Nearly one year ago we received a call about a very special bride who was needing our planning assistance. She wanted to get married in one week, could we help?
One word we can use to describe our entire experience planning Holly + Mark’s wedding was “magic.” We rounded the wagons by reaching out to some of our favorite New Orleans vendors and the community came together in such a way that brought tears to our eyes. You see, Holly had her dream wedding planned for later that year, but her plans were thwarted with some heartbreaking news…. a breast cancer diagnosis. From my first call with Holly, I was amazed by her positive attitude and the way she just exuded excitement over the fact she was getting to marry Mark. “We just want to be married, so we can face this disease together” were her words. Yes, Holly, of course, we will do WHATEVER we can to bring your wedding dreams to life. We made calls, we confirmed plans, and in one week (ONE week, yall!) we were able to pull together an absolutely stunning ceremony at Il Mercato followed by a private dinner at Brennan’s Restaurant. Holly shared her Pinterest page with us, and we got to work implementing as many details as we could from her original wedding – including a few surprises. Jaynie with Ebb + Flow Ink designed an acrylic welcome sign, and beautifully designed table settings. Hope with Little Blue Chair delivered a stunning suite including all of the details for the new wedding date – little did we know Holly and Hope had already been working together on a suite for the original wedding date (Hope is that talented!) The Sully Mansion provided a beautiful room, where Holly and Mark spent the entire wedding weekend, soaking in that newlywed bliss. There is no way our team would have been able to provide such a memorable event without help from these amazing vendors!
During the ceremony, there was not a dry eye in sight (including ours!) and we just feel so lucky to have been a part of such an impactful wedding. I have chills as I write this because Holly is such an inspiration and a true reminder to be grateful for every moment lived! Happy Anniversary Holly and Mark, we hope you have the best day celebrating!
Please read some of Holly’s amazing words below.
The spring of 2018 was shaping up to be one of the best ever! I was sailing through life and felt so happy about the plans and milestones ahead of me – but not just me, but for my fiancé, Mark, too! At 34, I was engaged to a wonderful man, and we were planning our wedding that would take place in the fall. Although Mark and I were both getting married later than many of our peers, it was our first time and the process was still exciting and special to us. I was soaking up every single detail and experience with my family and friends. Everything was falling into place, and I felt confident that my life was on track.
On May 8, 2018, all of that changed. During my annual OB appointment, my doctor felt a lump in my left breast. Following the appointment, I was scheduled to have an ultrasound and mammogram. While a lump was found, I wasn’t very nervous because I had no history of breast cancer in my family, or any kind of cancer for that matter. But two weeks later, while sitting in a doctor’s office with my mom and Mark, I heard the absolute worst news. The doctor told me that I had Stage IV (metastatic) triple negative breast cancer and that statistically, odds of survival weren’t in my favor. As we walked out of the office, Mark took me by the hand, looked into my eyes and said, “That is not our story and you are not a statistic. We will beat this. Together.”
Mark was right! I wasn’t a statistic, I was a strong woman and I could beat this. But that initial confidence soon faded as I tried to come to terms with my new normal. I had so many questions and felt so lost without any clue of knowing where to even begin. I wondered what chemo would be like, how treatment would make me feel. I worried about losing my hair and how all of this would affect our wedding. I wanted desperately to take action and have a plan of attack but had no idea what to do. It was during this time of uncertainty that I learned it was OK to ask questions, to ask for help, and to not have all the answers all at once. It was also during that time that I realized Mark’s words were still true, that we would get through this together, with the help of our families and friends, doctors and medical team. Beyond these familiar faces, I was in awe that so many women– members of the Sisterhood – that I didn’t even know personally reached out to me offering help and support.
I began chemotherapy on May 31, 2018. After that first treatment, Mark and I decided we didn’t want to wait until November to get married because we wanted to fight this together, wholeheartedly, as husband and wife. As a result, with the help of Logan from Pop of Love Nola, we threw together a wedding in a little over a week’s time. It was not the huge soirée at Nottoway Plantation we had originally planned.
