January 18, 2024

Handling Cancer, Illness, and Wedding Season?


I love weddings (almost obsessively so) and am thrilled for anyone who is currently engaged.  But, sometimes it is damn hard dealing with wedding planning season when you’ve got cancer or a chronic illness.

Being single with cancer and no date at my brother’s wedding was hard.  I was in the midst of breaking up with a guy who couldn’t say the word “cancer”.  I was so happy for my brother and didn’t want to feel like a self-pitying sister or that I was detracting from his moment.  I tried to keep my mouth shut about it all.  I also dreaded all of the guests telling me how grrrreat I looked in that wacko-cancer-pity-adoration way.  But for all of my angst leading up to it, I decided to go totally solo, not even bring a friend date and it was the most fun wedding I’ve been to.

When it rolled around to my own wedding a few years later, I thought hard about whether at I would thank the people in my life who have been there for me during “hard times” (code words for “cancer”.)  I decided to thank people for other things, that cancer didn’t belong at my wedding.  But sometimes it isn’t possible to compartmentalize life like that; life just bleeds on through.   It’s challenging to hide baldness at a wedding or scars decorating your body.  And you can’t hide your absence at a wedding because you were too sick to go.

It’s hard to transition from staring death in the face to embracing unlimited love. Take for example Dana, a leukemia patient in my book Everything Changes, who said: “At my rehearsal dinner, I went into a bathroom stall and sobbed my eyes out. I could not believe I was at my own rehearsal dinner after everything that I went through. My friend came into the stall and sat with me. I just needed her to be there while I got it all out. It was like I suppressed all of these feelings because they were too big for my brain. It was like, ‘Look at where I’m at, I’m alive, I’ve met this man.’ I had to let them out.”

Wedding budgets, gifts, puking on your bouquet.  As a bride, groom, member of the wedding, or just a guest, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced because of your  illness?  Do you have any weddings coming up this year?

Read about being engaged with cancer in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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  1. H Lee D Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    my issues have been minimal. my sister got married across the country while i was in treatment. the doc said it was fine for me to miss a treatment so i would be well enough to go (both with fatigue/nausea and white blood cells). so i went.

    my mother had a fit that i didn’t wear a wig. (i never wore a wig through treatment. i felt no need to try to “hide” at this wedding.)

    at the reception, i danced and danced (i love dancing!). a friend of my parents had the audacity to say to me, “you have a lot of energy — maybe i should get some of that chemo stuff.”

    at other events since then, it’s mostly been surprised looks that i’m doing well and comments about how much hair i have. never mind that i’ve been getting haircuts on my “new” hair for almost two years.

  2. Michelle Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    I don’t have any plans for a wedding this year, but last year was a milestone for me. My brother got engaged just before I was diagnosed with colon cancer. One of my biggest fears when I was diagnosed was whether I would be able to stand up for him in his wedding. It became a goal for me, and one that I was so grateful to be able to accomplish last summer.

    It became a coming-out sort of event for me - I wouldn’t let the cancer tear me down on this amazing day, and I didn’t. Matter of fact, it became the first time that most of my family saw my tattoo that I had done around my port scar. My tattoo was done knowing that it would show when I wore the strapless gown, and I displayed this with pride. It was the only time I would pay heed to my cancer on my brother’s wedding day - it was like a declaration: “I beat you, oh evil one, and you didn’t take this amazing event from me.” I was terrified that my illness would somehow take away from my brother’s special day, and I think that instead of taking from it, my remission helped make it that much more beautiful (for me, at least). I am so blessed to have been part of that day, and even more so because I understand how precious it all is.

  3. Jen Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    I have a lot to say about weddings and cancer. I was in the midst of planning my own wedding, when the stress of wedding planning caused a canker sore….or so I thought. Something about it didn’t seem right and 2 weeks to the day before we were scheduled to be married I got the diagnosis that I had cancer. There’s nothing like cancer to put things into perspective. I no longer felt like I had to micromanage the music and the programs and the flowers and every little detail. I didn’t care when my flowers rubbed on my dress and caused a stain. Instead of making phonecalls to verify details with the vendors, I was making phonecalls to make doctor appointments in the days before our flight was scheduled to leave (oh our wedding was in Illinois, but we had recently moved to Arizona).

    We didn’t have a full-fledge honeymoon. We spent one extra day in Chicago before flying home, dropping off our luggage, and immediately driving 2.5 hours to Phoenix, where I was scheduled for surgery the following morning. We spent the duration of our “honeymoon” in the hospital.

