Many girls picture their wedding all the way down to the shoes.
I was never that girl. Yes, I wanted to marry the man of my dreams, but I never envisioned my wedding.
And I definitely didn't imagine I'd be planning a wedding while undergoing chemo.
"Challenges young adults should never have to face"
My husband, Joseph (JJ), and I met while working at a popular retail store when we were 21. (He was that shirtless dude in the front.) We started dating, and our love grew stronger each day.
Four years later, in 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. JJ and I were faced with a challenge young adults should never have to face. We still weren't engaged, but JJ said to me, "I am never leaving your side."
Since my breast cancer diagnosis, our journey with cancer has been a long one. I was subsequently diagnosed with two more cancers and had three recurrences. As we learned, I have a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni syndrome. My body is lacking a P53 gene, which helps prevent cancer. Cancer will be a permanent fixture in my life.
In 2011, we got engaged on April Fools' Day. I had no idea JJ was going to pop the question. He said, "Even though I married you the day you were diagnosed, we really just need to make it official."
Wedding planning with cancer: A new perspective
Our wedding date was set for March 3, 2012. While I never pictured my wedding, I was very excited to plan it, especially since my hair was growing back after chemo and was long enough to curl.
Planning the wedding was a breeze. I was looking forward to marrying my best friend and celebrating with our family and friends.
Many brides-to-be stress overthe details, their weight, the bridesmaid dresses. They forget to look at the whole picture. But cancer puts life in a whole new perspective. I was not going to let wedding planning rule my life. I looked at our wedding as a celebration of life.
Wedding planning, interrupted: my breast cancer recurrence
Before I knew it, our wedding was only six weeks away. That's when the doctors discovered my breast cancer was back.
No one ever has time for cancer, but as a bride just weeks before the wedding, I really didn't. I had to start chemo just three weeks before the wedding.
"Am I going to lose my hair?" I asked the doctor.
She nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. But I'm going to be very blunt with you. You either lose your hair or you lose your life," she said.
That really put my wedding planning into perspective. Goodbye, hair!
A different kind of dream wedding
I held on to my hair as long as I could. I didn't wash it for a week, hoping it would still be there for the wedding. My husband said, "Hair or no hair, you are the woman I love and the woman I can't wait to call my wife."
About 12 days before my wedding, I could not hang on to my locks any longer. To make things a little more fun, JJ and I, along with help from our photographer, decided to shoot a video of him shaving my head. We had a great time, styling my hair different ways as we cut it shorter and shorter. I try to make the best of every situation. Even though I would have rather kept my long hair for the wedding, I wasn't going to be sad about chopping it off. It's just hair, and I've lost it enough times to know it grows back.
We called the video "Cancer Fighting Bride" and posted it on YouTube. We had so much fun making it, so I figured why not share it with my friends and let them join in, too. Even now, I love watching the video. To me, it's not a memory I want to forget, but one I want to remember as a victory.
Our wedding was everything we dreamed and more. The love in the room was like no other.
Planning a wedding is one thing, but doing it with cancer is another. I never dreamed I'd have cancer, but I also never dreamed of a fairytale wedding. March 3, 2012 is a day I'll always remember, even if my hair wasn't exactly how I pictured it.
Cancer and Li-Fraumeni Syndrome: My story (video)
Beating cancer: Wisdom from a 5-time cancer survivor (video)
Getting married during cancer treatment (video)
Keeping things in perspective: Tips for getting married with cancer (video)