'The big day' arrives for bride with cancer


Christiana Carrow, 5, the daughter of bride Kirstin Musha, 23, and groom William Carrow Jr., 29, wipes tears from her eyes during her parent's wedding ceremony at UF Health Shands Hospital Saturday, April 26, 2014.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 8:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 8:39 p.m.

Wedding planner Megan Johnson of Adore Events is “entrenched,” she said, in Gainesville's wedding season.

So when Johnson got a call from an ICU nurse at UF Health Shands Hospital a little over a week ago to help prepare an impromptu wedding at the hospital, she felt a serious time crunch — until she learned the story behind the wedding. “(The nurse) told me the story, and I was like, 'I can't not help. Whatever you guys need,' ” Johnson said.

The story is that of Kirstin Musha, a 23-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient at Shands, who wanted to get married before she has to get her feet amputated in the coming days — a necessary procedure due to complications from her cancer.

Those complications may also keep Kirstin in the hospital through the month of May, when she had planned for her wedding back in her native Jacksonville.

“I feel pretty good,” Kirstin said in an interview on Friday, the day before her wedding.

Kirstin talked about how her 5-year-old girl, Christiana, would carry a bouquet of flowers down the makeshift aisle at Shands' sixth-floor auditorium; and how she knew that she would marry William Carrow Jr. ever since she met him seven years ago.

“He's been taking good care of me,” she said. Her voice was both heavy with fatigue and upbeat with the excitement of getting married the next day.

“The Big Day” was written in black magic marker on the door to Kirstin's room at Shands' ICU on Saturday, and a pink and silver “bachelorette party” banner hung on her wall.

A cadre of nurses dressed in yellow hospital gowns and gloves (obligatory garb for anyone entering the room to prevent bacterial infections) stood around Kirstin's bed, helping her prepare for her special day.

“Don't cry, your makeup will be runny!” said one of the nurses who has been caring for Kirstin for the past 59 days. Wigs hung on the IV poles next to Kirstin's bed. The final choice was a long, ropey chestnut brown that the nurses adjusted on Kirstin's head.

Then makeup artist Stephanie Humphrey went to work, applying MAC makeup and “Hello Gorgeous” lipstick.

“Smack your lips,” she told Kirstin.

Kirstin already had to have her hands amputated, so her forearms were wrapped in white lace.

“It's been rough, but the last few days she's been doing good,” said Carrow, 29, who goes by “Junior.” “We've both been waiting for our wedding day.”

Kirstin was diagnosed with what her oncologist, Dr. Jack Hsu of Shands, calls “a very, very bad” form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma five years ago. She's undergone two stem cell transplants and high-dose chemotherapy treatments.

Although the cancer has been kept at bay for the past seven months, Hsu said, because of Kirstin's severely compromised immune system, she developed an infection after being released from the hospital last winter, which led to further complications and the need to amputate her extremities.

“My personal feeling is that I am very happy for her,” said Hsu, who attended the wedding.

“If we hadn't done everything that we had for her, she wouldn't have made it to this day.”

Pastor Anthony Cohron started the wedding sermon by saying, “We know how precious this day is.” Talking about life's “broken roads” or various challenges, he said: “Broken or not, nothing can stop true love.”

Kirstin and Carrow exchanged simple vows: “Seven years ago I knew I met the man of my dreams,” Kirstin said.

Most of the 50-some guests in the auditorium were close family and childhood friends. Kirstin's sister Jennifer sat in the front row with a surprise poster she had made for her sister to see — of Kirstin's mother, who died three years ago. “I am here with you,” it said.

The guests stood and applauded the new bride and groom and circled around them after the ceremony — before Kirstin was wheeled back up to the ICU to take a little break before the reception, held in a waiting room adjacent to her room.

At the reception, Kirstin got the steak dinner she'd dreamed about, too. It was donated by Five Bar Restaurant, one of the community businesses that weighed in to make the day special, said Johnson.

“The most rewarding part was that the community was down to do whatever and more,” she added.

At the reception, Kirstin sat in a corner chair, propped up like a princess. Periodically she dozed off, since she was so tired from her treatments the day before, the nurses said.

But she opened her eyes for every single guest who filed past.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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