Planning a wedding when juggling a terminal diagnosis

As promised, I have written a blog dedicated to sharing Serge and my ‘love story’, and what better way then to share our wedding day.

Serge and I got engaged four months into our whirlwind relationship. We started discussing where our relationship was heading after I had been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma – a diagnosis that would see us experience what most couples wouldn’t experience in 30 plus years of marriage.

Yes, we did get engaged sooner then I would have expected, but there was no doubt in our hearts that marrying each other was the path that was meant for us. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I do believe that there is a point when you just know the person is ‘the one’.

We got engaged on the 31st October after spending a few weeks looking at rings. I am a touch controlling and wanted to choose what would be a permanent fixture on my ring finger. That night Serge asked my parents for permission and then he came up to bed asking me to pass him the box that had the ring in it (he couldn’t even get up and get the ring himself). It was probably one of the most low key engagements ever!

I was very apprehensive about what people would think when they found out that we were engaged after such a short period of time. I knew that people would be talking about it. The people that didn’t know about the cancer probably thought Serge had knocked me up. And the people who knew about the cancer probably questioned his motivations. And on top of all of this, in the weeks leading up to the engagement, I too, questioned Serge’s motivation. Was he just doing this in pity? Was he just making my dream of getting married a reality? And, most of all, why would anyone want to marry someone with such a short expiry date?

I asked my sister, Ashlee, what her thoughts were on our upcoming engagement. This conversation had put me to ease. Serge had spoken to Ashlee about proposing well before Serge and I had been discussing it. Ashlee asked Serge the hard questions on the way home from visiting me in hospital (my mistake, apparently this was on a McFlurry outing...typical of Ashlee and Serge). Would he still be proposing if things were different? What happened if I got a miracle and survived this horrible disease? Serge’s answers confirmed that an engagement was most definitely in the future whether I was sick or not. This was what I needed to hear to know that this was meant to be.

Serge and I were amongst the lucky people who fall in love and just know that it is meant to be.

Our original wedding date was to be the 2nd May 2014. We did not choose the wedding date because of the weather or what flowers would be in season. The May date was a strategic decision. The treatment I had just started, on average, would give a patient 18 months, so I decided that it would be safe to plan a wedding for 6 months – surely I would still be fit and healthy at this time. So we (mostly me) started planning our dream wedding. Which included choosing a celebrant.

I had spoken to Bec about my concerns for the wedding, mainly choosing the right celebrant for the occasion. A big part of choosing the right celebrant for the wedding was that I would want them to be the celebrant for my funeral. Yes, I was planning my wedding whilst also thinking about my funeral, something that most brides would not have to consider. Bec suggested her friend Emily Jade O’Keeffe, and soon after that it was locked in.

We met with our celebrant Emily Jade. I had already spoken to Emily Jade about my concerns about making the wedding a happy occasion, and not a wedding focussed on the fact that Serge and my married life will be short. Serge and I wanted to celebrate our love and celebrate the fact that we are so lucky to have experienced a great love.

I am a little ashamed to admit that there were many evenings spent googling ‘wedding vows, terminal cancer’ – this was not helpful in the slightest. For anyone reading this who has also searched the internet to find their wedding vows, they would know that most wedding vows talk about the future, a lifetime with your partner, having children and growing old. It would not be true to our situation if we included these ideas and that was really difficult to comprehend. The thought of saying the words ‘to do death do us part’ and ‘in sickness and in health’ was hard enough, and we were legally obliged to have those in our ceremony.

A few months passed, it was now January and most of the important details of the wedding had been finalised. We had the dress organised, the venue, the catering, the photographer, the music, the flowers, and invites on the way to our house. It was at this time that we found out that my treatment was not working and the cancer had spread. I was now potentially looking at only having six months to live. Six months would take me to June. It was at this point that my oncologist suggested that we might need to move our wedding forward. We would wait until another lot of scans three weeks later to make this decision.

The scans came back showing that the cancer was growing faster then we thought. If the new trial that I was to start didn’t work I would only have three months.  It was now that we rushed our plans and moved our wedding to March 16.

The readings and wedding vows were chosen and they took on a whole new meaning, we were no longer hoping to reach our first anniversary, but now hoping for months.

We chose the Winnie the Pooh quote at the top of the blog, as well as a reading from the Velveteen Rabbit. These were chosen because of how they spoke about ‘real’ love and love as something that lives on. We didn’t want to talk about a love that would be demonstrated by having children or growing old together, but a love that is forever and always, and transcends the physical being.

I jumped back on google to search for inspiration for our wedding vows and didn’t have much luck. It was when I was choosing a card for Serge to open on our wedding day that I was inspired. This beautiful verse highlighted the ups and downs of what will be our marriage.

‘My wish for you is comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, love to complete your life.’

This card remains on our fridge to remind us both of what our love is. We now embody this quote, but when the time comes, I would like to know that Serge knows that my love for him will still play the role of providing all these things.

Our beautiful celebrant, Emily Jade O'Keeffe

My favourite part of our wedding was what Emily Jade refers to as our ‘love story’. Serge and I were to both individually answer a series of questions about our relationship. Emily Jade would take these answers and share them with our family and friends, including the funny discrepancies between our stories.

This post will be continued over the next few days, when I post our individual responses on the blog for you to read.