‘Little did I know this one wedding, and this one bride, would change my life forever.’: Photographer captures 19-year-old bride’s impromptu wedding after she was told ‘she wouldn’t make it through the night’

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“People always ask photographers, ‘What is the toughest wedding you’ve documented?’

Hands down, for me, this was that wedding.

Mother places flower crown on teen daughter who lays in hospital bed wearing wedding dress
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

It was only an hour’s worth of shooting time, but a sea of lessons learned to last a lifetime.

I usually can withstand any sort of physical stress from getting injured on the job, to shooting a 16-hour wedding day. While I’ve cut my foot on coral and lost gear due to the rain, the emotional roller coaster of this 1-hour celebration of life has got to be by far the toughest wedding I’ve ever had the honor of documenting.

Father leans over to kiss teen daughter on cheek who is in hospital bed while nurse removes breathing tubes
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Teen with cancer sits up in hospital bed writing on clip bored with flower bouquet beside it
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Emotionally, I broke down 2 minutes into this wedding, and I had to fight the urge every other minute until I finished my job. It’s moments like these that I hate calling it a ‘job’ because it is my passion and I truly appreciate what I get to do for people. This wedding is not just another number for me, but a new standard for my life.

At 2:45 p.m. on Labor Day, I got a message from a close friend about a 19-year-old bride who has cancer and was told she wouldn’t make it through the night, so they had to move her wedding day to that very day at 5:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the original photographer was unavailable for that day, due to the last-minute change. My friend who got the original inquiry couldn’t do it and it broke his heart. While I know he would have been honored to have captured it himself, he blessed me with this opportunity. Little did I know this one day, this one wedding, and this one bride, would change my life forever.

Teen with cancer sits in hospital bed wearing wedding gown and holding bouquet of flowers
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Teen with cancer wears wedding gown in hospital bed holding mothers hand
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Close up of teen with cancer's lace ballet flats she is wearing for her wedding
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

I dropped everything, ran upstairs, took a shower, changed, and grabbed my gear. I bolted out the door to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Sign outside for St. Joseph's Children's Hospital where 19 year old with cancer got married
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

The ceremony was originally going to take place in the small chapel within the hospital, but unfortunately Nina was too frail to walk down the aisle. So, we had to set up the ceremony location directly in her room inside the Pediatrics Intense Care Unit.

Nurse and other women throwing confetti into the air in celebration of 19 year old with cancer's marriage
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
White robe hanging in hospital room that says, "Bride" in gold behind next to table with flowers and candle
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Once I got to PICU, it didn’t seem silent or sad. Everyone was full of life, smiling, laughing, making jokes. It was as if there wasn’t even an illness present in this equation and everyone was there to celebrate another magical love story.

After a little while, reality started to set in. Here are two people, Nina and Joey, 19 and 20 years old. These two amazing souls met way back at camp as kids. As they grew alongside each other and fell in love with one another, they dreamed to one day grow old together.

As the years passed and their friendship turned to love, the reality of growing old together became a faint dream. Nina was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she shared a lifetime of memories with Joey during her short existence here. Now, Nina just wished to pass peacefully as a happy wife, surrounded by those who love her the most.

Father leans over to kiss head of teen daughter with cancer in hospital bed wearing wedding dress
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Young woman smiles while leaning over hospital bed where teen with cancer lays before her wedding
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Father holds out ring to teen daughter with cancer who is going to get married in hospital
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

The morning of the event started like any other rainy, hot Florida summer day. The torrential downpour of the storm only set the tone for the future. It was a sign from the beginning.

Shocking but in the best way possible, the wedding itself was not reflective of what the weather was outside. The room was decorated with medical equipment and monitors, surrounded by photographs of the memories and adventures that Nina and Joey made throughout their lives. Please understand this is not your traditional wedding. If you are thinking it was decorated with mounds of florals, it wasn’t. But, this is not what this wedding was about. Nina was lying on the bed, already in her dress. Joey, getting ready to be with his bride. It wasn’t about how grand this wedding decor was, but about how grand their love for one another is.

