Occasionally a client comes along and you just know they are going to change your life. This was our first meeting with bride Mandy back in November 2012.
Mandy was looking for a day of coordinator for her wedding at Bok Tower in March 2013. We met for lunch and immediately started chatting about her wedding and her fiance. She was telling us that they had been engaged for a while, and actually had another wedding planned, but she got sick and they had to postpone it. While I noticed that she was wearing a hat, it was chilly that day, so I thought nothing of it. Little did I know, but was soon to find out, Mandy was wearing that hat because her hair was growing back in and she still didn’t have much yet. Mandy had cancer.
Her story is a courageous one. She was diagnosed at a young age with ovarian cancer. She had to withdraw from college, and come home for her mother and father to take care of her. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Her prognosis was good. She met and fell in love with Alex, her fiance. They planned their wedding and honeymoon. It was to be the wedding of her dreams. However, cancer had a different plan for Mandy.
Shortly before her wedding to Alex, Mandy’s cancer came back. Her physician recommended surgery again and another round of chemotherapy. With Alex and her family by her side, Mandy made the decision to undergo the surgery that would ensure she would be free of cancer. This surgery was not without risks. She would again have to endure the trials that go along with chemotherapy. They postponed their wedding and honeymoon, and began the long process of making Mandy well again.
While Mandy was sharing her story with us, I mentioned that I was, at the time, President of the Orlando Chapter of Wish Upon a Wedding, an organization who provides weddings for people with terminal illnesses. I told Mandy about our bride that we were planning a wedding for, and how she had undergone chemotherapy and was now losing her hair. Without even missing a beat, Mandy offered to loan her wigs for our bride to wear on her wedding day. Her exact words were “No bride should have to go without hair on her wedding day!”. Within a couple of weeks I was on my way to our Wish wedding with a box sitting next to me that contained 4 wigs that Mandy was loaning to someone she had never met, and probably never would.
Just over two months later, it was Mandy’s turn to have her long awaited wedding. She had painstakingly planned this wedding to Alex, finding the perfect ceremony spot in front of Bok Tower. If you’ve never been before, it is set on a beautiful hilltop overlooking the orange groves in Polk County. The tower is surrounded by a reflecting pool filled with Koi, while Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss dot the landscape nearby.
She wanted to have her reception on the lawn at the nearby Pinewood Estate. Plans were made for catering, flowers, rentals. Table layouts were created and revised as the guest list grew. What started as a wedding for 100 guests, quickly grew to a wedding for nearly 200, with family and friends anxious to watch this special woman finally marry the love of her life.
However, now Mother Nature had other ideas. On Friday night, we arrived at the Visitor’s Center to make our way to the ceremony location for the rehearsal. Mandy was running a little late. It started to sprinkle rain. The longer we waited, the harder it rained, until it was pouring so hard we could barely see the parking lot. So much for rehearsal at the ceremony location. We made the best of it and put together a makeshift rehearsal inside the Visitor’s Center building while it continued to rain outside. Realizing that the weather forecast for Friday was only for 20% chance of rain and there was a 30% chance for Saturday, we quickly began to put together a plan B. (Yes, I know, as a planner I should have had plan B in my back pocket already. Mandy was adamant that it was not going to rain all along, and didn’t even want to consider anything else!) We decided to wait to see what the weather was like on Saturday morning, knowing that we may need to bring the wedding inside. Mandy said she was fine if we had to bring the reception inside, but she would stand in the rain if need be to get married at the Tower. It continued to POUR rain all night long. It wasn’t looking good.
Saturday morning we woke up to a foggy start to the day. The sun was trying to peek through but clouds kept rolling in. But no rain. We drove up to Bok Tower to look at the ceremony and reception sites and decide what we were going to do. The weather forecast was now a 40% chance of thunderstorms. We met with the groom and Mandy’s father Lee to talk about the reception. Mandy hadn’t wanted a tent, because she really wanted to be able to have the reception under the stars. She had at the last moment ordered a small tent for the DJ, but it wasn’t going to be big enough to keep the guest tables and everything else dry. The decision was made to bring the reception inside to the the Visitor’s Center. We never even discussed moving the ceremony inside. We knew how strongly Mandy felt about being married at the Tower, and we were determined we’d stand there with umbrellas over her and Alex if we had to.
Moving the reception inside required some changes in logistics. The Visitor’s Center main lobby isn’t large enough to accommodate 200 guests, so we had to figure out how to wind the guest tables throughout the exhibit space. We decided it could provide some interest during the dinner hour when guests would be at their tables. Of course this completely changed the table layout that had been previously drawn up for the lawn. To further complicate matters, we were not able to start setting up inside until after 2:30 as the Visitor’s Center was still open to the general public until 5:00. We had the ceremony location (at the top of the hill) that needed to be ready for guests by 4:00. The wedding was at 4:30. We decided to spend the morning pre-staging everything we could for the reception – putting together the escort cards, adding the candles to the candle holders, and organizing all of the boxes of decor items Mandy had delivered to us, by table.
At 3:30 we put the finishing touches on the ceremony site, and the Bok Tower staff started shuttling guests up the hill to the drop off location. The ushers guided guests to their seats while Alex and Mandy finished up their first look photos. The clouds periodically threatened, but the rain stayed away.
As the Carillon bells of the Tower began to play their music at 4:30, the bridal party made their way down the aisle to wait for Mandy and her father. As the officiant asked the guests to rise from their seats, Mandy and her father could be seen walking up the hill towards the aisle and her love, Alex. They exchanged vows, just as Mandy had dreamed they would, in front of the Tower with the sun shining and the breeze blowing the smell of orange blossoms up the hill.
After the ceremony, the guests wandered down the paths towards the Vistor’s Center, taking in the beauty of the gardens on their stroll. They were met by the catering staff outside the Center with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. They enjoyed the surrounding gardens and flowers while the bridal party finished up their post wedding photos.
With the help of the Bok Tower staff and volunteers and the catering staff, we were able to put the reception together in just over 2 hours, while finishing touches were placed during the cocktail hour.
Mandy clearly has touched many lives with her positive energy and sweet demeanor. We can say she certainly made a difference in ours. Congratulations Mandy and Alex. We wish you a very long and happy life together!
Venue: Bok Tower Gardens (Rita Horton)
Day of Planner: Save the Date Wedding & Event Design
Caterer: Terrie Lobb Catering
Harpist: Amy Anne Stabler
Florist: Carlton’s Petals and Bows
Officiant: Rev Marcus Moore, Sensational Ceremonies
Cake: Cookie Jar Bakeshop
Rentals: Party Rentals Unlimited
Photographer: Ashley McCormick Photography
Videographer: McElroy Films
DJ/Lighting/Photo Booth/Reception Master of Ceremonies: Arnoldo Offerman A Premier Entertainment
** The bride that Mandy loaned her wigs to is Sasha McNichols, pictured below on her wedding day to her husband Joe. Sasha continues to be stable after undergoing chemotherapy for Stage IV breast cancer. Credit: Liga Photography