Photo: Sam Hurd
"I'm doing well for the most part," Anthony Carbajal tells BRIDES during an exclusive interview three days before he's set to marry his girlfriend Laarne Palec. "I think I'm more aware of the changes that are starting to happen in my hands and arms. I'm learning how to ask for help."
You may know Anthony from his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video, which went viral this summer after being featured on Upworthy, garnered more than 16 million views on YouTube. Anthony was diagnosed with ALS, a disease he inherited from his mother and grandmother, at the age of 26. ALS is a motor neuron disorder that causes muscle weakness and shrinking leading to the inability to walk, talk, eat, and breathe.
Despite his condition, Anthony remains positive. "My sense of hope is so much greater than it was before the video," he explains. "I'm fighting this thing every day and I now have this small army of people who have my back."
One of those people that has his back? Laarne. The two wedding photographers met when Anthony was hired to shoot Laarne's sister's nuptials. They were together for about a year before Anthony received his diagnosis, which postponed his proposal plans. "I was cautious to ask Laarne to spend the rest of her life with me because this disease requires a lot of care. I don't want to be a burden on anyone," Anthony says. "But throughout my diagnosis, Laarne made it clear that she wasn't going to leave my side."
Anthony decided to pop the question in one of Laarne's favorite cities: Washington, D.C. The couple went on a midnight bike ride through the monuments, but they got in an accident. "Anthony fell off the bike and sliced his jaw open," Laarne remembers.
The pair rushed to the ER, where Anthony began crying. Laarne thought he was frustrated that he couldn't grip the bike's handlebars because of his ALS, but he was actually upset that his plan went wrong. That night, they decided they would, instead, propose to each other.
In the morning, the couple walked to the park and picked a shaded tree to stand under. "She told me that she wanted to be with me through the good and the bad that's inevitable. Then I got down on my knee and proposed," Anthony says. "Having her tell me that she loves me unconditionally was priceless and I think, looking back, I needed that."
Laarne was ecstatic, but was worried to tell her family. "My fear was that my parents would tell me to leave him because of his disease," Laarne says. "But my dad said, 'You hate the disease but you love Anthony more. So why would you leave?' It was like an approval that yes, you're welcome to chase the love of your life — even to death."
Anthony and Laarne both agree that his diagnosis has only made their bond stronger. "We hold on to each other tighter. Every couple has a struggle that they have to go through and ALS is our struggle, but we choose to look forward."
Photo: Sam Hurd
Since his video was released, over $100 million has been raised for ALS research and Anthony is determined to continue raising awareness. "I'm doing whatever I can to change my outcome and be on this earth longer with Laarne," he says. "I think that's the hardest thing — I found my soulmate and ALS might take me away from her earlier."
For their November 19, 2014 wedding, the pair returned to the scene of their first date: Back to the Grind Coffee Shop in Riverside, California. Anthony and Laarne recited their hand-written vows during an intimate and meaningful ceremony in front of just 100 friends and family members.
Like everyone else, BRIDES was touched by Anthony's story. Once we heard of his engagement, we reached out to help bring the couple's dream wedding to life. Anthony and Laarne wanted a cozy and casual affair filled with understated floral touches like succulents and air plants, camera-themed décor as a nod to their love of photography, a few trendy naked cakes and, of course, lots of love. "We just wanted all of loved ones to feel like they were at home, have a good time and celebrate our love with us," Anthony says.
As far as married life, Anthony and Laarne can't wait to enjoy the simple things. "Laarne's family is very conservative. So I'm looking forward to going on a family vacation and sleeping in the same room together!" Anthony says. "I look forward to having a place to call our own and getting a dog. I'm just excited to wake up with her every morning and have a cup of coffee." Laarne adds, "We see a life full of happiness together — that's what we see."
Photos: Sam Hurd
To donate to ALS research, go to ALS.net. The ALS Therapy Development Institute is a nonprofit biotechnology organization dedicated to developing effective treatments for ALS.
We thank the following vendors for their generosity and contributing to Anthony and Laarne's wedding:
Wedding Planner: Pili Lani Events || Photographer: Sam Hurd || Videography: Ning Wong || Ceremony Location: Back to the Grind Coffee Shop || Reception Location: Life Arts Center || Groom's Wedding Band: Triton Jewelry || Groom's Suit: J.Crew via Mr. Porter || Bride's Wedding Band: ArtCarved || Bride's Shoes: Givenchy via Net-A-Porter || Bride's Jewelry: Ben-Amun || Bride's Hair: Drybar || Florist: White Lilac Inc. || Wedding Cake: Sweet and Saucy Shop || Hors d'Oeuvres and Desserts: Crave.it || Prosecco and Wine: Voga Wines || Beverages: Sparkling Ice || Furniture Rental: Found Vintage Rentals and Lounge Appeal || Rental Tables: Adore Folk Lore || Invitations: Minted || Reception Music: Bryan Thraine || Officiant: Pastor Linda Penick || Ceremony Musician: Crystine Garsula || Accommodations: The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa