Amanda Valentin loves to cruise, so much, she got married on a ship.
The first time she took a cruise, she was a freshman in high school. The school band took a Carnival cruise. Then the Clayton woman's cruising took a hiatus.
"Just because I didn't have anyone to cruise with, I was still kind of young coming out of high school."
Her love for traveling the open waters would be reborn when she met her now-husband, Frank.
"Him and his family, they grew up cruising together. That was the way their family vacationed, and I just kind of fell into that," she said.
But how she and Frank met is, well, non-traditional.
"We met on a car forum back in 2012, I would say, driving the same type of car...we both drove Hyundais; nothing too fancy, nothing too exciting," she laughed.
But they wouldn't meet in person until much later.
"I had put a post up on Facebook just wanting to go to a Phillies game, cause I had tickets, and I needed someone to come with me, and he's like 'I like baseball.' 'OK I'll meet you at the stadium.' That night was actually Ladies Night. It was June 6, of 2013, and it was hot. When I say hot, it was one of those games you go to you're just miserable, you can't get comfortable the entire game. I would say it was probably close to 90 degrees, and the humidity was just well off the charts that night.
"By the time the game was over, we were so excited to get back to our cars because that's where the A/C was, and we just left and went our separate ways, and to this day, my husband regrets not kissing me."
Once he finally got up the nerve to kiss her, they'd go on several cruises together through the western Caribbean, including Belize, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. They've hit Grand Cayman, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, as well as the eastern Caribbean, including Nassau.
Her favorite part of cruising? So hard to choose!
"What isn't there to like? You have people cleaning up after you; you can go eat whenever the heck you want; if you get the beverage package, you can drink whenever the heck you want, I mean it's definitely a great way to travel with everything all-included--there's not really that many hidden fees. As long as you do your homework beforehand, you don't have to worry about a huge bill that came out of no where."
The couple even got married on a cruise in November of 2017.
"We got married on the Norwegian Pearl, that was on the ship at sea. It was one of those things, we already had the trip planned, and we were already engaged, and he's like: 'Why don't we just get married on the ship?' And I said, 'OK, why not?' So that was easy for us to, just add it on, because we were already going...it took a lot of the stress out of it."
They had a private wedding in a chapel on the ship. And then a big party with everyone on-board.
"Then, obviously, when you start walking around the ship, everybody's saying 'Congratulations, here's some alcohol!'
She never imagined, as a little girl, that her wedding day would be on a cruise ship.
"But I honestly wouldn't change a thing about it," she said with a smile.
Amanda and Frank had a bucket list cruise planned to go to Panama this year when the couple received devastating news.
"At 31--which, I'm still 31, so, very, very new--I found a mass in my left breast, so I went for a mammogram, it came back that it was...breast cancer. After further tests and studies, it showed that it has passed the lymph nodes, and is in my spine, and in several places."
They canceled the trip in case she needed immediate surgery, which ended up not being an option. Luckily, she had trip insurance so they didn't lose any money.
Amanda's mother-in-law has nominated her for Norwegian Cruise Line's Encore Moments, which recognizes and rewards everyday heroes. Winners get a free, three-to-five day cruise for two on Norwegian's "newest and most innovative ship," Norwegian Encore.
"She also nominated me because of what I do in the community when it comes to being a pharmacist, and being there when patients really need someone to talk to. Now, going back to the other side now, I'm going to be that patient, so it's been a huge change."
Someone from every state and Canadian province will win, for a total of 64 winners, and Amanda hopes it her.
"I mean, that would be wonderful. I know my husband and I, we normally go every three months, but we haven't been on a cruise since March because we were working on some other things, and then we had this big one, this 15-day one planned in November, so we're like well, let's just skip one in the summer, let's just go on a really long one in November. That was the plan, and then this happened."
Cancer happened. And for Valentin, and every woman, the diagnosis is life-changing in every way.
"It's not something you can prepare for; it's not something you can prevent. After getting the diagnosis, you go on and do research, and the first thing you look for when you find out you have metastatic cancer is: how long do I have? The studies online show that women have three to five years with this diagnosis, but those statistics are from 2012, when we don't have the advances that we have in research when it comes to breast cancer treatment."
Valentin is on new drugs that she said are showing great long-term effects for women with metastatic breast cancer.
"I'm really excited to say that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to definitely go past that five-year mark. I know there are so many women out there in support groups that are just still living their lives, and not letting it take control of them, and that's really what I would like to do as well with my life. And that's what I plan to do."
"A lot of people think about when you hear somebody has stage four cancer or metastatic cancer, you think about them being at home and on bed rest, and not enjoying life, but here I am, walking around," she said.
She said she knows of women on the first line of treatment that she's on, with the same breast cancer, and they haven't had to change treatment in more than four or five years.
"I'm hoping that I'm one of those folks. There are so many things that can change that; the cancer can mutate at any time; the treatment can stop working at anytime. It's just one of those things, you just can't dwell on it, you just need to continue to live your life and move forward."
She's sharing her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"Approximately right now, less than 10 percent of research dollars goes to metastatic breast cancer--that's what I feel we should really be focused on is finding out why it moves, why it spreads in the first place."
"When patients who are diagnosed with stage one or two--so three is when it goes to the lymph nodes--they have a 20- to 30-percent chance of it coming back as a stage four cancer, so I feel like if it's impacting that many women...there's statistics that show 40,000 women die every year form metastatic breast cancer, but yet, all here in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you see campaigns that say 'Save the Ta-Tas,' or 'Save the Boobies.' And I'm like, I'm here just trying to save my life."
She hopes her story inspires others.
"Even if I get one lady listening to this to go get looked at, that would make me happy and make this whole conversation worthwhile," she said.
Through it all, Frank, who waited in the lobby during this interview, has been there for his wife.
"He's been super supportive. He's been my rock the entire time, and he keeps me grounded, and keeps me pushing forward."
If Amanda's story inspires you, vote for her as an everyday hero in the Norwegian Encore Moments campaign.
"That would feel amazing. My husband and I, we've just been through an emotional roller coaster over the past couple months. Something that we've always looked forward to--like whenever we got home from a cruise, that was our next thing to look forward to, [it] would always get us through bad days at work, just other hardships that come up as being adults and humans...so it'd be great to have something to look forward to again."