Published on 4 June 2021
Hospital staff organised a wedding in a day after the groom was told his cancer had spread to his brain.
Alan Priestley and Anna Salisbury were due to get married on Wednesday, 2 June – after already rearranging several times because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But when Alan, 70, was admitted to the William Harvey Hospital a week earlier after his condition worsened, it became clear the planned ceremony at Canterbury Register Office would not be able to go ahead.
Legal secretary Anna, 61, mentioned it to the team on the Acute Medical Unit who were caring for Alan and they immediately swung into action.
She said: “The minute I asked them they started running around to get everything organised.
“A doctor produced a certificate and I rushed to Maidstone in a taxi with all the paperwork.
“The nurses arranged everything – flowers, a cake, some food for afterwards – and one of them even lent me her ring to use for the ceremony.”
The couple, who live in Ashford, met via an online dating site and Alan proposed in February 2019.
They began making plans but were forced to put them on hold when the pandemic struck in early 2020.
At the same time, Alan, a retired engineer, developed a chesty cough.
Anna said: “He didn’t want to go to hospital because of Covid but in the end he had a phone call with his GP and it turned out to be lung cancer.
“He was having treatment and he was fine so we carried on making plans for the wedding and our life together.”
But last week he suddenly became very confused and unable to communicate, and his speech was not making any sense.
Scans revealed that his cancer had spread to his brain and other organs.
Anna said: “The doctors explained that he was very poorly but they started him on steroids and when I came in to see him on Saturday he recognised me and he could talk and it looked like they were working.
“That’s when one of my friends suggested getting married while we still could and I mentioned it to the nurses.
“Everything was arranged that day and we had the licence at 8pm so the wedding went ahead that evening.”
Alan’s two sons travelled from Devon and Southampton to be there for the ceremony, and staff donated money to buy flowers and prosecco from Tesco Willesborough, near the hospital. When supermarket staff heard it was for a wedding they donated Champagne, a bouquet of flowers, chocolates and pastries. Another cake was donated by the team at the Costa branch within the hospital, which was decorated by the ward staff.
The ceremony took place in a courtyard at the hospital, with staff staying on after their shift to wish the couple well.
Anna said: “It was very emotional, and it was a lovely ceremony despite the sad circumstances.
“Having our family there made it so special. Everyone on the ward has been so kind to us and we couldn’t have asked for more; they have all been absolutely fantastic.
“Now I just have to be strong for Alan as his wife.”
Ward sister Donna Hogan, who together with Sister Karen Piper and senior therapy assistant Tracy Iddison helped with the arrangements, said: “It was a beautiful service and a pleasure to be able to do this for such a lovely couple.
“We didn’t realise we would be attending a wedding when we arrived at work on Saturday morning, but it was a privilege to be a part of their day and everyone on the ward wishes them all the happiness in the world for the rest of their time together.”