By Alyce Collins
WHILE planning her dream wedding, this BRIDE-TO-BE was told she had CANCER, but she refused to let chemotherapy knock her down as she continued planning her special day – and five days before her honeymoon she was declared cancer free.
Personal assistant Louise Smith (29) from St Albans, UK, was planning her dream wedding to her boyfriend of seven years, Oli (31), when she started getting a sore throat in July 2018, which she assumed was simply a cough, however when no other symptoms came, she got it checked.
Louise’s GP commented that she was ‘too young for cancer’, so it was probably something minor. She was prescribed antibiotics, but these didn’t do anything to help, and in fact Louise felt the lump in her throat was getting worse.
A second visit to the GP resulted in a second antibiotic prescription, which again didn’t improve the situation. Louise was then referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist to look at the lump. The specialist suggested Louise have her tonsils removed so the lump could be biopsied.
Within a week, Louise was referred to an oncologist, which started to worry her. One week later, Louise was diagnosed with high-grade Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, affecting the body’s blood cells, on August 28, 2018.
Louise’s diagnosis came just three months before her wedding, and her first question was whether that would still be possible. Immediately, Louise started IVF treatment to save some of her eggs before doing six rounds of chemotherapy.
Throughout her chemotherapy, Louise continued to plan her wedding and is thankful for the positive distraction it created for her. After her first chemotherapy session, Louise went home and organised the seating plan, preventing her from thinking about treatment. Louise and Oli wed on December 1, 2018 in Shoreditch and Louise even wore a blonde wig for the ceremony before switching to a pink wig for the reception.
“Planning was going really well before my diagnosis,” said Louise.
“I’m a planner by nature so I had a lot of the main things organised: venue, caterer, photographer and so on – even my dress, which I picked from the second shop we visited.
“In early July I was lying in bed one night and I had a sore throat, so I got up and looked in the mirror. My tonsil was like a golf ball. I thought perhaps I was just getting a cough, but no other symptoms came over the following week, so I booked to see my GP.
“He made a joke that I was ‘too young for cancer’ and that it was probably nothing, but he gave me antibiotics anyway. The antibiotics didn’t do anything, and the lump remained there, if not got slightly bigger. After a second visit, I got a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist. He saw me within a week and put me in to have my tonsils removed two days later so they could biopsy the lump.
“I was devastated because I was meant to be going to my friend’s hen party that weekend, and if I had my tonsils removed, I wouldn’t be able to go. I really didn’t think it was going to be anything more sinister than a cyst, so I tried to push it back. However, the specialist convinced me that wasn’t an option, so I went ahead with the operation.
“A week later, I met with the specialist who said he was referring me to an oncologist and that was my first red flag. I met the oncologist who said they weren’t happy with the biopsy results, so they wanted to have them checked by another lab. They said I might have something, but they couldn’t confirm what just yet.
“I waited another week before seeing her again and this time there was another nurse in the room, and I was given the news it was high-grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The nurse in the room was the chemo nurse who took me to see the chemo wing and be weighed in preparation for what was to come.
“I was with my mum and Oli when we were told, and I cried and gripped their hands while I was given a huge amount of information. My only question was that I was getting married in three months and whether that would be possible.
“I had a PET scan followed by IVF and then six rounds of R-CHOP chemotherapy. Then I had two rounds of Rituximab and another PET scan.
“I was super nervous to go through treatment so close to my wedding. I was determined to get married but knew I couldn’t guarantee how I would feel on the day.
“Planning the wedding definitely helped because I didn’t have time to overthink what was going on. When I got home after my first chemotherapy session I did our seating plan. It gave me something to focus on and be excited about.
“In between each chemotherapy I had something fun to look forward to that pushed me to do everything I could to feel better.
“When I completed the first round, I left myself some free time to gauge how I would feel. After the second I had my hen party, and then after the third I got married. After round four I had Christmas. By number five I was nearly done and number six was my last one.”
Despite being half way through her chemotherapy, Louise was able to enjoy every moment of her wedding and didn’t let her diagnosis hinder her.
The reception included a Krispy Kreme doughnut cake and Mexican food, adding to the relaxed atmosphere that Louise and Oli hoped for.
“Our wedding was the most fantastic day. The girls came to my hotel room and we had hair and makeup done while laughing and drinking champagne. My hair was the last and obviously the quickest – a few pins to hold a few strands of my wig away from my face,” said Louise.
“Our ceremony was quick which is what we wanted, followed by the most amazing emotional speeches before dinner. No one went into detail about what was going on with me, but each speech had a quick mention of it.
“We wanted something relaxed, a bit different to the weddings we had been to and something with a bit of edge. I even switched from my blonde bob wig to a barbie pink one for the evening reception.
“We left for our honeymoon on March 24 – five days after getting told I’m cancer free and in remission. We spent five days in Singapore, then to Bali where we spent five days in Ubud before seven days in Seminyak.
“Getting cancer doesn’t have to end your world. It’s such a terrifying word which carries so much negativity. I spent hours on the internet and social media trying to find positive stories of people who weren’t completely struck down by chemotherapy, and I struggled.
“Obviously, chemotherapy isn’t enjoyable, but it doesn’t have to stop you living your life. Water, fresh air and a positive outlook are key to recovery. People were always shocked to see me out and about, but I just didn’t feel like I needed to hibernate at home. I felt well enough to go out, to work and go to parties and have my wedding. This could be the same for anyone else.”
To see more, visit https://www.instagram.com/louelizabethsmith/