NASHVILLE – After a tough divorce, single dad Sean Woodard decided to get on the Bumble dating app, the one where women make the first move.
Soon, the construction worker who lived in Smyrna, about 23 miles southeast of Nashville, had a match. Her name was Amanda, and she had posted several silly pics of herself on her profile page.
“I thought she was hot, No. 1,” Woodard said in an interview with The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network, “and I thought she was fun and laid back.”
Turned out Amanda DiMarzio also was a recently divorced parent. One with a wacky, sarcastic sense of humor.
In their first online exchange, she asked him what his death row final meal would be. His answer: Anything with Reese’s.
They went back and forth several times, exchanging playful, smart-alecky messages and talking on the phone before they set up their first date.
Beforehand, DiMarzio asked to have one more phone conversation with the man with piercing blue eyes and sweet pics of himself with his kids.
“So what are your thoughts on cancer?” she asked.
Woodard, stunned, paused for a second: “Are you telling me you have cancer?”
“Yes,” she said.
DiMarzio laid it all out. Eight tumors. Cancer in her lymph nodes and bones. About 40 pills and one to three injections a day to survive. Sometimes, DiMarzio spent the entire day in bed.
Her prognosis: A 10% chance of surviving longer than five years.
OK, he said. Where are we going on this date of ours?
Laser tag and sushi
It started at his favorite restaurant, Koi Sushi & Thai in East Nashville. From there, laser tag downtown, where they ended up facing off against (and losing to) a bunch of middle schoolers, then back to East Nashville for drinks at the Fox Bar & Cocktail Club speakeasy.
They talked about their kids, about growing up, religion. They even shared some high school pictures of themselves. All the while, they gave each other grief, taking playful jabs during their banter. (“I’m better at it,” DiMarzio said with a smirk.)
In short, she said, “We were completely in love with each other after the first 24 hours we met.”
Within days, Woodard had a key to her place, and he moved in a couple of months later when DiMarzio was going through an experimental chemo treatment.
“He honestly moved in because he wanted to be there for me for everything I needed,” she said. “We wanted to show that to each other in every way possible.”
That included Woodard getting tattoos of pineapples – her favorite fruit – on each of his middle fingers.
The two families blended easily. They went swimming and kayaking, carved pumpkins, did an Easter egg hunt, took a spontaneous vacation to a North Carolina beach, and wore out Las Maracas Mexican restaurant on Gallatin Pike in East Nashville.
Yet most days, DiMarzio stayed in bed, vomiting, sweating and sleeping after another treatment or another new procedure.
“With the cancer that I have, my energy levels and my moods change pretty frequently throughout the day,” she said. “It has a massive affect on my serotonin levels, so some days I’m crazy and other days I’m normal and other days I’m really sad.”
‘I kept telling him to run’
Most of the time, Woodard takes care of the four children while DiMarzio gets upset that Woodard is taking care of the kids and she can’t help.
“I kept telling him to run,” says DiMarzio. “He’d just kiss my forehead and say, ‘I love you, I’m not going anywhere.'”
The proposal night was a bit of a profanity-filled mess.
The night Woodard bought the engagement ring, a few friends urged him to propose that night, and they came up with a half-baked idea of calling DiMarzio and telling her she needed to rush home.
That sent her into a panic: “I’m thinking my pregnant friend fell down the stairs or someone’s dead.”
Her best friend rushed her into the kitchen, where Woodard, smirking, held up the ring and asked her to marry him.
Her first answer: “You (expletive)! You son of a (expletive). What the (expletive) is wrong with you?!”
Then she said yes.
But they had a hard time coming up with the money for a wedding. She was so sick that she was only working part time. Still, the couple managed to save some money, but then both of their trucks needed repairs.
Through a Facebook support group for those with cancer, DiMarzio found a not-for-profit organization called Wish Upon a Wedding. That group puts on weddings – for free – for couples where one has a terminal or life-altering disease.
Woodard and DiMarzio, with their four kids right next to them, got hitched Wednesday night in Germantown in front of 50 friends and relatives at very little cost to bride and groom.
“Over last two years, you’ve shown me what a real love looks like,” DiMarzio told her groom during her vows.
“You came into my life when I needed you the most and refused to leave,” she said.
“I will always harass your family and friends the same way I harass you. I will always leave the dishes in the sink for you and I always will watch paranormal videos with you.”
Woodard said he doesn’t see their relationship as much different than any other.
“It has its ups and downs, and we just deal with it,” he said.
“Yeah, we have a lot more bad days, and I hate it for her. But I love her and love having the bad days with her. Just wish I could take the pain away.”
Follow Brad Schmitt on Twitter: @bradschmitt