(NEW YORK) — When Riley Nicolay’s girlfriend of nearly three years, Deidre Sechi, was diagnosed with cancer in January, he vowed that he would fight the disease along with her.
So last weekend, as Sechi’s hair began to fall out after her first rounds of chemotherapy, the couple, both 18 and high school sweethearts from Overland Park, Kan., decided to shave their heads together.
“She’s shaving her head and I don’t really care about my hair so I’m shaving it with her,” Nicolay, a freshman at Iowa State University, told ABC News. “It wasn’t an option for me.”
The couple decided to have fun with what could have been a sobering process, giving themselves a Mohawk, for him, and a mullet and a buzz cut, for her, throughout the weekend-long event.
“The mullet was a bit much but with the buzz cut, she looked really good,” Nicolay said of Sechi, who had to quit her studies at Iowa State last semester after doctors diagnosed the baseball-size tumor in her stomach as a desmoplastic small round cell tumor, a rare form of sarcoma.
The couple documented all their various stages of baldness together, but it is a photograph of the final result, both their heads shaved, that is garnering all the attention.
Nicolay posted a photo of him and Sechi staring into each other’s eyes along with the caption, “Beautiful girlfriend is fighting cancer…” on Reddit, where it has already attracted hundreds of comments.
“Right after she got diagnosed, she was joking about how she was going to become famous because of it, that she’d be on Ellen and have a blog,” Nicolay said. “When I saw that picture I thought I’d put it on Reddit and tell her, ‘I put it on the Internet and you’re famous,’ so that her joke would be a reality.”
“But it got a lot more attention than I thought, so it was a lot more reality than I expected,” he said.
Nicolay was in class at Iowa State when he began receiving text messages from friends that his photo was on the popular website’s front page. He then had to call Sechi, who had been at the doctor’s office all morning and had not even seen the photo on the site herself.
“I called her and said, ‘Apparently you’re famous,’” Nicolay said.
Sechi will continue her chemotherapy treatment at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Overland Park until February when doctors will do a PET scan to see if the tumor is shrinking. If it is not, she will travel to Texas for surgery.
“This made it fun so it’s not as scary or sad,” Nicolay said of going through the treatment together. “She’s such a happy person that she’s been doing well.”
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