Forever & always

October 14, 2018 | 2:56 am

Updated October 15, 2018 | 3:18 am

Josh Owens proposes to Cassidy Skaggs | Photo courtesy of Katie Bowlds

Twenty-two-year-old Cassidy Skaggs and her boyfriend Josh Owens have been dating for over four years. The two began having serious discussions about marriage mid-year last year.

“I thought our engagement was going to happen at the beginning of this year,” Skaggs said, referring to the possibility of celebrating their April dating anniversary with a marriage proposal.

But life, as it often does, had other plans in mind for Skaggs and Owens.

Skaggs moved to Louisville this past January to attend Jefferson Community & Technical College to pursue her goal of becoming a radiology technician. She moved into the same apartment building as Owens, who is now in his junior year at Speed School at the University of Louisville.

Within the first month of being at school, Skaggs began experiencing neck pain. Initially thinking she may have slept wrong, she toughed it out until mid-February. When a knot appeared, accompanied by unbearable pain, Skaggs finally went to urgent care for what would be the beginning of a two-month journey for answers.

After taking several doses of antibiotics and steroids, and making countless trips to urgent care and the emergency room, Skaggs was eventually given a referral to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist the first week in April. Disappointed that Skaggs wasn’t referred sooner, the physician immediately scheduled a biopsy.

Skaggs, who has two cousins that had leukemia when they were younger, had an idea of what the results might be. She has also been a volunteer at Camp Quality for the past five years, a Kentuckiana camp that serves children with cancer and their families by providing year-round programs, companionship and inspiration at no cost.

“I started researching on Google. Who doesn’t do that anymore?” Skaggs said. “I knew deep down what it was. I just needed someone to confirm it.”

On April 11, her fears were confirmed, as she was given a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma Stage IIA. She had her first oncology appointment the next day and her first dose of chemotherapy 11 days later.

Skaggs began what looked to be a six-month regimen of chemotherapy, once every 2 weeks from 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., with a positron emission tomography (PET) scan every six weeks to check on her progress.

Photo courtesy of Cassidy Skaggs

After her first dose of chemotherapy, Skaggs decided to cut 14” off of her hair and donate it to Camp Quality.

“She wanted to take her hair away instead of cancer taking it away,” Owens said. “In her eyes, it was the most beautiful thing she had.”

Skaggs said she knew losing her hair was probably going to be the toughest part.

“Some girls use their clothes to define them,” she said. “My hair was my confidence because it was so long.”

She said her dad was the one who shaved her head at what she describes as “a big shaving a head party.”

“It wasn’t a fun experience, but I was glad everyone was there,” Skaggs said.

Over the next several months, with their families and friends by their sides, Skaggs and Owens would use their faith to fight together and remain “Cassidy Strong.”

On June 19, in what can only be described as a miracle, Skaggs’ first PET scan came back cancer free. Her oncologist took her case to a conference for review, where it was determined that, rather than endure six months of chemo, they would end it early. On July 31, Skaggs’ PET scan was still clear and her counts were back to normal.

The months following have been a whirlwind. Skaggs still volunteered with Camp Quality this year. Yet, this time, due to her lack of hair, people continuously mistook her for the camper, rather than the companion, even going as far as telling her she was standing in the wrong line.

“I think I tried to steer away from hats and wigs just to feel comfortable in my own skin for once,” Skaggs said.

She said, throughout the past six months, the one person who didn’t treat her like she had cancer was Owens.

“When we go shopping…it’s like I’m a walking medical case because everyone just stares,” Skaggs said. “He just ignored that fact and treated me like a normal person.”

During the last month, Skaggs said Owens asked her if she would still want to get engaged while she didn’t have hair. Her response was “yes,” as long as they could wait until her hair grew back to get married.

Skaggs set up a photo shoot with her friend Katie Bowlds for September 22 in an attempt to celebrate the end of her treatment and capture moments of herself with Josh in photographs before her hair grew back.

Why would a young woman who took such pride in her long, dark head of hair schedule a photo shoot while she still didn’t have any hair?

“I would love to forget it, but this is something you can’t forget,” Skaggs said. “It’s something that changed everyone’s life around me, so why not take it in?”

Owens saw this as the perfect opportunity to finally pull off the proposal he had been planning.

“I knew she wanted to get those pictures done before her hair grew back,” Owens said, and that she hoped their proposal would be “captured on camera.”

Photo courtesy of Katie Bowlds

So, on Saturday, Sept. 22, at The Summit, amongst raindrops, Josh Owens dropped to one knee and asked Cassidy Skaggs to spend forever with him.

“I think the misconception is that I did this because we just went through cancer,” Owens said. “I didn’t do it because of the cancer. We planned this; we just had a little hiccup in the road because of the cancer.”

When asked if Owens minded if their engagement photos reflected Skaggs without her hair, his answer was simple.

“Her not having hair never really bothered me, it’s just part of it,” Owens said. “She’s still the same person to me.”

October 14, 2018 | 2:56 am

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