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Vicente Patangan Reyes looked on proudly as his son, Vicente Jr. Reyes, exchanged wedding vows with fiancé Samantha Concepcion during an intimate outdoor ceremony on a warm afternoon.
As expected, it was a beautiful affair, filled with love and family. However, instead of the destination wedding the couple envisioned, their nuptials took place on the rooftop patio of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre so Vicente Sr., an inpatient at the hospital, could be a part of their big day.
"I'd never seen such joy on his face," says Vicente Jr. "He was just so happy to be there.
"The wedding was the breath of fresh air everyone in the family needed."
In 2020, Vicente Sr. was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow. In the weeks before the wedding, Vicente Sr., his family and his care team at the Princess Margaret decided the time had come to transition to palliative care.
At a small family gathering before any decisions on wedding plans had been made, Vicente Jr. and Samantha sat together in the living room of their home in Milton, Ont. and talked. It had been an emotional day with the family coming together to support each other through their difficult new reality.
"My father had always been there for my brothers and I, and also for Samantha, whom he saw as a daughter," says Vicente Jr. "Now, we wanted to be there for him. We knew a destination wedding was out of the picture at this time, but we still wanted to do something special."
"So we just looked at each other and said hey, you know what, let's do this. Let's see if we can get married next Saturday at the Princess Margaret!"
What followed was a whirlwind week of wedding planning, with family, friends and hospital staff coming together to make it happen.
The couple's first call was to Princess Margaret Nurse Manager Jody Tone and Patient Care Coordinator (PCC) Alana Detcher, who both sprang into action to help make a dream a reality.
"When Samantha reached out to us about the possibility of planning the wedding at PM, I felt so compelled to help," says Alana.
"I have a family history of cancer, and through both my personal experience and my job at the cancer centre, I know the toll this disease can take. It was important to me that the family have the opportunity to create memories with their father that they will have for the rest of their lives."
Once Vicente Jr. and Samantha had confirmed their unconventional wedding venue, they turned their attention to the numerous other items on their to-do list. After many phone calls to municipalities around the Greater Toronto Area, the couple managed to secure a wedding licence just in the nick of time.
Pastor Alan Wachob, already known to the family, was more than willing to be on hand to officiate on short notice. They also enlisted the help of a photographer friend, Elan Shi, to capture images of the day, while Samantha's best friend hopped in her car to pick up a cake made to order at the last minute.
"The whole week went by so fast," says Samantha. "I don't even know how we pulled it off.
"Vicente Jr. jokes that this will be a story for generations in our family because, at times, it seemed like it would be impossible to line everything up, but not only was it possible, it felt destined to happen."
'That time we got to spend with my father is priceless to us'
Sadly, Vicente Sr. passed away just weeks after the rooftop wedding.
To Vicente Jr. and Samantha, it now means even more that they were able to make the wedding happen with Vicente Sr. by their side to witness the occasion.
"No matter how much money you have in the world, you cannot buy time," says Vicente Jr.
"That time we got to spend with my father is priceless to us."
They describe Vicente Sr. as an energetic adventure seeker. He loved to cook specialty dishes from his native country, the Philippines, where he had worked as an optometrist for more than 25 years before immigrating to Canada. He was proud of his Filipino heritage and upbringing on the island of Camiguin, something that was reflected in his attire on the wedding day.
"My brother had a barong custom made and was saving it for a special occasion," says Vicente Jr. "The barong is a traditional Filipino shirt with beautiful embroidery.
"He gifted it to dad to wear on the day, and he was so excited when he saw it."
Vicente Jr. and Samantha were also touched by the compassion and dedication of the Princess Margaret team, who took the time and energy to organize and facilitate their request, especially during the pandemic.
"We felt so welcome from the moment we arrived, says Samantha. "From the screeners, to security, to the nurses who helped dad dress and prepare for the ceremony, we can't thank the staff enough for what they did for us.
"Alana and Jody had organized everything so well. It was more than we could ever have imagined."
For Alana, the PCC, she too is grateful for the experience and thankful to have been able to play a part in bringing a family together.
"We all know how trying a time this has been for patients and their families. Despite all the recent bad news, the ongoing pandemic and the strain on healthcare, there are still good things happening.
"This is something I definitely won't forget in my career."
Though the couple exchanged their vows in a setting they had not expected, they have no regrets.
"We're so proud to say that we got married at the Princess Margaret," they say. "The whole team of friends, family and staff paved the way to turn the day into something more spectacular than we could ever have imagined.
"It was perfect."