The smell of fresh rain filled the air.

Man putting up picture on wall that says, "Mr & Mrs" with pictures of the couple around it
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Groom walks into hospital room where his bride who has cancer is lying in hospital bed
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

I wish I could remember the vows that were exchanged, but my heart was pounding so loud I couldn’t hear a thing. I do know the words Joey spoke to Nina made the entire room sob. And, while Nina was not able to verbally express her love for Joey, it only took one look to bring him to his knees. He knew. It was the kind of love where no words have to be exchanged to know what the other person was saying. The kind of love people only dream of.

Teen bride with cancer sits in hospital in wedding gown looking up at groom
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Teen bride with cancer lies in hospital bed holding hands with groom while people watch
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Her dying wishes were to be surrounded by those she loved the most, and those who loved her most. Her family was there, her mom, dad and close relatives.

Teen groom looks down at bride with cancer while their family members watch
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Teen bride with cancer lays in hospital bed putting frosting from wedding cake on groom's nose
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Exactly before this moment, I was going through one of my darkest days in a long time. The 24 hours leading up to this wedding day was a series of ‘woe-is-me,’ fueled by alcohol and pity, and it brought back one of the worst days of my life: The death of my father, last Christmas, where he unexpectedly passed from pneumonia. An overwhelming feeling of dread, anger, and hopelessness pumped through every vein in my body. Honestly, I was broken… I was at my friend’s apartment seeking a Band-Aid for my problems. I was having professional problems with a combination of never getting closure for my father’s death, since he passed in India while I was here in Tampa.

I wish it didn’t take a visual tragedy for us to appreciate life. For us to grasp how unexpected life can be, and how short it really is.

My friend said it best, ‘Whatever is holding you down at this exact moment, it’s not worth dwelling over. Live your lives for those who can’t live for themselves. This young woman is 19. She is living her best life. Don’t take your life for granted. If you are reading this, you are blessed. Learn to let go of these petty little things. Now go out and live.’

Nina’s presence, Nina’s energy, and Nina’s love for life comforted and healed me a million times over. I only wish there is some way I could repay her.

Teen bride with cancer lays in hospital bed holding hands of two men while groom stands beside her
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Teen with cancer lies in hospital bed while mother, father, and husband, kiss her
Nil Patel/Patel Creative
Man leans over hospital bed hugging teen bride with cancer
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Nina, though we only met that very day, and by the time this story goes up you may not be with us, please understand the amount of love, the amount of appreciation for life, and the endless lives you’ve touched on this Earth due to your circumstances. We are forever in your debt.

Rest easy, new friend.

Teen bride with cancer lying in hospital bed holding up peace sign with pictures on wall behind her
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

Update: On September 6, 2018, Nina passed away and is now pain free. Before she passed, Nina had a bucket list of goals she wanted to turn into a reality. Currently, her husband Joey is doing an incredible job at keeping her spirit and memory alive, and has asked for our love and support in helping to kick her bucket. You can visit their Facebook page, The Chronic Travelers, to see his progress.

I also want to give thanks to The Children’s Cancer Center. Without their support, all of this would not have been possible. The Children’s Cancer Center provides emotional, financial and educational support for children and families battling childhood cancer.

I’d like to remember and honor Nina by sharing a quote Joey wrote to her on their Facebook page after she passed:

‘I want you to know that I love you and I always will, that the past 450 days of dating you have been some of the best days of my life, and the 2 days 15 hours and 23 minutes I had with you here as your husband were magical. I will always love you, you will always be my beautiful wife, and you will always be with me. Big kiss, Big hug, Big love, I love you bub. You win.’”

Man in suit leans over hospital bed to kiss teen bride with cancer on cheek
Nil Patel/Patel Creative

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nil Patel of Patel Creative in Tampa, Florida. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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