A Terminal Diagnosis Made Taylor and Chris Determined to Make the Most of Every Moment
by Franki Cookney
As Chris browsed Bumble profiles back in the summer of 2017, one picture in particular caught his eye. Taylor was sitting in a go-kart, dressed like a Nintendo character, and grinning from ear to ear. As Chris peered closer, he realized he had a near-identical picture of himself, taken while doing a Mario Kart-themed tour of Tokyo.
“It was such a funny and strange coincidence that we had both been to Japan and both done that exact same trip,” says Chris. “I figured if this girl can be goofy like me, then we’ve got to be a pretty good match.”
Chris, 32, had been single for a year when they matched in July 2017. Taylor, 29, had just moved to L.A. from San Francisco and Chris, who’d lived in the city for six years, figured this was a good opportunity to show off his local knowledge. “There’s something about Taylor that made me want to go all out,” he says. “I’ve had other dates where we’ve just met for coffee. But everything I found out about Taylor made me want to impress her.”
He took her to a rooftop bar to wow her with cocktails and panoramic views, but the setting soon paled in comparison to their chemistry. “The conversation was unlike any I’ve ever had before,” says Taylor, who works for a wine importer. “I’d been single for three years so I’d been on a lot of first dates, but I knew right away he was really, really special.”
Soon the dates were coming fast and furious as the pair bonded over a shared sense of humor and a love of travel. By the following March they’d met each other’s families and said ‘I love you.’ But less than a month later, Chris started to experience strange symptoms. An EMT first responder, he worked out regularly and he noticed his right leg felt weaker and his foot was dragging on the floor when he walked. He’d recently injured himself lifting weights so he figured it must be that. But when he noticed his right thigh was thinner than his left, he knew he needed to see a doctor.
Over the next six months Chris was sent for MRI scans, ECGs, and spinal taps. The possibility that it might be ALS, a progressive nervous system disease that causes loss of muscle control, was raised — but doctors said they would need to monitor him for several more months to be sure. The prognosis for ALS includes a typical life expectancy of three to five years. Overnight, the future Chris had imagined for himself and Taylor had been wiped off the map. “You realize everything you thought life could be isn’t going to happen,” he says.
He hadn’t shared his fears with Taylor but it wasn’t long before she realized he was hiding something and confronted him. Chris knew he had to break it to her.
“I will never forget that moment,” says Taylor. “I broke down and cried in his arms. I kept saying, ‘I want to grow old with you and sit in rocking chairs and we can’t have that now.’ We talked all weekend and he made me see what a good thing we still had. But he also said he wouldn’t hold it against me if I wanted to leave. I immediately snapped back at him, ‘Nope!’”
In September 2018, the couple went to the neurologist’s office where they were given Chris’s formal diagnosis. “The doctor was checking Chris’s reflexes, tapping him all over,” recalls Taylor. “And he just kept saying ‘Oh boy, oh boy.’ When he gave us the news, I cried so hard. Chris says it felt like an out-of-body experience but I was fully in my body, feeling every moment.”
For a few weeks they lurched between incredulity and grief before Chris told Taylor they needed to carry on with their lives. “My feeling was, I’m still here and I’ve got a lot of living left to do,” he says. “And I wanted to keep having an amazing time with Taylor.”
Chris’s deteriorating condition meant he had to stop work, so the couple took a different approach. “I said ‘Okay, what’s on your bucket list?’” says Taylor. “Turns out Chris’s dream was to sit courtside at an L.A. Lakers basketball game! I was like ‘Well, we don’t have $10,000, baby, so what’s next on the list?’” The ironic sense of humor that drew them together in the first place was pulling them out of their stupor, and for the first time in months, they started to make plans.
They spent most of 2019 traveling, hiking in Zion, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, and taking overseas trips to the Philippines, Costa Rica, and Mexico. When it became clear that Chris would need a wheelchair, they bought a house together and began renovating it to make it accessible. On their second anniversary, Chris took Taylor back to the rooftop bar where they met and proposed to her.
The couple decided not to get legally married, so that Chris could keep his medical insurance, but they plan to have a party with friends and family in 2021. “Getting engaged was about letting her know she means the world to me,” says Chris. “I don’t need a piece of paper to validate our love and commitment. She’s my wife and I’m lucky to be her husband.”
As Chris’s mobility and speech has deteriorated, Taylor has become his primary caregiver, and he needs her 24/7. “I brush his teeth, I shower him, I feed him, I wipe his butt,” he says. “It’s not easy but he is my light and he helps me process it all.”
They still manage to goof around, and they try to find moments of romance amid the challenges. “Taylor likes to poke fun at me and we’re really good at finding the dark humor,” says Chris. “We’ve got creative about how we spend our time. One day we drove up the highway to Malibu and just rolled the windows down and listened to the ocean crash against the rocks. I’m so happy I’m still here to enjoy this.”
Despite it all, the couple are grateful to have found one another. Their time together might be shorter than they’d hoped, but they’re determined to make every moment count.