In loving memory of Caeli Von Donk Black.
One year ago today, on Saturday, June 6th 2015, Lt. Colonel Caeli Black (retired) lost her brief, but hard fought battle to cancer. Caeli had received her diagnosis of cancer only 14 months prior.
Without reaching her 40th birthday, Caeli left behind two young and beautiful children who will never understand, proud parents who loved her, siblings who needed her and a husband who changed her life forever.
The story below is about a hospital wedding, vows with deep and literal meaning and the love of a military family. It’s about a man who became a military spouse with only 24 hours notice and dedicated his life to helping her fight the beast of cancer, until there was no more fight left.
It’s a love story.
It’s a love story because if you knew Caeli, you couldn’t help but love her.
Godspeed, Warrior Princess.
In Sickness and In Health
A story of a hospital wedding, a wedding vow and what it means to marry into a military family.
It all started with a pain in her foot.
Lt. Col Caeli Black went to her doctor at the base clinic at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, TX. As part of the physical, Dr. Pollitt took her blood pressure and noticed it was really high for a healthy 38-year-old woman. However, high blood pressure in her line of work was not surprising. Caeli is the commander for the 315 Intel Training Squadron (TRS)- a squadron of 1100 airmen, including students and permanent party.
Caeli’s daily schedule was enough to give anyone high blood pressure. Working 12-14 hour days was the norm and not to mention the nightly phone calls from the Shirt and command post. But like all 315th TRS commanders, she loved every minute of it. High blood pressure was just part of the job.
The doctor, being thorough, sent her for a series of tests that came back ambiguous. She decided to send her for a full chest and abdominal CT scan.
The results would change her life and the lives of the ones who love her.
The CT scan revealed that Caeli’s body was riddled with cancer, masses in her colon, liver and lungs – Stage 4 cancer – a near fatal diagnosis with less than 50% survival rate for most. Fear, anger and questions swirled around in her head and ravaged her heart. How could this be happening?
Her doctor, attempting to find answers for Caeli, reviewed her CT scans from a 2012 appendectomy performed at another base. The mass was present in her colon, but no one had noticed it. A fact she is still processing and trying to accept. Forgiveness can be an elusive gift. She is a mother of two young children, she wasn’t ready and it wasn’t her time. She was just getting started.
Caeli had taken command of the 315TRS last summer, leaving her then-boyfriend, Nate Black, in Las Vegas for the job every officer dreams of – squadron command. Nate worked for the Clark County Justice System as a Deputy Marshal and was too close to retirement to pack up and leave with her.
She had spent a year in Iraq before assignment at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. Caeli had taken the assignment in Texas to be closer to her two young children, Jacob and Hannah, who resided in the state with their father. Single mothers in uniform are faced with harder choices then their civilian counter parts – having little choice when it comes to family and job location.
Distance wasn’t an obstacle for Nate. He asked Caeli to marry him a month prior to her diagnosis. He had planned on proposing in person during his next visit in March, but the engagement ring he shipped arrived a little early.
He ended up proposing on one knee, over the phone while she opened the shipping package – a proposal made romantic by FedEx and a cell phone.
After Caeli received the devastating diagnosis, she called Nate- scared, crying and trying to process the words. She was going in for emergency surgery the next day to remove part of her colon. Nate responded with the only thing he could.
(Caeli’s children, sporting 315 TRS “Rattlers” gear)
“I’m getting on a plane first thing tomorrow. I’m going to marry you this weekend.”
And he did.