Courtney Villafane knows all about curveballs.
Through middle and high school, the Wallkill resident and Hudson Valley realtor was a cheerleader and softball player who spent many an hour on bus rides to and from local games. It was during these rides that she struck up a friendship, and later a relationship, with Joshua Villafane, her now-husband. Josh was an all-star athlete in both baseball and football – he was named MVP for football in his senior year – and he and Courtney hit it off from the start.
Three years into their relationship, Courtney found out she had ovarian cancer. It was one month before her graduation from high school, and she was only 18 years old. Fast-forward to two days after receiving her diploma, and she found herself at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a nerve-wracking surgery to remove multiple tumors. The process was debilitating, and she left the hospital with a chemotherapy plan and a fear that she’d never be able to have children.
“Josh was there by my side through every second of it while our friends were having graduation parties and heading off to college,” she recalls. “He said, ‘we will figure it out when the time comes. If we must adopt, we adopt. If we must have a surrogate, we will find a way to get one.’”
Courtney made it through chemotherapy, then worked alongside Josh to create a new normal sort of life. She was nearly cancer-free for five years when she received the news that changed her life. At the time, she was ready to meet with a fertility specialist to figure out how she and Josh could have children of their own. Although she was only 22, her chemotherapy treatments left her on the same physical playing field as that of a 35-year-old woman. Her fertility specialist told her that chances of getting pregnant naturally and carrying a baby full-term were highly unlikely due to the treatments and, with procedures like freezing and retrieving eggs and/or surrogacy in her future, very costly.
“Just a few days after I met with the fertility specialist, I felt a little funny, so I decided to take a pregnancy test,” she recalls. “It was positive.”
Shocked as she was, she quickly consulted her oncologist and got a sonogram to confirm that, yes, she really was naturally pregnant, sans a single fertility treatment.
“I had the absolute healthiest, easiest, full-term pregnancy and gave birth…[and] just one month and one day later I hit my five-year-in-remission milestone which meant I could officially say I was cancer-free.”
Before that, though, she and Josh knew it was time for them to take the next step in their relationship…ideally before she had their baby. Of course, he made it happen.
The day of the proposal was a beautiful one. Courtney had scheduled a maternity photo shoot at Wright’s Farm in Gardiner, with views of the Shawangunks in the background. In the middle of the day, Josh surprised her by pulling out a softball, which he then opened to reveal a ring.
“All our close friends and family came out from behind the apple orchards and were able to share the moment with us,” she reminisces. “It was amazing.”
Originally, she and Josh planned a destination wedding at a rustic barn in Florida. When COVID-19 spread across the United States, however, the couple quickly reworked their plans to host a local ceremony instead. Although they hoped to elope during a trip to Lake George at first, they soon discovered that everything was booked for the weekend they wanted. They knew they had to get married on October 10, 2020, their 10-year anniversary, so they realized a hyperlocal Hudson Valley wedding was just what they needed.
“Four days before our wedding date, we decided to get married locally at my family’s farm in an open field overlooking the gorgeous views of the Shawangunk Mountains on our anniversary with our closest family and friends, and [we] will have our big celebration next year,” she says.
As anxiety-inducing as the tight timeline sounds, she and Josh found the will and the way to pull it off. Luckily, they had help in the form of American Honey Events, a Wallkill-based event planning service that catered to the couple’s small-scale, socially distanced theme. The duo loved the notion of a picnic-style event, so they worked with American Honey to add special touches like stacked wooden pallets with rugs and blankets for people to sit comfortably – and six feet apart from one another. Each pallet station came with linens, a jar of roses, a bottle of wine, and individual wraps and antipasto salads in mason jars from Pizza Shop in Newburgh.
When it came time for the ceremony, Courtney walked down the aisle with her two-year-old, then met her soon-to-be husband to exchange the vows they had cultivated over the past 10 years. The bride saved a bundle on a wedding dress from Lulu’s, since she plans to go extravagant with her full-scale ceremony next year.
In the end, the wedding was perfect, peaceful, and without a flaw.
“Our closest family and friends who watched Josh and me grow up and experience things at such a young age that most people won’t ever experience in their lifetime [were there],” she reminisces, adding that the small ceremony and event planner assistance were just what the couple needed to tie the knot in the Hudson Valley. “It made getting married enjoyable and stress-free.”