When Anne Carmean first met Jon Harnish on an online dating site in 2008, she divulged something personal that wasn’t in her profile.
Earlier that year, she’d had a mastectomy — three days before her 33rd birthday — after cancer was detected in her right breast. She had finished radiation therapy the month before connecting with Harnish.
Carmean, who also had two sons at the time, including one with special needs, was worried it would all be too much for Harnish.
"I was scared because I didn’t know what he’d think, and with my son Robbie," who can’t walk or talk and uses a feeding tube. She thought Harnish would "run as soon as he meets him."
But Harnish didn’t run.
He "just stepped up to the plate, and he was daddy," Carmean said. "The next day, we went (on a date) to the forest preserve, and then he never left."
They were engaged a few months later, at Christmastime.
But the Rockford couple never set a wedding date, and six years later, they received devastating news: Carmean’s cancer had returned. Her diagnosis was metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV cancer, which had spread to her lungs.
On Sunday, eight years after they met, and two years after doctors told her the cancer was terminal, Carmean, 41, and Harnish, 44, will finally have their wedding.
The event has been planned and paid for by Wish Upon a Wedding, a nonprofit organization that grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing serious illness or a life-altering circumstance. The couple’s wedding Sunday, at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel downtown, will be the 100th wish granted by the nonprofit, which was founded in 2010.
"They haven’t had the time fighting the illness and with the kids at home to put together a wedding," said Alison Phillips, national president for Wish Upon a Wedding. "A lot of times it’s taking a step away from the illness for the day. It’s celebrating the fact that love is love no matter what position they’re in or what they’re battling, and at the end of the day they want to be together forever."
The couple applied to have their wedding wish granted, Carmean said, "because we weren’t sure how long I had."
After Carmean learned her cancer was incurable, she cried all the time. She would turn on the shower and weep on the bathroom floor.
She worries about her children, especially Robbie, who is now 15.
"Who’s going to take care of him? That’s what I’m freaking out about because I take care of him 24/7. It makes me mad," she said. "I have young kids. Why couldn’t it happen when I was 60? Why did it have to come back? It’s unfair."
She feels guilty when her 9-year-old son, Johnny, tells her he wishes she didn’t have cancer so she could play outside more and go bike riding or play catch with him. Her youngest child, Camden, a son she had with Harnish, is now 5 years old.
Now more than ever, the couple are trying to do more activities with the kids, such as taking them to the creek near their home for picnics or to the county fair, said Carmean’s sister Jean Lynn, 34.
"I think she realized, ‘I may not have forever so let me take every moment,’" said Lynn, who lives in Elgin. "We never know what’s going to happen next month, next week, next year. It’s so unknown."
With her bubbly personality, Carmean doesn’t appear to be sick. But she tires easily and deals with hot flashes. At times, her joints ache so badly she doesn’t want to move her body. Her hair is thinning. She takes medicine to regulate her blood pressure, chemotherapy pills, and anti-anxiety and anti-hormonal medication.
Harnish is supporting her by bringing home dinner on days she’s too tired to cook, and taking the kids out on the weekends so she can rest. "He wants her to be around as long as she can be," Lynn said.
Carmean discovered Wish Upon a Wedding from a private Facebook group for women with metastatic breast cancer. The organization helps plan a wedding for 50 guests by providing a venue, catering, photography, flowers, invitations, music, hair and makeup services — at no cost to the couple. It will be Carmean’s second marriage and Harnish’s first.
Carmean hadn’t thought she and Harnish would ever get to tie the knot because of her health and finances, Lynn said. And she had doubted their wish would be granted because of what she calls her bad luck. But Harnish suggested their luck was changing.
On her right arm, she has a tattoo of a dandelion, which represents the making of a wish when the puff is blown. Her mother has a dandelion seed tattooed behind her ear. Her sister has one inked on her ankle.
One of Carmean’s wishes was to take a cross-country trip before her health worsened. She saw the Badlands, Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains with her sister last summer. It was a trip that inspired her fiance to start his own flooring business.
Another dream was to get married.
The bride-to-be was giddy thinking about the big day, seeing her kids on the dance floor and dancing with Harnish.
Carmean, who used to hide from the camera, now wants to take lots of pictures and is looking forward to wedding photos. "She wants lots of memories, and she wants her kids to remember her," Lynn said.
"I’m excited to see her all happy," Harnish said. "It was meant to be from day one. It just took eight years."
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