    With only the two weeks before the wedding, we didn’t tell all of our guests about the diagnosis. The wedding party and most of our immediate family knew, but the rest of the guests we kept in the dark. We tried to keep up the apearance that everything was fine, but for those who knew you could see it in their eyes that they wanted to run up me and just grab me and tell me how strong I was and how good I looked and all that other crap. They all cried when my husband said he’d take me “in sickness and in health”.

    From all of this, though, I learned two important things.
    1. How really insignificant all the little things about wedding planning are
    2. How much my husband really loved me - the night before surgery he cried, probably the only time I’ve ever seen him cry.

  4. Tweets that mention Everything Changes » Handling Cancer, Illness, and Wedding Season? -- Topsy.com Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kairol Rosenthal, Jess Keim. Jess Keim said: RT @Kairol: Weddings, Cancer, and Chronic Illness… The joy and sadness tug of war. #breastcancer #chronicillness http://bit.ly/62WIF5 [...]

  5. dana Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    Kairol, were your ears ringing today??? I just brought this up to Dan and Mom today. I’ve been an anxiety freak lately and I think it’s because I am approaching another amazing life transition that I’ve been waiting for forever. (Finally trying to have a baby this year :) Every time I think about having a baby, the fear sneaks up on me and I can just see cancer making its way back in and taking it all away. I think we all have to turn our ‘thinking brains’ off and just breathe and know that the past does not always dictate our present. What a timely post. XO LOVES!

  6. Jaime Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 6:45 PM

    I was diagnosed with a brain tumor Oct 08, got engaged Dec 08 and married Oct 09. It has been a whirlwind of emotions. When we got engaged I was so fearful that his family and friends would think he was insane for proposing to someone with a cancer. Luckily we only got positive words and for a few minutes I got feel like a typical healthy 27 year old.

    It felt like every time something major happened with the wedding plans I got bad news on the cancer front. As we got dressed for our food tasting appointment I got a call that I needed a brain second surgery for residual tumor. I also had the dilemma of how much of my cancer should be brought into the wedding. I did not thank everyone, as I wanted. But I did donate money to a brain tumor foundation as my wedding favors. I was afraid that I would get the pity on my wedding day, but everyone loved the favor idea.

    I constantly doubted how I could make a lifelong promise to someone when life may not be too long. Eventually with great encouragement from my now-husband I realized that I needed to LIVE and go forward with life no matter what the future held. I got married days after my one year cancerversary. I always wanted a fall wedding and did not want my diagnosis to change that. I decided it was better to turn the month of October into something positive.

  7. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    I think we need to send all of your stories to Bridezilla and help those bitches get a bit of perspective on life!

    Dana, I know how badly you have waited your whole life to be a mom. I am so excited that you guys are headed down that road now, but I totally understand your anxiety. If you want to find some strength from a really cool woman who has overcome it all before … just read your chapter in my book. You are amazing girl!

  8. Liz Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    I was diagnosed and had my first brain surgery in September ’08, a second brain surgery in February ’09, and I just got engaged to the man who has been by my side the whole time on New Year’s Eve 2010.

    This post is quite timely for me as I have just started reading books on wedding planning and we’re trying to set a date. Part of me just wants to run to Vegas or Reno, because the amount of money that could be put into a wedding is ridiculous (especially when I think about the fund-raisers my friends put together in order to pay for my medical insurance once I lost my job due to brain cancer and its best friend epilepsy).

    Thankfully I am working again, but still have long-term chemo (2 years of chemo, can YOU imagine)?

    Kairol: You SHOULD send these stories into Bridezilla. Those crazies to be smacked in the head to put things back into perspective.

  9. Wendy S. Harpham, MD Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    I’ve been in and out of treatment for lymphoma since 1990, when my children were 1, 3, and 5 years old. Six months ago my oldest child became engaged to be married. They set a date for the end of this year. Two weeks ago my younger daughter became engaged, and they set a date for three months after the first wedding.

    Has the thought crossed my mind that I might be back in treatment or too sick to attend? Of course. Most of my remissions have lasted less than one year, so their weddings feel very far off.

    My response has been to get everything done early for the first wedding, and now I’m getting everything done early for the second wedding. We purposely chose places and vendors that will do everything, so that if I can’t help set things up, everything will still go off without a hitch. Well, other than the two sets of lovebirds getting hitched!

    Because I’m doing all I can to get set for the weddings and to stay healthy (rest, exercise, diet, checkups, etc.), I stopped worrying. What will be will be. And we’ll deal with it, so we can stay focused on the two glorious milestones.

