A bride-to-be who was diagnosed with a rare illness three days after getting engaged organised her wedding day from a ‘cancer bubble’ in a sterile isolation unit.
Katie Welsh had always dreamed of having a small ceremony with only close family and friends, but had no idea she would be planning it from inside a hospital, while her immune system was deconstructed and rebuilt.
From the safety of her sterile bubble, Katie used an iPad to buy the wig she wore made from real hair, which was shipped from America, three bridesmaid dresses from Asos, and a pair of purple sparkly Jimmy Choo stilettos.
She had to buy TWO wedding dresses as she lost so much weight during cancer treatment that the first one, which was heavily beaded, was too uncomfortable and she had to sell it.
And the mum-of-two took the pressure off wedding planning by enlisting her fiance’s brother to take the photos, and her best friend to style her hair.
When her boyfriend Dan Slawycz, popped the question on a romantic weekend away, in February 2016, Katie said ‘yes’ without a second thought.
The loved-up couple started planning their wedding the very next day, and booked in an appointment at the registry office.
But three days later, Katie, now aged 33, collapsed after watching her daughter perform in a school play.
Her terrified children Harley, now aged 13, and her brother Ryley, now aged 15, tried to rouse their mother and dialled 999.
But when Katie arrived at the hospital, X-rays showed a tumour was pressing on her windpipe – and doctors said if it had been found much later she would have died.
She was given the devastating news that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – a rare form of blood cancer.
Katie said: “I did all my planning from the isolation unit, using an iPad.
“It kept me going thinking about it, and kept me occupied. Planning the wedding took my mind off the cancer treatment and gave me something to look forward to.
“When Dan proposed, I was really excited, but I never wanted anything big.
“I said ‘let’s do it in a couple of months, with family and the children in a registry office and go for a meal afterwards.’
“I didn’t want to be the centre of attention.”
The shocking diagnosis came out of the blue and Katie tried to hide the severity of it from her children.
“I’d had a cough for a few weeks over Christmas and I’d been feeling tired,” she said.
“But everyone’s tired at that time of year.
“In January I lost four or five pounds, but I’d been trying to eat healthily and I was pleased about the weight loss.
“Looking back it was the symptoms of cancer. It was crazy. I was still working full time, I didn’t even feel ill.”
She was admitted to hospital straight away, and spent six weeks in an isolation unit in the Christie Hospital in Manchester, which only treats cancer patients.
Katie had to move into a sterile room with two sets of doors to keep germs out.
Her immune system had to be deconstructed and rebuilt, and visitors had to scrub their hands with antibacterial liquid and wear special pinafores before entering.
But Katie found a way to keep her spirits up – by planning the wedding day in May, when she would become Mrs Slawycz.
Katie said: “We were so happy that weekend and then three days later everything changed.
“I think a lot of my friends thought I was marrying Dan because I thought I was dying, but that wasn’t it – neither of us knew I was ill when he popped the question.”
She spent six weeks in isolation, and only saw her children three times, because she did not want them to see her looking bald and ill.
But Katie spoke to them on Facetime, and shopped for outfits for them online.
Browsing the internet when she could not sleep, Katie treated herself to a glittery pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos.
And she had to buy two wedding dresses, as she lost so much weight that the first one no longer fitted.
Katie said: “I originally had a sparkly white beaded dress but when I got home and tried it on it was so heavy I knew I couldn’t wear it.
“I had to order a second one – it had a big lacy skirt and a lot of people said I looked like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and The City.
“I’d been 9.5 stone before and my weight dropped to eight stone.”
Katie browsed for a wig she could wear to hide her hair loss, and had one shipped over from America especially for the wedding party.
She found a bright side in the drastic weight loss, as doctors insisted she tried to eat 3,000 calories a day, including a three-course-meal.
“It’s every girls dream being able to eat whatever you want,” Katie said.
“When I got out of hospital I told Dan I wanted to go to my three favourite restaurants in Manchester, and I put on half a stone in a weekend.
“There was no way I was going to sit at home crying about it.”
Dan camped out in the hospital every night and they watched endless films and television series – although Katie was so tired she could barely stay awake.
Katie’s parents looked after Harley and Ryley, who knew their mum was ill but not the full extent.
And she was heartbroken to be separated from her Jackahuahua dog, Diego, during the chemotherapy.
Although she never considered calling the wedding off, the plans did not go smoothly and five days before the original date Katie was rushed into hospital.
She said: “Dan had to ring the registry office three times to change the date because I was poorly.
“On the day he had to put my medication in his suit pocket.
“But I managed to forget about everything for a second.”
After a quick civil ceremony in a registry office, the 20 guests ate steak and chips in a restaurant and then went to a casino.
They delayed the honeymoon until Katie was well enough to go to Cape Verde last March, nearly a year after the wedding.
After the ceremony Katie became ill again, and the couple got used to celebrating in hospital – including New Year’s Eve, and Dan’s 30th birthday.
Now she has returned to work and is on the way to recovery.
Katie said: “Dan’s been amazing, he took six months off work to look after me.
“We will be celebrating five years together this July.
“The nurses in the hospital became my friends, I took them presents at Christmas.
“They looked after me so well when I was feeling tired and poorly.”.