A Leyland mum who has just months to live is preparing for her dream wedding this Valentine’s Day.
Brave Paula Garside has been fighting cervical cancer since 2009, and despite undergoing 18 cycles of chemotherapy and 20 radiotherapy sessions, the cancer has spread to her lungs, liver, chest and elbow.
Two weeks ago, she was given the devastating news that the treatment wasn’t working and she has just months left to live, so she decided to bring her summer wedding to long-term partner Mark Lancaster forward.
The couple, from Springfield Road, are excited about their dream wedding this Saturday, but say the day will have moments of sadness too.
“I’ve always wanted to get married and I’d always wanted a summer wedding,” the mum-of-three said. “But when I was told that it was a matter of months rather than years, my niece said, ‘How about doing it on Valentine’s Day?’
“I thought that would be really nice because Valentine’s Day is a special time when our guests can celebrate their own love too, and it will be something for everyone to remember each year.
“I think there will be a bit of sadness though. I won’t be able to look at Mark at the ‘till death do us part’ bit of the vows.”
Paula’s perfect wedding is becoming a reality thanks to Manchester-based charity, Gift of a Wedding, which helps organise weddings for terminally ill people.
The charity enlists the support of firms to make donations, and organises the big day in a matter of weeks.
Paula was in hospital a few weeks ago when a member of staff saw her looking through wedding brochures, and put her in touch with Gift of a Wedding’s founder, Patricia Harrison.
Patricia got straight to work organising Paula and Mark’s big day, and the pair are set to tie the knot in front of 80 guests at St Ambrose Church in Leyland, before celebrating their nuptials at the Civic Centre’s Banqueting Suite.
“I can’t put into words how grateful I am to everyone for helping organise the wedding,” Paula said. “They’ve done it in just three weeks.
“I feel like Cinderella, and Patricia is my Fairy Godmother. She’s worked miracles.”
Not only will a red and white colour scheme be used to mark the Valentine’s Day occasion, but the wedding will also have a festive feel, at the bride’s request.
Paula, 38, explained: “Christmas is my favourite time of year. I really go all out at Christmas.
“I know there’s going to be a snow globe and an inflatable Santa, but I don’t know much more than that.
“The charity has also sorted out the photographers, DJ, my weddings dress and Mark’s suit, and the boys’ car.
“The council is letting us use the Civic Centre for free, so we’ve gone from a working man’s club to a banqueting suite. It’s a dream come true.
“I’m getting really excited about it now.”
Paula, who is mum to Mark, 19, John, eight, and Kiera, six, has enjoyed organising parts of her big day, but says the process has been ‘exhausting’ because of her condition.
“I wish I’d had more time for dress shopping and other girly stuff,” she said. “I wish I still had hair so I could try a few styles, but I’ve bought a new wig for the day.
“But I’m so glad that people have been helping as much as they have.”
Paula, who used to work for Holland’s Pies before she became ill, found out she had cervical cancer shortly after the birth of her daughter.
She said: “When I had Kiera there was a lot of bleeding, so soon after I had a smear test. I thought it was just an infection - you think all sorts when you’re pregnant- but that’s how I found out I had cancer. They said I’d had it for two years, so I had it when I was pregnant.”
She underwent treatment, but was told in October that the cancer had spread.
“There’s nothing you can do about it; it is what it is,” she said. “There’s nothing people can say to make it better. I just want people to treat me normally, but perhaps make more time to see me.”
She added: “I wanted to know how long I had because I want to be able to prepare the kids.
“I don’t think I’ve let it sink in yet though.
“I’ve got a meeting next week about the possibility of a new trial at the Christie hospital in Manchester, so I’m keeping hopeful about that.
“I just want more time with my children. I wanted to see them go to high school, but I don’t think that will happen now.
“Mark has taken it hard, he doesn’t really talk about it, he just deals with it. He gave up work to help me with the kids and housework.”
The couple, who have known each other for 20 years and have been together for 12 years, got engaged last February on Paula’s birthday.
Mark, 40, wrote in her card: “Happy Birthday. Maybe this time next year you’ll be my wife?”
Paula said: “I do worry that I won’t see my first anniversary, but because of the theme and all of the help we’ve had, I think the wedding will be really special and will make even more memories for the kids than we could have done.
“It’s given us something to look forward to.”
Gift of a Wedding was set up by wedding planner Patricia Harrison three years ago, after she helped a terminally ill friend organise their big day.
She said: “Usually, we organise a £10,000 wedding in about four weeks. I feel honoured to do it; this is the last time that friends and family will have with this person where everyone is together.
“We give the couple a wish list and sort it all out. We try to make it as special as possible.”
South Ribble Council has offered Paula and Mark the use of the Civic Centre for their reception, and will also be dressing the room from table decorations to seat covers.
Five members of staff who have been touched by their story have also offered to work for free on the day, organising the venue and manning the bar.
Mayor of South Ribble, Coun Graham Walton, said: “It’s a huge privilege to have been able to help this couple fulfil their dream of getting married, and I truly hope their day is everything that they could ever wish for.”