From their military careers, to battling cancer to falling in love, Melissa Ledezma and Jovan Scott have been through a lot in very little time.
And this weekend, the happy couple will finally get to walk down the sandy aisle together in the beach wedding of their dreams. With the help of friends, family and Destin-area businesses they were able to plan their big day in a matter of weeks.
"It's been crazy," Melissa said of wedding planning. "I have so much going on right now, I thought, 'How am I going to plan this in two weeks.'"
Falling in love
Melissa and Jovan met at work in the fall of 2011, they were in the same squadron at Hurlburt Air Force Base. Immediately, Jovan was smitten, he said. It wasn't long before they fell in love and moved in together.
Last summer, their love story took a turn when Melissa learned she had a rare type of small cell cancer. Jovan was out of town. They hadn't even been together for an entire year before they were hit with the life-changing diagnosis.
Any other partner could have left, Melissa said. But Jovan has stayed by Melissa's side, taking her to every appointment and becoming a father to her two kids from a previous marriage, Landon and Kendra.
Jovan proposed last Valentine's Day during dinner at a Bonefish Grill in Tampa in front of his parents and Melissa's commander. After holding on to the engagement ring for a week, Jovan couldn't wait any longer.
"As soon as we got to the restaurant, I pulled the manager aside and asked him to bring the ring out when I asked for dessert," Jovan recalled. "After dinner I asked the waitress for dessert and she actually brings dessert. I told her 'Ask your manager if there's something more special available.' So then they bring the ring out, wrapped decoratively in a napkin and Melissa said, 'Oh, thank you,' like I just bought her a diamond ring as a gift."
Jovan made it official by getting on one knee and asking Melissa to marry him and they started planning for a 2014 wedding.
A change in plans
After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Melissa and Jovan were hoping the latest doctor's appointment would bring good news — that Melissa would be cancer-free. Unfortunately, they learned the aggressive cancer had spread.
At times like this, Jovan said, he tries to stay focused on Melissa without showing too much emotion.
"I have to be strong for her, I don't want to show a sign of weakness," he said.
Not knowing what the future will hold, they decided to move the wedding up and live in the present.
"It feels right," Melissa said.
"This experience has taught me to always live life," Jovan said. "When we first started talking about our wedding we initially wanted it to be a small, personal ceremony and just make it about us. After I proposed we started planning a big wedding. Now that we've moved the date up, we came back to the original plan."
When Destin-based Island Beach Weddings' coordinator, Nicki Cox, heard Melissa and Jovan's story from a mutual friend she immediately offered to help.
"My heart just went out to her and her family," Cox said. "I am a cancer survivor myself and I have many friends and family who are fighting this disease. When I met Melissa in person, her spirit just shined through. She is a beautiful person inside and out and it is my honor to help her in any way I can and be a part of something so special."
Friends of the couple, Rhenee and Ty Lantta have offered to handle set-up and photography and Angus Steakhouse, in Pensacola, has offered their reception hall. Island Sands Beach Weddings will be proving decor and equipment and videography from Theory Y Design, of Panama City, for the wedding. They've also constructed an arbor for the beach ceremony. The total donation cost amounted to $3,000.
"I wanted to do all I could to make sure they had something to keep them going through this next battle they have in front of them," Cox said.
Jovan relinquished all creative control to Melissa, allowing her to design the wedding of her dreams with her "team of girlfriends," he said. The flowers will be lilies and stargazers. The colors will be coral and teal. Melissa chose teal to represent the ribbon associated with her diagnosed cancer.
The community support has been a surprise and a blessing and with the purchase of their new house in Navarre, they don't have to worry about wedding debt, Jovan said. On the big day, he's anticipating spending time with friends and family.
"I'm looking forward to the reception — just to look at my friends and family and know that everyone's having a good time."
Melissa is currently in chemotherapy. She'll do three rounds before exploring options such as research drugs. The problem with fighting a rare cancer is the prognosis is always unclear, but the couple will not give up hope. They will continue to live in the present, spend time with the kids and keep healthy, Jovan said.
"He's been a blessing," Melissa said of her husband-to-be. "I couldn't imagine going through this without his support."