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Strangers grant Downstate man’s dying wish for grand wedding, honeymoon

When Kewanee resident Nolan Keane left was diagnosed 2008 with stage 4 bracancer he fought it hard with his high-school

When Kewanee resident Nolan Keane, left, was diagnosed in 2008 with stage 4 brain cancer, he fought it hard, with his high-school sweetheart, Morgan Carstens, a registered nurse, at his side. But a recent MRI showed he has only a few months to live. So in a November trip to Disneyland, Nolan, 28, proposed to Morgan, 26, who had quit her job to care for him full-time. The two will marry in Downstate Peoria this Saturday. | Provided Photo

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Updated: April 7, 2013 6:30AM

For Nolan Keane, of Downstate Kewanee, Chicago has seemed a second home since his 2008 diagnosis and battle with stage 4 Glioblastoma multiforme — a fast-growing brain cancer.

That’s because the one time baseball player at Missouri State University spent much of those years — through eight brain surgeries and infinite chemo and radiation treatments — at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, fighting.

But a recent MRI shows Keane, 28, has only months to live.

This isn’t about tragedy, however. It’s about a love story that went viral, touching tens of thousands across the world, who have contributed donations large and small, to give a dying Illinois man his final wish — a grand wedding and honeymoon.

By Keane’s side through his fight with the disease has been his high-school sweetheart, Morgan Carstens. The 26-year-old registered nurse even quit her job a little over a year ago to become his full-time caretaker.

“After one of his surgeries, I felt it would be better to be home with him rather than to be taking care of others, wishing I was home with him,” says Carstens, who was introduced by friends to Keane when the two attended rival southern Illinois high schools.

They’ve been together ever since. Carstens still had a year to go, studying nursing at Eastern Illinois University — Keane had obtained his degree in restaurant and hospitality administration a year before — when Keane received the diagnosis.

Keanes says he doesn’t know how he lucked out on a woman like Carstens, who moved in with his family to care for him.

“I don’t know who else would go through all this with someone like me,” he says. “Ever since the first surgery, we’ve been through it all together. I love her so much. She means the world to me.”

So last Nov. 14, when Keane’s family took a trip to Disney World — Keane’s absolute favorite place in the whole world, where as a kid, his family went every year and where they continued going as adults — Keane decided to make his move.

“We were watching the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. He told me his back was hurting and he needed help out of the wheelchair,” says Carstens. “I helped him, and he got down on one knee and proposed. I started crying, forgot to say yes.”

The two will marry in Downstate Peoria on Saturday.

Everything for the wedding has been donated by community businesses. But Keane, facing staggering medical bills in the hundreds of thousands, had no money to take his bride on a honeymoon, nor accomplish one last wish.

“I wanted to take Morgan back to Disney with my family. I’m a little kid at heart,” he explains. “It’s always been a special place for me, good memories. And I know it will leave a good memory for all of us.”

Enter Morgan’s siblings, sisters Jaclyn Carstens and Lindsey Williamson.

Last Wednesday, they started an online fund-raiser at Posting the couple’s story, they hoped to raise a few thousand dollars to send them on their Disney honeymoon. What happened next astounded.

The couple’s story went viral. Their site had raised $5,000 by Friday. But by Sunday, after being picked up across the Web, including by London’s Daily Mail, donations had catapulted to $60,000, flowing from all over the world.

“We had no idea it was going to blow up the way it did,” Williamson says. “When we’d reached the first $1,000, we thought, ‘Wow! We’re doing good.’ We had no idea. We just knew Nolan and Morgan are amazing, just truly incredible people — and together, just inspiring. Now they can help pay off some of these unimaginable medical bills.”

Morgan Carstens says the couple has been overwhelmed by the outpouring. She’s counting down the days till Saturday but says they are the only ones she will ever count down.

“We’re just feeling very blessed right now, by people we’ve never met before,” she says. “This whole thing has been kind of a blur. You kind of get put in a situation, and you really don’t think twice about it. I understood what it meant when I agreed to marry him. It didn’t matter. We both wanted to always be together, so that’s what we’ll do.

“The unknown is pretty scary, but we’re going to try to take it one day at a time and enjoy ourselves,” Carstens added.

Said Keane: “All this support has been really surprising. I’ve loved Morgan a long time before I ever thought of proposing. So for me, this is just long overdue.”

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