Three weeks before my mother died from Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma, I asked her to grant me the experience of picking out my wedding gown. I was single, 26, and on the verge of losing my best friend in the entire world. In the midst of such sadness, I knew I needed to experience the greatest girl’s day out with my mother.
My dear friend, Sara, promptly called several bridal boutiques in the Washington, DC region to set up appointments. She and I made a day of it – trying on gowns and drinking champagne while on the hunt for the dress I would wear one day! My mother was in too much pain and too weak to join us for the search so I had the huge challenge of picking out the perfect dress without her direct input. Bridal consultants probed me about my fiance, the venue, the color scheme (which I knew would include teal to honor my mother’s battle with ovarian cancer), and my wedding date. These were all were things I didn’t know or have!
By the way, did I mention that I was SINGLE when I did this? Wedding planning was the last thing on my mind on that day. At Katherine’s Bridal Boutique in Alexandria, Va. we found a gorgeous Maggie Sottero gown that was exactly what my mother would have wanted for me. The next day the fabulous consultants at Katherine’s dolled me up like a bride and gave us a private room for the grand unveiling. It was the first and last time she saw me in the gown. I will forever cherish those moments together and I will never forget the way she looked at me.
Perhaps it was a miracle (or just really great timing) that I had met my now husband at a Washington Redskins football game a mere 6 days before I said “yes to the dress!” Either way, I told him on our first date that I would be picking out my wedding gown with my mom and that she was dying of cancer. He stood by me throughout everything and was 100 percent supportive of my idea to do this with my mom. My mother begged me not to tell him because she was worried he would be freaked out – but he wasn’t. My wedding gown was in my closet for 3 1/2 years before we got married. He saw me in my wedding dress for the first time when I walked down the aisle to become his wife.
It wasn’t easy asking my mother to pick out my wedding gown because it symbolized the end to her 10 month battle with ovarian cancer. We cried for a solid hour after I told her this was something I wanted, I needed, and had to have in order to find peace in my life. After losing my father when I was 14, I had quickly learned that there would be special moments in my life that would be unfulfilled. I refused to let this special moment get ripped from my life as well. As a mother, she needed this moment with me, whether she knew it or not when I initially broached the subject to her. Her last weeks of life were blessed with seeing her first grandchildren, William and Eleanor, sharing this moment with me, and meeting the guy who quickly stole my heart. She told her friend she felt I had met “the one” – and she was right! I know these experiences filled her heart with happiness, peace, and brought joy to her soul as she left us on Sept. 20, 2009.
Since her passing, I have been on a mission to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. My family and friends join me in my efforts annually at the National Race to End Women’s Cancer and various fundraising events in the region. I share information about ovarian cancer at health fairs in an effort to highlight this deadly disease that claimed my mother’s life. My brother, Ryan, ran a marathon in my mother’s honor and raised hundreds of dollars for ovarian cancer research and my sister-in-law, Liz, regularly donates her hair for cancer patients. I value the community I have found from the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.
My mother always told me that she never wanted her illness to impede my life. She viewed her cancer diagnosis as a great inconvenience to me, as she knew I would invest more time into saving her life than focusing on my own needs. Despite being her primary caregiver while finishing my final year in graduate school and working full-time, my mother encouraged me to live my life as a young, 20-something, bachelorette living in the big city. I was emotionally and physically drained in every way possible during her cancer fight but I never let her see the pain that cancer brought to my world. Ultimately, picking out my wedding gown was providing my mother a glimpse into my future. It was a future she knew she wouldn’t be able to witness but I gave her the opportunity to see that I would eventually find happiness and love.
Cancer has a devilish way of extinguishing joy but together, as mother and daughter, we fought back and found bliss. Other than marrying my husband, picking out my wedding dress with my mother was the best decision I ever made. On my wedding day, with my mother shining her blessing down from heaven, I knew my future was going to be everything she envisioned and saw for me as I stood in front of her in my gown.