The Blog

A Wedding in the Shadow of Cancer

On the day of my diagnosis, I did several things. First, I sat on a bench outside the hospital, my head on my knees, crying uncontrollably, as my partner quietly kept his arms around me. I stayed like that for some time before suddenly sitting upright and asking him if he would marry me.

I got married a month ago. It was a wonderful day, with lots of laughter. Friends and family flew in from various corners of the globe. It went mostly to plan. The bits that didn't, we can laugh about.

Like most brides, I had a checklist of what I needed on the day: bouquet, little sheet of paper with my vows, lipstick and powder for reapplying in the Australian summer heat. Oh, and anti-nausea medication in case I felt like throwing up, and a print-out detailing my chemotherapy treatment in case I had to be rushed to hospital.

Even on my wedding day, there was no escaping the cancer that had forced itself into my world. The very fact there even was a wedding was a result of it.

In late November, I was told I had liver cancer. It's the kind of news heavy drinking middle-aged people are supposed to receive, not 29-year-olds in otherwise perfect health. The doctors think the cancer is the result of a rare genetic mutation and has probably been growing for six to 12 months. It has actually spread to my liver from elsewhere but the doctors can't find the source. Apparently it's not uncommon to never find out. It's also past the point of a cure because it's moved so fast. I don't know the exact timeline I'm looking at, mainly because I don't see the point in asking such questions, but I know I'll be lucky if I get a few years.

There had been no warning of what was to come. A few minor stomach cramps had prompted a casual visit to the doctor, which led to a couple of blood tests, which led to a couple of scans, which led to an operation to get a tissue sample of my liver.

On the day of my diagnosis, I did several things. First, I sat on a bench outside the hospital, my head on my knees, crying uncontrollably, as my partner quietly kept his arms around me. I stayed like that for some time before suddenly sitting upright and asking him if he would marry me. Later that day, we went on a permanent Ferris wheel in the city that I had always thought was too expensive to bother with. We had a nice meal at an Italian restaurant. I called my sister, living abroad, to tell her to come home. My parents were out of town and I waited the two days until they came back. I wanted to have one more dinner with them when I could pretend life was still normal.

Just over a week later, I was back in hospital for my first session of chemotherapy. We began wedding planning the same day. As a drip delivered drugs to my veins, my partner and I discussed the guest list, and my sister - already home - googled dress ideas and flower arrangements.

I was scheduled to have six weeks of treatment. After that, another scan would show whether the chemotherapy was having any effect. If not, there was no point in continuing. There would be nothing more the doctors could do. I was adamant the wedding had to take place before that scan.

So we set the date for three days before the scan. My chemotherapy continued and we fit in wedding planning around my treatments, blood tests and chemo-related fatigue.

On top of the usual wedding preparations, there were other considerations. My sister organised for a white parasol to be made for the day of the wedding for sun protection; the drugs increase my risk of harsh sunburn and I didn't want to be covered in zinc sunscreen, as I am on other days. We organised a car route that would minimise my exposure to the sun and heat. We spoke with the celebrant about removing a paragraph from her usual spiel. It spoke of the future and its endless possibilities; we couldn't face hearing that.

Five days out, I was checking my face to see if my bad acne breakout - a side-effect of anti-nausea steroids - was starting to subside. Two days out, I went for an ultrasound to check if some bruising and pain in my left arm was the result of a blood clot. It was but not one I had to worry about.

The strange part was it didn't feel strange to be fitting in doctor visits and writing medication on my 'to get' list. How quickly we humans can adapt to drastic changes in circumstances.

But it wasn't all hospitals and medical considerations. The wedding and my cancer diagnosis also brought out the most amazing humanity in people.

In the early days of planning, a close friend surprised me with a fundraiser to cover the costs of the wedding. People were so generous that we were also able to cover much of the cost of flying my partner's family to Australia. He is from the UK and originally we had thought only one or two family members would be able to come. With the financial support, his parents and three siblings were all there to share the day.

But the generosity didn't stop with the fundraiser. We had multiple wedding photographers offer their services for free. Bouquets and hair for free. The cake made by a friend's sister. Vintage cars donated by the family of my sister's partner. Discounts on a spectacular venue and catering. A free DJ and live band. Nearly every element of the day had a friend, or a friend's friend, or a friend's colleague, or a colleague's friend, involved in some way.

And friends amazed in other ways too, by flying in from Europe and the United States with only a few weeks' notice. Some friends flew to Australia for just a couple of days, then jumped back on a plane and flew all the way home again. Other friends brought thoughtful cards and gifts, and there were multiple donations to cancer research in our names.

The wedding itself was a joy. A big party with our favourite people that was over too soon. For one day, I barely thought about cancer at all.

Three days later, cancer was all I could think about. But the scan results came back and they were good - better than expected. The tumours had shrunk; the chemotherapy was working. Not a cure, no, but it meant extra time.

So one month on, I wished my partner - my husband - a 'happy anniversary'. A year seems a very long time to wait these days. But I can celebrate our love every month, and indeed every day, and acknowledge that every extra day is one for which I am grateful.