North Carolina Doctors and Nurses Throw Surprise Wedding for Patient with Stage 4 Brain Cancer: 'I Was So Happy'
"She whispered that she wanted to have a wedding and I knew we had to make it happen – and fast!" Dr. Ashley Sumrall tells PEOPLE
After proposing to his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, Jarrod Bradley, 35, couldn’t wait to marry Becky Yonker.
The two met at a friend’s 30th birthday party in the summer of 2012 and always knew they’d end up making it down the aisle. But when Becky, 33, was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor just a year after the couple met, wedding plans seemed like an impossible dream.
“It’s been a crazy past few years,” Bradley tells PEOPLE exclusively.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, couple never imagined the doctors and nurses treating Yonker would end up making the wedding happen.
“We’ve been trying to plan a wedding and everything kept coming up so we kept having to postpone it,” Bradley recalls.
Yonker, who works in marketing, went to the doctor for what she thought was a sinus infection back in July 2013. When doctors realized she actually had a brain tumor the size of a plum, they operated. They got it all and Becky was doing well until two years later in December 2015 when the tumor came back. She had surgery on Christmas Eve, but was home the next day to celebrate with Jarrod.
“It was tough. She had more chemo, more radiation. We always knew it would come back. We’ve known from the beginning this is gonna be what kills her,” Jarrod says.
But Jarrod wasn’t the only one to fall in love with Becky. Her doctors at Levine Cancer Institute did too and decided the couple deserved the wedding they’d been forced to postpone.
“One afternoon, I shared some bad news with Becky and she just looked in my eyes and told me she wanted to live,” says Becky’s neuro-oncologist, Dr. Ashley Sumrall. “Then she whispered that she wanted to have a wedding and I knew we had to make it happen – and fast! My team quickly got behind the cause.”
Becky’s doctors and nurses planned the Oct. 9 wedding at St. Mary’s Chapel in just a few days and got everything donated – from the venue to the food, music and photographer.
“Eight of us were there that day,” Dr. Sumrall recalls. “My nurse practitioner was the pianist, our chaplain performed the ceremony, my mother and I designed the flowers.”
“It was pretty unbelievable the fact that the doctors took it upon themselves to organize it. With all that we’ve been through to have someone else do it, it was a relief and we’re very grateful.”
Having just had a treatment a few days before the ceremony, and battling some stoke like symptoms, Becky had to use a wheelchair to get down the aisle, but Jarrod says he’ll remember that moment forever.
“Pretty much the happiest moment of my life. She looked beautiful.”
Becky’s brother – who is serving in Afghanistan — even managed to be a part of the wedding. Friends made a life-size cutout of him to have at the wedding and the photographer livestreamed the ceremony so he could watch from his base overseas.
Becky’s doctors, nurses, friends and family, all say they struggled to fight back tears.
Becky tells PEOPLE, “We never thought our wedding would be anything more than a dream with all our setbacks and medical issues. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe we actually got a real wedding!”
She struggles with her speech and has good days and bad, but the couple is looking forward to celebrating their first Christmas together as husband and wife.
Becky has already outlived what doctors initially thought possible in fighting her brain tumor. Three years ago, Dr.Sumrall told her the average survival is 14 to 22 months.
“I also explained there are miracles, too,” the doctor says. “Becky’s smile lights up a room and her tears will bring you to your knees. We have watched her experience the ups and downs. Death is inevitable, but how we live life is a choice.
“My team and I had the best time preparing for her wedding. She has truly embraced each day as a gift and having the opportunity to impact her life is such an honor.”