    With hope, Wendy

  10. Cathy Bueti Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    I was first married in 1992, widowed in 1994, and then cancer in 2001. At the end of my treatments I met my second husband while I was still bald and boobless. 6 months later we were engaged and planning a wedding as I was going every 3 months for checkups with tumor markers and all that fun stuff. People thought we rushed into our engagement. That we hadn’t know each other long enough. After going through cancer treatment I had become pretty sure of what felt right and learned not to waste time or listen to stupid people. It was exciting and scary to be planning a wedding. Part of me was scared I wouldn’t live to see that day. The other part was hoping that it would last longer than my first.

    A couple of weeks before the wedding I had an MRI and more tumor marker tests. It was terrifying. Not only because of what it was but I was afraid it would prevent me from the happy day I had been planning for months. And on the wedding day just before my dad walked me down the aisle my feet felt stuck to the floor and I couldn’t move. I remember saying to my dad “I can’t do this, I’m scared” It was like my whole life flashed in my head for that moment. All the pain, loss, and sickness that I went through. But I was able to fight through it to move one foot in front of the other to begin a new life with my husband.

    We got married on May 31, 2023 the same date I was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t done purposely but when I realized the significance of the date I decided that I wanted to change a bad memory with a good one.

  11. Gina Anderson Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    This post really spoke to me, since I’m in the midst of both cancer treatments and wedding planning. My fiancé proposed on Valentine’s Day 2009, and I found the lump (“Medusa,” I called it) in April 16. My mammogram and biopsy were scattered among initial wedding planning appointments, and both came to a head in early May: On the 2nd, we set the date for the wedding (May 22, 2023) and on the 7th, I got my diagnosis.

    Wedding planning has been both a welcome distraction and an additional stressor. Reading wedding magazines at the cancer center makes a rough situation more bearable, and it can be quite the conversation-starter. Bridal magazines have, as one of my friends at Gilda’s Club says, “the right picture-to-text ratio.” I also enjoy making wedding-related appointments while receiving treatments. The symbolism of thumbing my nose to what’s happening to me physically by actively making plans for the future at the same time makes me feel powerful and strong.

    On the other hand, going through treatments, planning the wedding, and working full-time (for the most part) is hard work. They say wedding planning is like a part-time job, and managing cancer is time-consuming, too. Both drain my energy, and it isn’t always easy to tell when I’m running out. (Sometimes my fiancé has to give me a “time-out.”) The emotional ups and downs can be hard to ride, and sometimes being “the cancer bride” is just too much.

    And then there’s the physical side of it. The scars, the port, the hair, and the weight fluctuations have been hard to take. I wonder what I’ll see when I look back at my wedding photos. It seems like most people look back and see themselves in the prime of their lives – young, healthy and happy. Two out of three isn’t enough. I’m upset with what cancer has done to me, and I feel cheated out of putting my best self out in front of all our family and friends. Maybe that’s shallow and unimportant, but it bothers me.

    At the center of all of this, by my side for the best and the worst of it, has been my fiancé. It’s been hard on him too, but I think our relationship is stronger for it. Having gone through this together makes me feel even better about marrying him.

  12. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    Mazel Tov Gina, Wendy, and Liz! I’m so happy for you and also empathize with all of your challenges.

    Liz - Regarding the spending of $ on weddings. I don’t know if you were girlie enough to have seen the Sex and the City movie, but I think there is a great lesson in there. A wedding at the NY Public Library in a Vivien Westwood gown didn’t hold a candle to getting hitched in a courthouse in a tacky dress suit and chowing down with the best of friends at a local diner.

    Another of my wedding stories. Five days before our wedding Shannon, my mom, and I met up with our vendors at the site. When we flung open the doors the ceiling was raining and the stench of mold came wafting out. Our guests would need hazmat suits just to walk in the door. (Note to brides: Getting married in a cool, industrial, semi-abandoned beer factory seems cool but really isn’t a great idea.)

    While my dad was swearing up a m-f-ing storm, my mom and our vendors sat kinda stunned amazed that I wasn’t crying or flipping out about having my wedding ruined. Shannon and I were totally level headed. I know I have stupid anxiety about a lot of things, but I really feel that getting through cancer made a ruined wedding location feel like small potatoes. We totally worked it out and in 24 hours found a great solution.

    Lastly, here’s to zoning out in front of wedding magazines as the best ever cancer distraction. I’m addicted to them.

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