The dress, the cake, the music, the décor. Just like you, I’ve been planning my wedding day since I was five years old. As a child I acted out my dream wedding with my Barbies as the star players. As an adult I’ve spent hours debating the pros and cons of a buffet versus plated dinner, indoor ceremony versus outdoor ceremony, talking endlessly with my friends, my mom, and anyone who would listen. And I’ve definitely spent more hours than I would like to admit tuning into every bridal reality TV show on air. (“Bridezillas,” anyone?)
So what makes me different from the average bride?
Six months ago I was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer. I didn’t have any of the average symptoms (itching, fevers, severe weight loss), and I had been taking really good care of myself (working out, eating right, not drinking too much), so it was quite shocking to receive the devastating diagnosis. My only clue was a swollen lymph node above my collarbone. It was painless (which I later found out can be a sign of malignancy), but it seemed larger than normal, so I went to the doctor to get it checked out.
I fully expected my doctor to tell me the lymph node was no big deal and it would decrease in size on its own. But she didn’t. She referred me to a specialist who performed a biopsy and gave me my diagnosis.
That day was one of the hardest that I ever had to experience, not only because of the horrible news, but because I was facing it alone. I’ve been living in New York City for five years. My parents still live in Charlotte, and my boyfriend (now fiancé) Ross lives in Pittsburgh where he is completing his master’s degree. It was hard to receive such awful news with my loved ones so far away. Fortunately, Hodgkin’s has a 90 to 95 percent survival rate. So if you have to get cancer, this is the one to get. In a way, that kind of made me feel lucky.
Ross and I had been together four years at the time of my diagnosis, and we had already begun looking at rings. I started chemo last August, and I spent as much time worrying about the cancer as I did the side effects – namely hair loss. (I even had a wig party with my friends where I bought a fabulous, Beyoncé-esque wig – although I hoped I never had to wear it.)
The thought of being a bald bride resulted in several tearful conversations with Ross over the phone. Yet with his calm, strong demeanor, he told me that he was confident I would beat this disease, and he didn’t care what I looked like as long as I got healthy. Then, on Aug. 22 at his parents’ summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, he made the ultimate commitment and proposed to me. Both of our families were there to witness the event, and it was an amazing moment for everyone.
Despite the cancer, I’ve made an effort to live my life as normally as possible by continuing to work, going out with friends and, of course, planning my wedding! I’ve been fortunate to not experience intense symptoms from the chemo, and I don’t necessarily look sick if you were to see me walking down the street. Still, the experience has been emotionally taxing, and I’m thankful that Ross has been there for me. He is always willing to listen to me complain, cry and scream, “Why me?” at moments when it’s become too much to handle, and, although I know it can’t be easy being the one to have to constantly comfort me, he has dealt with it well.
On Nov. 30 a PET scan revealed that the cancer was no longer detectable in my lymph nodes. I still have to finish one more cycle of chemo to be sure that it is all gone, but I can say that I am cancer free! Thankfully, I haven’t lost all of my hair, and I haven’t had to wear my wig yet.
Ross and I are planning to get married in Charlotte in June 2011. Sometimes it makes me sad that we’ve had to experience something so hard at such a young age, but it has also made our relationship stronger. We’ve faced the unknowns of cancer, and I think that facing the unknowns of marriage will be that much easier. I’ve never doubted that Ross would be here for me throughout this journey, and knowing that makes walking down the aisle with him even more special.
Every week I’ll share with you my experiences, from planning a Charlotte wedding while living in New York to balancing the stress of impending nuptials with the stress of medical tests and checkups. This is the story of a girl who fell in love, got cancer, became engaged, kept (most of) her hair and is planning one fabulous wedding. I promise it will be an unforgettable journey.