Sometimes life brings us the rare opportunity to meet someone who reminds us what the important things in life are all about. Shannon Jones is one of those people.
Shannon, 28, is a kindergarten teacher who lives in Redding, Connecticut. Four months before she was to marry the love of her life, Jeff O’Hara, a U.S. Marine, she was diagnosed with stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
But that didn’t stop her.
Bald and brave, and in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, Shannon showed off more than her beautiful wedding dress and headpiece, it was her grace, strength and determination that took center stage on her wedding day.
WYSK had the opportunity to connect with Andrea Jacobson, the photographer who took Shannon and Jeff’s wedding photos. When we asked Andrea what it was like to be part of Shannon and Jeff’s special day, she shared:
“There wasn’t a particular single moment that struck me from Shannon’s wedding day, because I was struck by Shannon herself the entire day! Shannon had both the best attitude and the biggest challenges I’ve ever seen a bride have on her wedding day. I will always be in awe of her optimism, perseverance, and strength!”
Andrea then connected us to Shannon. In her own words, she tells us about her diagnosis, the wedding day and what she wants us all to know.
My fiancé Jeff and I were living in Arlington, VA where I was teaching first grade. I had noticed a few lumps on and under my collarbone beginning around December 2012, but didn’t really think too much of them.
They did not go away, and I began to have severe itching on my arms and legs, and night sweats for a few weeks in March. Over spring break, Jeff and I came home to Redding, CT for my first bridal shower, so I made an appointment with my family doctor to get the lumps looked at.
The doctor was concerned, so he immediately sent me to get a head, neck and chest CT Scan. After dinner that night, we received a phone call from the doctor. He told me that the CT Scan showed that I have Lymphoma. I remember asking “Is that cancer?” before crying and giving the phone to my mother.
Being sick with cancer has pushed me to be the best person I can be, and always be grateful of each and every day.
I was completely devastated and in shock that I could have cancer, but was not in the least bit sick. The whole evening still is a blur, I spent it with my mom, dad and Jeff, and my doctor scheduled me to meet with an oncologist the following day.
Dr. Zikria (my oncologist) is the most amazing doctor I could have ever been in contact with. She kept us calm, and only gave us the facts that we needed to know at the time. She didn’t overwhelm us with what was to come, unless we needed to know them.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Once she found out that I was less than 4 months away from getting married, she suggested we postpone the wedding. I for sure was not having that, and I told her from the beginning that I would have my wedding on July 13, 2013 as was planned.
Our wedding was the halfway marker of my treatments, and we planned the treatments around the wedding, so the wedding would be my off-week from chemo. She did tell us that we would have to postpone our honeymoon, which is now planned for our one year anniversary to Santorini, Greece.
I had 12 treatments of ABVD Chemotherapy over 6.5 months. I had to go on long term disability from my elementary school in Fairfax, VA, and then I began teaching at Hurlbutt Elementary in Weston, CT in August, while still receiving my chemo treatments. I have been in remission since the end of November, 2013, and I go to see my oncologist every 6 weeks for my chemo port to be flushed, and every 3 months for a PET Scan and full workup of my blood levels.
Our Wedding Day
Our wedding was at The Hotel Washington, in Washington DC on a gorgeous afternoon on July 13, 2013. Jeff wore his United States Marine Corps Dress Blue Alphas to marry me, and we had a very meaningful wedding with our closest family and friends.
I am an only child, so our wedding was very special to my mom and dad, and they were both huge parts of this day.
After diagnosis, I was very worried about how I would be able to wear my mom’s vintage lace veil, as I had lost all of my hair. The seamstresses and designers at The Plumed Serpent, in Westport, CT went the extra mile to ensure that my dream was still a reality. They designed a lace cap that my mother’s veil could be attached to, and then a lace flower pouf that was easily moved to the side for a fashionable look for the reception.
I had 7 of my closest family and friends as bridesmaids, and they were amazing at keeping me calm and my nerves in check on this big day. When we said our vows, in sickness and in health, both Jeff and I teared up as these words had so much value in our life at that time.
At the reception, being surrounded by people who loved us, I felt comfortable enough to take off my lace cap and dance the night away while being completely bald. I felt completely at home with my family and friends, and wanted to celebrate being married, and not think about being a cancer patient.
What You Should Know
I want people to know that everyday there are challenges that come up in our lives, but to put into perspective how important the bigger things are in life. I want to inspire someone when they are down, to push them to be the best they can, and to see the brighter things in life.
I never wanted to be known as someone who was sick with cancer, I wanted to celebrate everyday, and think about the future when I would be healthy again. I am glad that I never dwelled in the negativity, as being sick with cancer has pushed me to be the best person I can be, and always be grateful of each and every day.
All images © Andrea Jacobson for The Observatory