No ordinary wedding planner
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Words: Clare Kingsbury-Bell
Naomi Thomas is helping other terminally ill brides fulfil their wedding dreams.
She was just 26 years old and had a six-day-old baby when she was told she was terminally ill with cancer.
Instead of losing hope, the inspirational mother decided to grab on to life and use the time she had left to help make the wedding dreams of other terminally ill women come true.
She set up The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation and, through her remarkable journey, Naomi has been a guest at Downing Street, won national awards and taken her family on a whirlwind adventure.
Telling her heartbreaking and heartwarming story, Naomi concludes that her life has probably been better because of the cancer and she knows that, however long she has left, she has lived.
“In April 2009, I was about eight weeks into a new relationship, with my now husband Graham, when he proposed. I was just 26 years old and but it felt so right. However, two days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a low grade tumour and when they removed it, the doctors were confident they had got it all. I had six months of weekly chemotherapy to make sure and then some radiotherapy too as a precaution.
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“It wasn’t great. I lost my hair and basically my whole life changed overnight. We couldn’t afford to live in the West Country anymore so moved to Nottinghamshire, away from our family.
“As Christmas approached, we were looking to the future and talking more about children and whether after all the chemo and radiotherapy it would even be possible. We decided we might as well start trying and then if it didn’t happen we had at least given it a shot.
“In January I was at the hospital and a routine pregnancy test came back postive. I was shocked as it was our first month trying.
“Then we were petrified as the chemo and radiotherapy was still running around my body with who knew what consquences for the baby.
“But each scan came back clear and everything was going well, until at about five months pregnant I started suffering with severe back pain. It was so bad I was on crutches and used a wheelchair, until I finally had a C-section delivery.
“In September 2010, I gave birth to my beautiful little boy, Devon, who was just perfect.
“My back started to ease a little, but I was still getting around on crutches so couldn’t carry my baby or rock him to sleep – which broke my heart.
“A few days later I collapsed at the top of the stairs and started shaking violently. A shooting pain went all the way down my back and through my right leg - it was like someone had cut a nerve.
“An ambulance was called and paramedics gave me gas and air and morphine, but it didn’t help. They had to call the fire bridgade to help get me down the stairs without moving my back or legs.
“The doctors discovered I had caught MRSA during the caesarean.
“That evening they also told me the scans showed I had broken my back in three places and had a tumour the size of an egg in my pelvis. I didn’t really know what that meant except that I needed treatment again.
“I went to see the oncologist and it was only then I was told the cancer was terminal.
“I could live a long time, but it would eventually take my life. I had a three-week- old baby and I was being told I would never see his 16th birthday. We both collapsed in tears.
“I could have lost myself in the despair, but then I thought ‘what’s the point in moaning about it?’ So I got back on the treadmill and restarted the chemotherapy.
“Everytime I had it I ended up in hospital because my immune system was so poor. I missed out on a lot of the first six months of my son’s life.
“Our parents wanted us back in the West Country so they helped us move back to where we are now in Wellington.
“I decided I wanted to do something for the charities that had helped me, to say thank you. So I started organising a pamper night. The local newspaper picked up my story and soon the event needed a bigger venue. People were stopping me in the street and it seemed like everyone wanted to help. The event ended up with 500 people attending and raised £6,000.
“About two months before the event in January 2012, I had a phone call from Sam Williams, a local wedding planner. She had read about us cancelling our wedding a few times because I was in hospital or we had no money as I was unable to work, and she offered to help arrange our marriage on as little money as possible. We met up and got on really well.
“I had been a wedding planner before my diagnosis, so I was probably the toughest person to work with. She was brilliant and I couldn’t believe how many people offered to do things for me for free.
“I realised there was a model here that could help other terminally ill women who wanted to marry before their time was up - that’s where The Wedding Wishing Well began.
“We were married in June 2012 at St Audries Park and the charity was already in full flow.
“We went off on honeymoon to Egypt, which was made possible by local charity Dream A Way, and by the time we got back there was an application waiting for me. The woman had exactly the same diagnosis as me but was further on. She lived in Derbyshire and wanted to get married in a castle in Scotland.
“We got to work and she was married in the December. Eight months later she died, but she got to experience married life and they will always be married – nobody can take that away from them.
“In January 2013 I won Bride of the Year and got to meet a lot of people in the industry, who all thought the charity was amazing and couldn’t understand why nobody had done it before.
“I sat next to dress designer Maggie Soterro and she told me to call her whenever I needed anything.
“I’ve won four awards now, including the Daily Mail’s Inspirational Woman award, and have been a visitor at Downing Street twice.
“It’s been a massive whirlwind and the charity has grown and now employs people.
“At the end of the day I’m still ill as well, and have treatment every three weeks. It still takes its toll on me and I have a four-year-old at home.
“Every day I’m moaning, but I love it and I believe it’s why I’m here. On the wedding day, it’s the most emotional thing ever.
“We have done 17 weddings now and we have to turn down about 80 per cent of applications because we don’t have enough money.
“I did one recently in Honiton. The bride had secondary breast cancer and had been in a bad way. We weren’t sure if she was going to make it but she did. At the end of the wedding I went to say goodbye and as I walked through the grounds I thought what a good thing to be able to do, to give people the thing they deserve and to use my cancer in a positive way.
“I feel now that my life has actually been better because of the cancer. Most people with my condition survive about five years. Devon is four now and you just don’t know what’s around the corner. Graham and I renew our vows every year because I might not be here next year. But if I die tomorrow, I have had a completely fulfilling life.”
Harper Collins approached Naomi about telling her story and her book, No Ordinary Wedding Planner, has now been released.
The Wedding Wishing Well is also looking for people to nominate them as their charity of the year.