It was so much more. As we stood there saying our vows, in front of our immediate family and closest friends, it became the most perfect, most meaningful wedding we could have ever imagined. My dad walked me down the aisle to the string quartet version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley. The song was special to Mark and I for several reasons. First, my Dad is a huge Elvis fan. (He and my mom actually went to an Elvis concert together while they were dating!) Second, when Mark and I visited Graceland during a work Christmas Party a few years ago, he was amazed (and amused) at how enamored I was with Graceland and its history. (It feels like you are transported back in time, really!) Third, Mark moved from Philadelphia PA to Tupelo, MS (the birthplace of Elvis) around the 8th grade and graduated high school in Tupelo, MS. So it just seemed like the perfect song choice. Besides, the lyrics are so classic and we felt like the song captured how we felt on our wedding day. I’ll never forget how I felt walking down the aisle and not seeing one dry eye amongst our 28 guests. The amount of love I felt from that group of people is hard to put into words. That day, I didn’t feel like “Holly with Stage IV Cancer” I just felt like a Bride. After we exchanged our vows (that we wrote together, a few days before the wedding) we walked back up the aisle to the string quartet version of “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns and Roses (a concert Mark and I attended together last year). After the ceremony, we had a champagne and cake reception before going to a seated dinner at Brennan’s. During the reception, a close friend surprised me with a local musician that sang Mark and I’s song for our first dance “Stand by Me” (Stand by Me is the first movie Mark and I ever watched together, and to this day is his favorite movie). Again, the lyrics of the song perfectly captured what we felt that day, and what I know I will feel for him as long as we are on this earth together.
Our wedding day had so many sweet surprises from Logan and friends that just wanted the day to be special. One friend flew down an amazing photographer and another friend surprised me with a live-action painter. One of the best surprises of the day took place when I was getting ready. Logan from Pop of Love had contacted my original stationer (Hope from the Little Blue Chair) and they gave me one set of what my invitations would have looked like with the new June 18, 2018 date, along with one copy of my original Save the Date from November 30, 2018. It may seem silly, but I had worked so hard on those little details, just to see them come to fruition in person brought me to tears (hence me saying “who cries over paper?” in one of the wedding videos). One reason that the Save the Date was so special to me is that the first Christmas Mark and I spent together as an engaged couple, he surprised me with a gorgeous drawing of our original wedding venue (Nottoway Plantation)- that he drew himself (Mark is a brilliant architect). I couldn’t figure out how he had managed to keep the drawing a secret from me since he works from home a lot, and he revealed that he had been sneaking out of the house for months in the middle of the night to work on it at his office. His gift was a labor of love that I will always treasure, so our original “Save the Date” had Mark’s drawing incorporated at the top. The seated dinner at Brennan’s was perfect and intimate and filled with toasts and speeches from the people closest to us. We laughed, cried, and made memories that I know will last a lifetime. We were not able to go on a honeymoon after the wedding since my chemo treatments are too close together. But, we are hoping to take a honeymoon together this winter once I’ve completed my first planned block of chemo.
I’m so grateful to have my husband beside me through this process. He has been my rock and always impresses me with his continued strength, compassion and much-needed humor.
After the wedding and as I continued treatments, the fear of losing my hair returned. To combat this, I started cold cap therapy, a special type of therapy uses a hat filled with a cooling agent to cool the scalp and reduce hair loss. I’m happy to say that the cooling cap has worked and helped me retain about 70% of my hair. My friends helped make the process better by providing different animal hats to place on top of the cooling cap. So now, each week, treatment is made better by a fun new animal that sits on top of my head. And while it makes me smile, I hope it can bring some happiness and laughter to others who see me. During that time, my friends also came up with #hollyannstrong, a hashtag created to keep me motivated. They took the hashtag and created bracelets for all of us to wear, and though a simple gesture, the bracelet reminds me of the group of people praying for me, fighting with me, and supporting me. Through it all, my friends have been such a source of positivity and inspiration. They have rallied around me and provided me with so much love and support.
I can’t say that I feel lucky that I have cancer, but I do feel lucky that I’ve been able to experience the outpouring of love and compassion from so many people. I feel lucky that this diagnosis forced me to take a hard look at my faith and my priorities and to trust in the plan that God has for our lives. I’m lucky to have a great medical team so close to home and filled with so many wonderful people to help me along the way. I’m lucky to have such positive people be a part of my journey. And I’m lucky to still be here, to appreciate the simple things, to live every moment, and to love the ones I hold dear.
My name is Holly. I am an attorney, a wife, a fighter, a survivor. And I am the sisterhood.
Note* I started a blog recently not only to keep my friends and family in the loop, but I’m hoping it may help someone else cope that may be going through a similar situation (there are not a lot of women who are my age with this diagnosis that I know of….which is why I call myself “the cancer unicorn”) Maybe the blog will help someone like me one day not be so afraid to face this journey. www.TheStarsAlign2018.wordpress.com
My wedding website: www.TheStarsAlign.net
Additional Note/Surprise from the wedding day: Our original officiant agreed to perform the ceremony with a little over a week’s notice. It was raining the morning of our wedding, so she snuck over to our house, bottled the rainwater, and gave it to us after the ceremony. (That is the Green Glass Bottle you see in the videos and pictures). Such a sweet gesture. The bottle sits proudly in the open shelving in our kitchen.
Other surprises from the day: Logan from Pop of Love looked at my wedding Pinterest boards and surprised me with the “welcome” sign I had always dreamed of having. She also surprised me with deckled edge place cards that were done by hand in calligraphy. Those small touches meant the world to me!