Skip to main content

A wedding to defy death

  • Story Highlights
  • Jessica Keenan, 34, has Stage 4 breast cancer
  • One of her dreams is to get married to defy her terminally ill prognosis
  • The Dream Foundation is helping her dream come true
  • The foundation helps terminally ill adults with their last wishes
  • Next Article in Living »
By Paul Vercammen
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Jessica Keenan tried on wedding dresses in a fancy Beverly Hills boutique, about 100 miles from the Santa Barbara, California, clinic where she gets blasted with chemotherapy once a week.

Jessica Keenan wanted to get married to defy her breast cancer.

Jessica Keenan, 34, is getting married January 24, thanks to the Dream Foundation.

Keenan is 34 years old and battling Stage 4 breast cancer with faith, hope and a charity called the Dream Foundation, which helps terminally ill adults.

''You get a diagnosis and you never know how short your time is," Keenan said. "I chose to believe there is going to be a cure. You still carry those dreams of getting married, having a kid."

But Keenan and her fiancé, Curtis Jimenez, couldn't afford a wedding -- their finances are sapped by her cancer battle. They rent from friends.

Keenan wrote a letter to Dream Foundation, at the suggestion of her devoted nurses at the Santa Barbara cancer center. "It all just started snowballing," she said.

Her wish has been granted, thanks to Dream Foundation and flock of people she has never met. Think of the foundation as Make-A-Wish, but instead of trying to help desperately sick children, Dream Foundation assists terminally ill adults.

Keenan's wedding is a different, more lavish wish than most of the requests the foundation has been receiving in this tough economy.

"People's needs are becoming basic," said the charity's founder, Thomas Rollerson. "We are getting wishes just to pay an electric bill, pay the rent, or help keep a promise to go to Disneyland to give them that memory in a time of hopelessness, doctors visits and uncertainty."

Other dreams are simply for dying family members to be united with loved ones, last visits before last rites.

Rollerson explains that with money tight, donors can still help without writing big checks. For example, people can donate frequent flier miles or hotel points.

When corporate donors and philanthropists jump in, a Dream Foundation wish can turn elaborate. The foundation's Web site is a bulletin board of heartache looking for relief.

Don't Miss

There's Bruce, 31, dying of Hodgkin's lymphoma. He wants to leave New York state for the first time and take his wife and his 6-year-old son to Disney World.

Remedios is a California woman with incurable cancer. She wants to treat the daughter who stands over her bed to a Quinceniera, a traditional celebration for a girl who turns 15 years old.

Bone cancer is expected to kill Edward Lucas of Springfield, Missouri, in less than six months. He wants to celebrate his 21st wedding anniversary with his wife, Nancy, before he leaves her a widow with an adult daughter and three grandchildren.

Their dream is a warm-weather honeymoon trip never taken.

Edward was hospitalized and too weak to talk to CNN.

"I wanted him to have a trip or something to look forward to," Nancy said. "A lot of people don't realize there are dreams for adults too."

The Lucas' dream trip is coming together with the help of Dream Foundation, which is hashing out some of the flight and hotel issues to Florida.

Back in California, Keenan's wedding is speeding toward January 24, thanks to dozens of corporate sponsors and a wealthy Texas do-gooder, Beverly Adams, who made a big financial contribution. The upscale boutique Monique Lhullier donated the dress.

"We're a conduit," Dream Foundation's Rollerson said. "People are willing to help. They just need to know how and where."

Keenan, a hairdresser by trade, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. She thought she had it beat two years ago when she met her fiancé on New Year's Eve. She found out in March of 2007 the cancer returned. Her fiancé has remained at her side.

"When they met, they were just so into each other," said Lena Rueff, who first introduced the bride-to-be to her brother. "He has been a rock for her. He packs snacks, games, books to the hospital where he stays with her."

In the dress shop, she and the other bridesmaids cheer for Jessica. "You look sexy!" Her hair is cropped short after all the chemotherapy.

"I like the long veil."

Jessica pauses, realizing she's not just playing dress-up with grade school friends.

"It's overwhelming. I'm anxious and excited," she said, standing in a room where some dresses cost more than new cars. "I still don't believe it's going to happen."

The bridesmaids stop cheering for a second and rub away tears of joy.

All About Breast Cancer

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print