Love was in the air at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute as two couples put their cancer diagnosis aside to start a new chapter as husband and wife. Patient David “Dave” Leek and his fiancée Bobbie Godden were the first to get married in the lobby of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute on May 23. The event was streamed on Facebook Live. The following week patient Lindsey Morton and her fiancé Ben Jackson married May 31.
Dave, Bobbie and their two children traveled from England to Jacksonville for Leek to receive proton therapy for a tumor he has been dealing with for four years. In February 2014, Leek was diagnosed with a sacral chordoma, a rare form of cancer that arises in the spine, and had a surgery to remove it. Even though Leek had routine MRIs every six months, it wasn’t until October 2017 that his doctors noticed the tumor was back and had been growing for several years.
Dave underwent another surgery in January and his doctors recommended he follow it up with proton therapy at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute to ensure the tumor site receives targeted radiation to eradicate the cancerous cells while sparing healthy tissue in this very sensitive area of the body. Leek began proton therapy on May 1 and is feeling confident about moving past his cancer ordeal to focus on the future with his wife and two children. “Until now, we’ve always seen marriage as a piece of paper. But cancer puts life in a whole new perspective. We are considering this wedding as a celebration of life and are looking toward the future,” said Dave. “We’ve stuck together through all of life’s hurdles over the past 13 years and decided that there’s no better place to begin our next journey than at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.”
As word spread among fellow patients and the Institute’s staff that the wedding was taking place, people were inspired to get involved. Social worker Stephanie Saman arranged for a UF Health chaplain to officiate the ceremony and secured the donation of a wedding dress. Patient Services Director Bradlee Robbert organized the preparations for the big day, including securing a musician and catering. Decorations were created by artists-in-residence Pamela Gardener and Barbara Fryefield. The caregiver of another patient heard about the plans and offered to make a bridal bouquet and hair accessories.
“We are so happy for the couple and are excited they chose to share their special day with us,” said Stuart Klein, executive director at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. “We not only focus on providing the best possible cancer treatment, we also want everyone who comes through our doors to feel like they’re a part of something bigger. We were thrilled to help plan and facilitate this special day on behalf of this amazing couple that is a part of our family.”
After hearing Dave and Bobbie’s plans to wed at the Institute, patient Lindsey Morton and her fiancé Ben Jackson decided to do the same thing and were married on May 31.
Lindsey is a childhood cancer survivor, having been treated when she was 2 years old. Thirty one years later, after experiencing intense pain during her pregnancy, routine screening detected sacral chordoma growing on her spine. This new diagnosis is likely a secondary cancer brought about by the initial treatment.
After having two surgeries to remove the tumor, Morton left her home and family in England to come to Jacksonville and receive proton therapy. Because protons can attack the tumor site directly and avoid exposure to surrounding healthy tissue, Morton is looking forward to a long, cancer-free future with her husband and their children, 5-year-old Lexi and 1-year-old Harper.
“We’ve been together for 10 years and engaged for 9 years. It’s been one of those things where we keep meaning to have the wedding but time keeps getting away,” said Morton. “I think it will be nice. It will be like closing an old door and opening a new one all on the same day.”
As is customary when a patient finishes treatment at the Institute, Morton will walk down the lobby stairs and close their wedding ceremony by ringing the large hanging chimes – signaling an end to one era and the beginning of another.
As with the first wedding, staff and fellow patients rallied around the couple with well-wishes and support. Members of the Jacksonville community embraced the couple, with vendors like videographer Adi Meco of AM Productions donating time to ensure that every moment of the family’s special day is captured.
“We are thrilled to be part of such a special occasion for another couple,” said Stuart Klein, executive director of UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. “At UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, we don’t just want to provide the best possible cancer treatment, we want to help our patients build a community and support each other. I can think of no better way to do that than to help Lindsey and Ben celebrate the next phase of their lives.”
While these are the first weddings, the Institute has some experience with celebrating marriage. In October 2014, the Institute hosted a wedding vow renewal for patient Mark Kelso and his wife Kerry who celebrated their second anniversary while he was on treatment.