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Illness When Planning Your Wedding

“What if you are diagnosed with cancer while planning your wedding?” I was shocked and caught off guard when a bride and groom asked me this question recently. They came to see me to see if I would consider performing their Jewish wedding ceremony. As a Cantor, part of my role is to officiate at Jewish wedding ceremonies. I often speak with couples about topics revolving around what makes a marriage successful, but this question threw me a bit. This couple said that as part of their giving back and annual charity, they want to support a charity called Wish Upon a Wedding.

In 2009, while looking for ways to give back to her community, Liz Guthrie, a party and event planner, organized a Dream Wedding Giveaway in San Francisco for couples who couldn’t afford a high-end wedding. Although the giveaway received 350 applications from all over the country, the story of one couple warmed everyone’s heart.

Enter Vanessa Muza Teskey, a U.S. Air Force officer battling stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and her fiancé, Capt. Mike Hawkings, also an Air Force officer. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, the couple met and got engaged in 2008. Vanessa received her cancer diagnosis one day before Mike was deployed to Southwest Asia.

From 11,000 miles apart, the contest gave the couple hope for a brighter future and enough resilience to face Vanessa’s chemotherapy sessions. Vanessa and Mike’s love story ended up winning them a $100,000 high-end wedding package –all of the proceeds were donated by local businesses and wedding industry professionals. And although the Hawkins’ wedding was a huge success, Liz felt a little bummed down: she thought that there were loads of people deserving of a wedding. What if there was a way to grant that dream wedding to more couples like the Hawkins? Couples with a moving love story who were entrenched in life-altering circumstances and lacked the headspace and the financial capacity to plan a high-end wedding.

And this is why, in November of 2009, Wish Upon a Wedding was officially born. Our original wedding industry founders came together with a vision to give couples and their loved ones a day away from serious illness, helping them create memories to sustain them through the upcoming challenges.

Wish Upon a Wedding grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing serious illness or life-altering health circumstances. We help couples alleviate the financial burden and time commitment that planning a wedding entails, focusing instead on dealing with their treatments and spending time with their loved ones.

Due to their health-related circumstances, the couples we honor have endured far more significant challenges than many of us could imagine, and we aim to celebrate their love for one another.

Today, our board members and local committees have grown to include professionals and partners from a wide range of industries across the United States. We’ve been able to grant more than 175 weddings and vow renewals through the generosity and kindness of individuals, wedding industry professionals who donate services, corporate sponsors, partnerships, and marvelous volunteers.

My bride and groom asked me to perform their wedding and I felt so enriched by learning about this marvelous charity and the meaningful work they are doing for brides and grooms who are ill.

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