Feelings of love filled the air at Inova Fairfax Hospital as nurses and hospital personnel pulled together to grant a seriously ill 27-year-old cancer patient her dream a wedding with all of the trimmings.
“It was her last wish,” says Kay Cole, RN, clinical nurse leader on the adult oncology unit at Inova Fairfax in Falls Church, Va., who heard patient Tracy DePaolis voice her desire and said, “I will make it happen.”
DePaolis has spent about eight months off and on at Inova Fairfax in the past year battling colon cancer. Her high school sweetheart, Joe, stayed by her side throughout her treatments. The pair began dating in 10th grade, were married by a justice of the peace before her latest admission, and set a wedding date for Dec. 1, their 12-year anniversary as a couple.
When the patient’s prognosis changed earlier this month, the nurses realized the urgency of having the ceremony sooner than December. They knew how much she wanted to wear her gown and enjoy the celebration, tradition, and meaning that accompany a wedding.
“The couple and family were phenomenal, and it made you want to do something really good for them,” Cole says. “They touched our hearts.”Nurses helped plan the wedding of cancer patient Tracy DePaolis at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va. Included in the festivities were (bottom row, from left) Miranda Gingerich, RN; Rachael Baniowski, RN; DePaolis; Maurey Wilcox, RN; (top row, from left) Sue Mohammad, RN; Patti Horgas, RN, hematology/oncology patient care director; Jean McElrath, RN; J. Renee Harris, RN; and Theresa McGowan, RN.
A half-dozen nurses and nurse case managers on the oncology unit pulled off a fete many would consider impossible putting together a wedding with a cake, music, reception, and all of the trimmings in only two days.
As the adult oncology nurses called different departments, everyone readily pitched in. The chaplain and the gift shop donated flowers. Food service agreed to cater the reception, serving finger sandwiches and punch in the administrative boardroom for about 40 guests. One nurse’s daughter, who is a pastry chef, baked a cake. The family of another donated a red rose bouquet and boutonniere.
Nurses also altered a white satin and lace wedding gown, “something borrowed” from the bride’s sister-in-law. Cole made invitations and a sign for the patient’s room. Tracking down a tuxedo for the groom proved the most challenging. But all was in place for the July 11 ceremony, which was held in the hospital’s chapel.
An aesthetician from the American Cancer Society applied Tracy’s makeup and styled a wig. The nurses helped her into the dress.
“Everybody was fussing over her,” says Patti Horgas, RN, MSN, patient care director for the oncology unit.
Just before the ceremony, the hospice physician ordered a dose of methylphenidate (Ritalin) to boost DePaolis’ energy. It worked. She was awake and alert the entire time.
“She looked beautiful and was very happy,” Horgas says. “She loved it, and they were so happy and appreciative.”
Red rose petals marked her path to the altar. Later, at the reception decorated with balloons, Joe removed the garter, Tracy tossed her red rose bouquet, and both cut the cake. One of the nurses used an old photo of the couple together to create a giant card that fellow nurses could sign. “It was hard to be there for that ceremony,” Horgas says. “It was very emotional, knowing we were able to give her that wish. This came from the nurses’ hearts, and we were so happy we could do it.”
Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.
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