Couple looks to wedding after cancer diagnosis

By Jackie Nevarez

As a 26-year-old, psychology graduate student Ray Geosling knew that waking up at 6 a.m. feeling out of breath and with pain in his abdomen and shoulder was not normal.

Geosling is not the type to go to the doctor, but he called his father, a chiropractor, to see what his advice was. His father told him to go to the emergency room immediately, after he said they had a history of heart disease in the family.

Bobbi Jean Shepp, 31, education in curriculum and instruction graduate student and Geosling’s fiancee, was in Elmhurst when she received the news. Shepp cleared up the rest of her day and made it to the emergency room where Geosling received tests on his chest and blood, which found he had no heart problems. The doctor said everything looked OK at first, and Geosling said he was looking forward to going home that day.

However, Shepp said her “whole world stopped” when the doctor reported Geosling’s high white blood cell count was indicative of cancer.

“I just can’t even explain that moment in the hospital, hearing that my fiance who is 26, whose 27th birthday is on Sunday, he has cancer,” Shepp said. “Ray and I just broke down.”

The average person should have a white blood cell count of about 4,000 to 10,000, while Ray’s count came in at about 288,000 — the highest the doctor had ever seen, Geosling said. After hours of figuring out what Geosling’s best option was for treatment, he was admitted to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, in Park Ridge, at about midnight Feb. 17.

Geosling was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a disease in which too many white blood cells are made by the bone marrow, according to the National Cancer Institute. Geosling said he is still learning more about treatment options, but he knows his cancer will be treatable and manageable with a lifetime of medication.

This was not the first time cancer had impacted someone close to Shepp. When she was 5 years old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and died after a 5-year battle with the disease. About 20 years later, her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer and died in December 2014, about three years after his diagnosis.

After all, it was her father’s battle with cancer that brought her and Geosling together. After seven and a half years of teaching in Wisconsin, Shepp moved to Illinois to be with her ailing father. When she got to DeKalb, she chose to join the The Church in DeKalb, 425 Fisk Ave., where Geosling was a member and Bible study leader. It was then that Geosling and other members of the church helped Shepp move into her apartment, but he didn’t speak to her until Shepp began to host the Bible study group at her apartment.

After learning about her father’s diagnosis, Geosling volunteered to assist Shepp with her schoolwork as she spent more time with her father. Geosling helped plan and organize her assignments as they began to meet in coffee shops and libraries.

Shepp said she didn’t want anything more than a friendship at the time, but just months later they began dating in February 2015 and were engaged in September.

“I just really valued his friendship and I never wanted that to change … I know that I like this man so much, but I just kept fighting it,” Shepp said.

The couple both attribute their strength through Geosling’s diagnosis to their faith, friends and family. Geosling said he was not sure how he felt about asking people for money, but his pastor encouraged him to accept any help.

Shepp’s friend, Tara Lynn Bayles, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $10,000 to assist the couple with hospital and insurance bills, as well as a wedding less than 100 days away on May 21. The couple estimates the first hospital bill will come to about $13,000. The GoFundMe campaign has raised $21,200 in nine days, and has been shared 894 times as of Sunday.

The GoFundMe has more than 200 donations, which vary from the couple’s colleagues in to the families of Shepps’s former students, Shepp said.

“It’s great to get so many messages. Like, we spent a lot of time in the hospital just replying to messages just showing people care,” Geosling said.