As I twirled around in my white, strapless wedding dress, my mum, Luna, then 49, beamed with pride.
‘You look beautiful,’ she said, smiling.
In less than two weeks, I was marrying my dream man.
I’d had a crush on Alistair since I was seven when we were at the same school. But he was part of the popular group and I was too shy to talk to him.
Then, after we left, we bumped into each other at a party and hit it off.
Growing up, Alistair had been the sporty, good-looking type but, as we chatted, I realised there was more to him than met the eye.
He was caring, loving and family-orientated – just like me.
Dedicated to his studies, Alistair was training to become a chiropractor, and he even gave me the confidence to leave my retail job and apply for university.
Introducing him to my family, I knew they’d love him.
Afterwards, Mum and my dad, Jerome, were overjoyed.
‘Meeting him was a weight off my shoulders. Everyone else has been rubbish,’ Mum teased.
Everything had fallen into place. But, just a few months later, in October 2018, Mum complained of stomach pains.
Though she’d had them for years, they’d become almost unbearable.
And no matter how much she ate, she never gained weight. Visiting several doctors, they all put it down to menopause.
Around a month later, another GP finally referred Mum for a CAT scan.
At the doctor’s office the next day, my sister, Jena, 25, and I waited with Mum for the results.
‘I’m afraid you have stage 4 ovarian cancer,’ the doctor said, explaining that Mum’s chances of beating the awful disease were slim.
To give her the best chance, she had the aggressive tumour removed before having chemotherapy.
When her hair started to fall out as a result of her treatment, Mum’s self-esteem took a huge hit.
But, to me, she was still the beautiful and fierce warrior I’d always known her to be.
Incredibly, after just one round of chemotherapy, Mum was in remission and her hair even started to grow back.
Sadly, though, another scan revealed the cancer had returned.
‘I’m going to shave my head when you lose your hair again,’ I promised her.
I didn’t want Mum to go through it again alone. But doctors revealed her body was too weak to undergo further treatment.
There was nothing anyone could do.
If only her concerns were taken seriously in the first place, I thought, angrily.
Despite her prognosis, Mum remained positive.
‘I’m blessed to still have my family,’ she’d say, reminding Jena and me to stay strong.
In October last year, Mum moved into palliative care – I knew our time together was coming to an end.
So when Alistair surprised me with a trip to the Botanic Gardens in Auckland the next day, I thought he wanted to distract me.
As we reached a decorated pergola, though, a sign read, Will you be my forever?
Then, down on bended knee, Alistair asked me to be his wife.
‘Yes!’ I cried.
Telling Mum, she was overjoyed that someone would look after me once she was gone.
Not wanting her to miss our big day, we decided to get married just one month later.
Despite her poor health, Mum wanted to be as involved in the planning as possible, helping us to set the date and pick decorations.
Then, Alistair had an amazing idea.
‘Why don’t we both shave our heads on our wedding day?’ he suggested.
I’d never imagined myself as a bald bride, but it seemed the perfect tribute.
When the day arrived in November, I was thrilled.
Having my long black hair twisted up by a stylist, I felt excited about the plan.
After a beautiful ceremony, we had our first dance.
‘Instead of doing a traditional Filipino dance where guests give us money,’ I announced, ‘we’re going to shave our heads for cancer and donate the funds to charity.’
Our guests erupted in cheers, as did my parents, who’d had no idea about our surprise.
My new husband took a seat on the dance floor first, and I used a trimmer to shave off his silky hair.
Then, with help from our wedding coordinator, Alistair buzzed off my locks.
Running my hand across my smooth head, I felt on top of the world. Mum and Dad burst into tears.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ Mum cried.
Our generous guests donated $2000 altogether.
Instead of a honeymoon, Alistair and I went to Queenstown with my parents a week later, for Mum’s 50th birthday.
Devastatingly, she passed away just seven weeks later.
Now, two months on, I think of Mum every single day. By sharing her story, I hope to raise awareness of the signs of ovarian cancer to prevent this happening to other families.
Though she’s no longer by my side, I’m determined to make Mum proud.