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Anna's Angels: 'No holds barred' weddings for couples dealing with terminal illness

Planning a typical wedding is an intense undertaking at the best of times, but it’s unfathomable to plan for a wedding when your partner could pass away at any time

Kandace (Kandy) Harry embraced every day as a blessing even before she ­discovered that cancer was ravaging her body. After a two-year battle, when she had only weeks left to live, a stranger stepped into her life to give her and her fiancé one glorious day to remember.

Harry was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer in December 2019 and underwent a round of chemotherapy treatment.

The next summer, doctors told her the cancer had spread.

Told there wasn’t anything more doctors could do for Harry in Canada, her fiancé, Donnie Musgrove, borrowed money to fly her to Mexico for immunotherapy treatment, but she was told by the clinic there that it was too late.

Musgrove’s priority was to keep Harry as comfortable as possible during her last days. Their pre-cancer plans to get married were almost forgotten.

“We always thought that we had time,” said Musgrove, 50. “Once we knew she had cancer, Kandy’s plan was always to beat it first.”

Then he got a telephone call from Lily Kennedy, a local custom wedding gown designer, with an unusual offer.

“Out of the blue I got a call from a woman, saying that she had been following a blog I had started on Kandy’s journey. She asked if I wanted to get married in four days’ time,” he said. “She said to me that it was ‘no holds barred’ and that we could ask for whatever we needed.”

After hearing of Harry’s plight, Kennedy and Sarah Cruikshank of Kildara Farms in North Saanich had decided to do something for the terminally ill woman, using their extensive connections in the wedding and special events industry — from makeup specialists, caterers, photographers, videographers, hair, nails, bakers and more — to give the couple a dream wedding.

Planning a typical wedding is an intense undertaking at the best of times, but it’s unfathomable to plan for a wedding when your partner could pass away at any time, she said.

Once the couple was on board with the idea, she and Cruikshank reached out to friends and other businesses and, in four and a half hours, they had succeeded in getting all the services and supplies needed to stage a wedding. Using their expertise, the pair were able to condense the wedding-planning process — which usually takes up to a year — into three to four days.

Harry and Musgrove got married in the presence of friends and family on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 — Family Day, tying the knot in a small ceremony in their house in Esquimalt, because Harry was too ill to leave home.

Harry wore a white lace dress and posed with her new husband in front of their fireplace, the warm glow of the candles setting off her long strawberry-blonde hair.

“She was beautiful. With her red hair, she looked like a mermaid to me, and that’s what I called her: my mermaid,” said Musgrove.

Everything to do with the wedding, from the gown to the champagne flutes they used (that Musgrove still treasures) and the photographs for his wedding album, was donated.

Musgrove’s mermaid passed away exactly a month later.

“I don’t think Lily can understand the impact she has had on me, on Kandy and on both of our families,” he said.

After harry and Musgrove’s wedding, word of Kennedy and Cruikshank’s work got around to Brittany L’heureux, who called and told them about her cousin, Josh Nelson.

Nelson was only 35 when his doctor told him he had stage four stomach cancer in May 2018. He started chemotherapy and made plans for the future, getting engaged to his fiancée, Melissa Rankin, in 2020.

But by March 2021, the Langford man was told the rounds of chemotherapy he had endured over the last few years were not working any more. The couple resigned themselves to just enjoying what little time he had left.

With the wedding postponed indefinitely, Rankin planned to put her wedding dress on consignment, since she thought she would never wear it.

She hadn’t reckoned on L’heureux.

Determined that the story would have a happily-ever-after ending, L’heureux called Kennedy and Cruikshank, telling them about the couple’s plight.

“[Kennedy] called me on a Friday and asked: ‘How would you like to get married on Monday?’ ” said Melissa Nelson, née Rankin, 42. “I initially didn’t think that Josh would want to because he was sick all the time, but I asked and he said: ‘Yes, I want to do this.’ I know he loved me and he knew how important getting married was for both of us, especially me. That’s the kind of person he was.”

Within hours, Kennedy had arranged for a venue, arranged for a wedding cake, secured the services of make-up and hair artists, found a photographer to donate time and secured a promise to give Nelson’s wedding dress any last-minute alterations. A men’s clothing store supplied a suit for Josh. In all, about a dozen businesses donated either supplies or services.

On April 5, 2021, the couple walked down the aisle, with L’heureux and other friends and family members who were unable to attend watching the ceremony on a live stream.

“The experience brought Josh back. He was on this incredible high for about three months, right up to when he passed away in July,” said Nelson. “We were able to create some beautiful memories in the time we had together. It touches my heart that people like Lily would help people they didn’t know. For me, saying ‘thank you’ is just not enough. If it wasn’t for them, I would not be Mrs. Nelson today.”

After operating informally, Kennedy and Cruikshank are now calling their venture Anna’s Angels, with a vision of staging weddings and special events for terminally ill people.

They have named their venture Anna’s Angels in honour of Kennedy’s sister-in-law, Anna Skillen, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2002, when she was 33.

While the last three events the pair staged have all been weddings, they are also open to staging other types of events.

“I want to turn a bunch of their shitty days into one special, amazing day,” said Kennedy. “I am happy spreading happiness for others.”

They can be reached at annasangelscanada@gmail.com.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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