Tuesday was a day that the Olivera family will never forget – It was a beautiful day of unity, celebration and joy. It was a bright spot in what has been one of the most challenging years of their lives.
Oct. 22 was the day that Saul and Alejandra Olivera were finally able to get married after three years of being engaged. “Making it official” was something they were very excited to do and something their 9-year-old daughter, Miranda, had wished for.
From a limo, cake, caterer and photographer, to a chocolate fountain (the most important element for Miranda) – the big day was complete. And it all became a reality, within one week’s time, thanks to three members of Miranda’s cancer care team at Seattle Children’s who made it happen with the help of the community.
“It was the most amazing day and we couldn’t have asked for anything more,” said Alejandra. “Everything was perfect and Miranda was so happy to be there and be a part of the celebration.”
Now, this wasn’t just any wedding – it was extraordinary. And in order to understand its significance, it’s important to understand the family’s journey, as well as the people that were behind the important day.
A long and winding road to the altar
Saul and Alejandra have been together for 10 years and in that time they had Miranda and a son named Diego, who is now 7 years old. Three years ago on Christmas Eve, Saul decided it was time to pop the question to Alejandra.
After getting engaged, they began thinking about their big day. They set a date of Aug. 10, 2013. However, what they were about to face would put their plans on hold.
October of last year marked the beginning of a very difficult, roller-coaster year for the family. It was when they found out Miranda had a type of cancer called acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and she began receiving treatment at Seattle Children’s.
“You just feel numb. You’re trying to process it but you don’t believe it,” said Alejandra.
Alejandra remembers that everything was a complete whirlwind after she heard the terrible news as her daughter’s condition declined very quickly.
“I remember doctors telling me that she was very sick and I needed to get my family there as soon as possible because they didn’t know if she’d make it through the night,” she said.
But miraculously, she did. However, the ordeal had taken its toll and she needed to relearn simple everyday things like walking and talking.
But once again, she overcame the odds. For six months, she underwent cancer treatment and rehabilitation and progressively was able to move, talk and eat on her own. In April, Miranda and her family were able to go home after her cancer went into remission. It was not long after she returned home that she took her first few steps again.
“That’s just Miranda,” said Saul. “She is a determined, independent little girl who can do anything she sets her mind to.”
But to the family’s dismay, Miranda’s fight was not over.
Three months later in July, Miranda’s family came back to Children’s and learned that her cancer had returned.
“It was very hard but we knew that we had done it before and we could get through it again,” said Alejandra.
The Aug. 10 wedding was cancelled and they tried to push it back to September, but that too was cancelled when they realized Miranda would still be in the hospital.
Today, Miranda is still undergoing treatment. The family faces an uncertain future as Miranda prepares to undergo a bone marrow transplant where there is no guarantee of what the outcome will be.
In coming to this realization, and knowing that it was very important to Miranda for them to get married, Alejandra and Saul decided it was time to say their vows.
“Since she is about to undergo a transplant, we’ve learned not to put things off because there is no guarantee of what the future will hold,” said Alejandra. “She is doing well and so we wanted to do it now, when she can enjoy it and be a part of the ceremony.”
With about two weeks before Miranda’s transplant, they thought they would just have a simple wedding at the courthouse. But, a few members of Miranda’s care team had different plans.
Making a wedding wish come true
Enter Julie Arguez and Brianna Eigner, both members of Children’s Pediatric Advanced Care Team, and Ashlei Brooks, a Children’s Hematology/Oncology social worker. They had worked with Miranda and her family throughout her treatment and knew the family had been talking about getting married.
Once they heard that Saul and Alejandra wanted to get married before Miranda’s transplant, they were thrilled and they wanted to make it as special as possible for the family.
“We all got very excited and this set in motion a huge team effort to create a moment for them as a family where they could come together to celebrate, and really have some beautiful memories before Miranda went through another intense therapy,” said Julie.
Julie, Brianna and Ashlei had about a week to plan the wedding, which is something they had never done before, but there was never a doubt in their mind that they could make it happen.
“To be able to celebrate life, happiness and unity, it was like of course we’ll do this and we couldn’t start fast enough,” said Brianna. “They are a wonderful family and we wanted to make this day amazing for them.”
The rapid wedding planning began. The three of them banded together, calling community vendors asking for donations, working out the logistics and communicating with the family to make sure everything was as they wanted it to be. Another member of the Pediatric Advanced Care Team, Rev. Steve Poole, also jumped in and offered to be the officiant on the wedding day.
And at the center of it all, was Miranda.
“It was all about her. She wanted a pink cake with bows and a chocolate fountain so we made it happen,” said Julie. “This is the epitome of the work we do here every day – it’s about the whole family as well as honoring Miranda’s wishes and it’s really a powerful experience to be a part of.”
Needless to say, the three of them pulled it off and were able to secure donations for every element – from a venue and photographer, to dresses, suits and rings (See the full list of the community donations below). The three of them said that it was so heartwarming to see the community offer such an outpouring of support.
Wedding bells ring
The day of the wedding Brianna, Julie and Ashlei were the wedding coordinators and ensured everything went off without a hitch.
“It was phenomenal. Miranda was ear-to ear with grins the whole time,” said Ashlei. “It was a lot of work, but the community rallied together to make it happen.”
In reflecting upon the experience, they all say they were incredibly honored to be a part of the special day.
“They are remarkable, inspiring people and I have learned a lot working with them,” said Julie. “The family’s ability to celebrate life and joy amidst really challenging circumstances is extraordinary.”
And what does Alejandra and Saul think about the team’s effort?
“It meant so much to us and it’s amazing that they cared enough to do this for our whole family,” said Alejandra. “It has been an emotional roller coaster but they’ve been here for every up and down. They are family to us.”
Alejandra and Saul are also very grateful for all the wonderful community donations they received.
As Alejandra, Saul and Miranda now head into their uncertain future, they have a message for others.
“Positivity goes a long way. No matter what people say, or how dark it looks, always hang on to hope,” said Alejandra. “Miranda is living proof that there are miracles. She has proven that if you just take one day at a time, there is always a chance that it can get better.”
The following community vendors made the wedding possible through generous donations:
- Miranda’s dress – Amy’s Bridal Boutique (Kennewick, Wash.)
- Limo services – Amy’s Limousine Service
- Photos – Soulumination
- Flowers – Cinnamon’s Florist
- Venue – Blakely Hall – Highlands Council
- Table/décor – AA Party Rentals
- Dinner – Agave Cocina & Tequilas
- Cake – Cloudy Cakes Bakery
- Hair/make-up – Swink Style Bar
- Music –Joy Kim and Darrius Wilrich
- Wedding dress – I Do Bridal
- Suits – Men’s Warehouse
- Videography – Dawson Doupé
- Alejandra’s ring – Fred Meyer Jewelers
- Saul’s ring – Anonymous
- Shoes, supplies and accessories – Susannah White’s Three Feet of Sunshine Guild, City Peoples and Thompson’s Hearth and Home
If you’d like to interview Alejandra and Saul or speak with a member of the care team that helped with the wedding, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.