Emily Garcia was volunteering on a skiing trip for kids with cancer when she met the man who would become her husband
Emily Garcia was volunteering on a skiing trip for kids with cancer when she met the man who would become her husband.
The trip to Colorado held a special significance for Garcia, 24, who was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at age 11 and spent 9 years in and out of treatment for the aggressive bone cancer. The Houston, Texas, native began volunteering with organizations that support kids with cancer when she was 18.
Adam Turner, a physician’s assistant and Garcia’s future husband, had joined the trip as a medical representative. As Garcia explains, the pair didn’t quite hit it off right away.
“I look really young and when we met he had no idea that I was actually 23,” Garcia tells PEOPLE. “He thought I was a teenager and later he told me, ‘I wasn t interested in you at all because I thought you were a kid.’ ”
Once Turner realized that Garcia was actually a volunteer on the trip, the two really connected. “We went on a date right when we got back and then we just never stopped dating after that,” Garcia says.
In December 2014, Turner asked Garcia to meet her at the office of the organization that put together the ski trip.
“They have a really nice back patio and he had put lights and candles and pictures of us everywhere and he proposed,” she recalls. “I was on another planet somewhere – I was so shocked.”
As plans for the couple’s June wedding came together, Garcia reached out to a person whose support and encouragement had carried her through nine years of chemotherapy – Leon Benavides, program coordinator of the Children’s Art Project at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
A Place to Be Normal
Garcia met Benavides soon after she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 11 in 2002. The young girl found hope in the Children’s Art Project, even as she faced aggressive bouts of chemotherapy and an unexpected amputation.
The news that she would lose her right leg to prevent the cancer from spreading crushed Garcia, who had always been extremely active.
“I wasn t a happy camber when I found out,” Garcia recalls. “I was pretty angry at my situation, but Leon and the nurses were really encouraging and kept me on track.”
Through all the ups and downs, Benavides says his focus was on “trying to make [Emily] feel like a normal teenager.”
Even when Garcia found out that recovery from the surgery would take nearly two months of hospitalization, Benavides was there. “Leon really stepped up and he was like, ‘You’re gonna be here for a month and a half? Well here’s a list, do all this children’s art project stuff,’ ” Garcia says. “And so he would come to my room and he would bring more supplies for me – it was really awesome.”
“Art became an outlet for her,” Benavides explains. “She didn t have to think about treatment, we could just sit there and have fun.”
Garcia bounced back from surgery and with the help of a prosthetic, she was able to enjoy all the activities she thought were lost to her. She was even able to join her high school cheerleading squad.
A Way to Give Back
Garcia continued to have chemotherapy treatments until her freshman year of college. The second she turned 18, she signed up to volunteer with the Children’s Art Project in the hopes that she could do for other young patients what Benavides had done for her.
“I love it so much,” she says. “It’s weird for me to see younger kids that like are going through exactly what I went going through, but it s actually a really great experience. Once they find out I had cancer it becomes a different kind of relationship and I’m able to use what I’ve been through to help them.”
This passion is what brought Garcia to Colorado, connected her with Turner and also helped her find the perfect wedding cake! While volunteering at a summer camp for kids with cancer with Leon, Garcia was struck by the artist’s incredible cake-decorating abilities.
So, as she planned her wedding, Garcia knew there was only one man for the job of making the cake. “I hadn’t made a cake like that in a while, but I came out of retirement for her,” Benavides says with a laugh.
Benavides designed a beautiful four-tiered wedding cake adorned with handcrafted flours. He perfected it until the very last minute, jumping into the car on the way to the wedding with flour on his shirt and “icing everywhere,” he recalls.
The ceremony took place at a train museum in Galveston, Texas. The event itself was “just a blur,” says Garcia, who is loving married life.
After such a romantic proposal, Garcia says she’s looking forward to their first Valentine’s Day married to Turner. “Last year he told we weren’t doing anything for Valentine’s Day and then he planned a big surprise,” she recalls. “He always likes to top what I do, it’s really sweet.”