I blinked back tears as I marvelled at my reflection in the mirror.
"You look stunning," my sister smiled, adjusting my ivory gown with a lace-covered bodice.
I felt like a princess.
I'd always pictured my wedding as the happiest day of my life, but in reality, it was bittersweet.
I'd met Julian, 27, seven years earlier in a homewares shop in Pukekohe, where we lived. I was heading to an appointment and had stopped in to ask for directions.
He worked there and kindly drew me a map.
When I went back to thank him, he asked for my number and our relationship flourished quickly after that.
We moved to Australia six months later as it was a dream we'd shared. On a flight back to New Zealand to spend Christmas with our family, Julian got down on one knee in front of all the passengers and asked if I'd marry him.
"Yes!" I screamed, as everyone cheered.
Shortly after, Julian started suffering serious migraines and neck and back pain, so we put our wedding plans on hold
Doctors struggled to give him a diagnosis.
They said it was possibly arthritis or a joint condition called sacroiliitis.
He was given morphine to manage his pain, which helped temporarily.
A month after our engagement, I fell pregnant.
It wasn't planned but welcoming our son Finn into the world was incredible.
Julian was a fantastic father, always so attentive and loving.
But his pain was constant and the only comfortable position for him was lying down.
He was lethargic and losing interest in life. I felt helpless.
After a year of misdiagnosis, Julian was finally sent for a CT scan.
"I'm afraid it's not good," the doctor said sadly days later.
I grabbed Julian's hand as he continued.
It was Ewing's sarcoma, an advanced and aggressive type of cancerous tumour that grows in the bones.
Julian's was 9cm at the base of his spine.
Suddenly, our dreams to marry and have more kids were facing a time limit.
He had to start aggressive chemotherapy immediately.
With each round he grew weaker and his hair fell out.
After 12 cycles, the tumour had only shrunk 3cm.
It was positive that it was responding to the treatment, but we'd hoped it had reduced more.
Julian was at his wit's end.
"Another round'll kill me," he wept to his specialists.
So they stopped his chemo early and he started intense radiation instead.
Six weeks later, the tumour had become dormant.
He was supposed to return for regular check-ups, but after 10 months of constant hospital visits, Julian was traumatised.
I felt concerned as appointment after appointment was missed.
But he was confident that he was all right.
Two years later, his pain had returned with a vengeance and no medication would work.
"I think I need to go to the doctor," he said.
We were devastated to discover the cancer was back.
"I should have got it checked out sooner," he said.
"We'll fight this," I promised.
He was given more chemo but this time, the tumour wasn't responding.
He was given an epidural in his back, which left him wheelchair-bound.
Finn was confused seeing his dad in the wheelchair, but I could tell that he also sensed something was wrong.
I felt overwhelmed caring for Julian, Finn, and trying to keep food on the table.
Thankfully close family and friends helped out.
Three months later, Julian's cancer was confirmed as terminal.
"I'm so sorry," the specialist said. "You might only have three weeks left."
I let out a wail of grief. How could the world be so cruel?
When I told my sister Melissa, she was determined to make Julian's final days memorable.
"Why don't you get married?" she suggested. "Before it's too late."
I loved the idea, but we couldn't afford a wedding.
Incredibly, Melissa had already contacted a charity called My Wedding Wish, which helps people with terminal illnesses tie the knot.
I bit my lip as I considered it.
We had nothing to lose...
"Let's do it," Julian agreed.
His eyes lit up and he smiled for the first time in months.
We set the date for just four days' time.
It seemed impossible but plans seemed to magically fall into place.
Managers at Werribee Park Mansion generously waived the fees for the venue and we also secured a photographer, videographer, cake, car and flowers.
The baker of our cake even offered me her own wedding dress. I couldn't believe everyone's kindness!
"Every bride deserves to feel like a princess," she smiled.
I was stunned by how perfectly it fit me, like it was meant to be.
Loved ones in New Zealand quickly flew over but sadly my side of the family couldn't make it.
On the big day, my hands trembled nervously as I did my hair and make-up.
Julian had gained weight because of the steroids and his hair was overgrown, so I gave it a trim.
"I'm sorry this isn't the wedding you wanted," he said, wiping away tears. "How can I vow anything to you when I won't even be here?"
"It's not about making future promises, it's about old ones," I assured him. "We'll talk about how lucky we are for the time we've had together."
Later, I made my way down the aisle towards Julian.
Finn was by my side, dressed in an adorable three-piece suit.
It felt incredible to finally be marrying the man of my dreams, even if we didn't have long.
"Today I marry my friend. The one I've laughed with and cried with," Julian quivered.
"The one I have learned with and shared with. The one I have chosen to support, encourage and give myself to through everything. Today I marry the one I love."
Despite everything, I truly felt like the luckiest girl in the world and cried with bittersweet happiness.
That night Julian slept at home with Finn and me.
His condition rapidly declined over the following days and he was admitted back to hospital.
Eight days later, a nurse called to say Julian's breathing had changed and we didn't have much time.
I was getting ready to rush over there when I heard that my beautiful husband had slipped away.
I crumpled into a heap on the living room floor, paralysed by grief.
Knowing this was coming didn't make it easier.
But I had to be strong for Finn.
It's what Julian would have wanted.
When I look at our son, I see his dad and feel comforted that a part of him is still with me.
It warms my heart to know that we finally got to tie the knot before I lost him.
I'll always have that happy memory and for that I'll forever be grateful.
- PuzzlesTake 5 Pocket Puzzler Issue 195 Online Entry Coupon
Prizes To LoveDec 25, 2020