you need, go to somebody else, be persistent.”