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Weddings

'My bittersweet wedding': Bride with terminal cancer marries the love of her life

''Not a lot of people get this kind of love in a lifetime,'' smiles Brittnea Chambers.

By Cloe Willetts
Update: We are saddened to report that since the publication of Brittnea and Cameron's beautiful wedding story Britt has died at just 33 years old on March 9, 2020.
Announcing the heartbreaking news on Instagram, her husband Cameron wrote it was with great sadness "we let you know Britt's journey here with us is now over.
"Just like in life, her strength and determination pushed her far beyond anything we thought possible. Britt did not give up without a fight. Thank you for the immense support you showed both her and us on this journey. We were all blessed by her life and know she touched so many people she didn't even meet.
"Ride high Britt, we miss you already xx," he wrote.
Britt passed away at Nurse Maude Hospice in Christchurch surrounded by loved ones.
The original story continues below.
On a freezing Saturday morning five months ago, surrounded by snow-capped mountains at Lake Brunner on the West Coast, Cameron Mill dropped to one knee. At the edge of a pier he grew up playing on, the Christchurch drainlayer held out a ring and asked Brittnea Chambers to marry him.
It was the perfect proposal setting for the loved-up pair, who created some of their best memories at Cameron's family bach there. In months to come, former professional cyclist and triathlete Brittnea will have her ashes scattered at the same spot. Sadly, the 33-year-old has terminal bowel cancer.
Brittnea with bridesmaids (from left) Anke O'Kane, Nicole Kato and Kirsten Ellis. Photo: Doug Richardson of The Records with Heather & Doug
It's a hot afternoon in Christchurch as Ed Sheeran's Photograph fills the grounds of Harpers Homestead, a breathtaking wedding venue on the northern banks of the Waimakariri River.
The song is poignant, chosen by Brittnea as a symbol of what today represents – capturing special memories for Cameron, also 33, to hold on to when she's no longer here.
As three bridesmaids walk down the grass aisle wearing floating gowns in a mix of blush, blue and plum, the lyrics sing out, "We keep this love in a photograph… Where our eyes are never closing/our hearts were never broken/and time's forever frozen."
Photo: Doug Richardson of The Records with Heather and Doug.
Seventy guests fill seating overlooking an arch adorned with summer flowers, as a nervous Cameron waits for his best friend to appear in a backless champagne and silver gown.
"When she came down I was trying really hard to hold the tears in. She looks absolutely gorgeous!" he gushes after the ceremony.
"I'm not worrying about anything else today. I'm just unbelievably happy because I got to marry the love of my life."
WATCH: Britt & Cam's beautiful wedding video by New Zealand Wedding Films. Story continues below...
Although Auckland-raised Brittnea is tired and sore, she's glowing.
"The most important thing is having fun so Cameron will look back and say, 'That's why I married her and even though I had to go through all of this, it was worth it,'" the athlete beams.
Photo: Doug Richardson of The Records with Heather and Doug.
You wouldn't know she's on palliative care and that doctors gave her four to 24 months to live just over a year ago.
"I have a very rare, advanced cancer and peritoneal disease," says the nature lover. "The peritoneum is a jelly-like lining of the organs and mine's full of tumours."
Doctors didn't find Brittnea's cancer for six years, despite ongoing symptoms including changing bowel habits, fatigue so extreme she needed naps to get through the day, and severe stomach pain. She also had a mass in her abdomen and drastically lost weight.
The couple's initials adorn their gorgeous three-tier cake.
"The doctors put my fatigue down to being an athlete and having low iron, and my bowel habits to being gluten and dairy intolerant," she recalls. "I was made to feel like the pain was in my head."
But today, in this moment, the South African-born bride simply wants to focus on marrying her love and laughs, "I didn't know what he was wearing, it was a surprise, but I'm glad he didn't wear a tie because we're not really tie people!"
Runner and life of the party Cameron agrees.
"We're looking forward to a fun, relaxed reception with a lot of laughs," he tells. "We want to chill out because that's more us than the serious ceremony."
Photo: Doug Richardson of The Records with Heather and Doug.
When the couple met at a café in Auckland's Grey Lynn almost two years ago, Brittnea was well into her cancer battle. She'd had six months of chemotherapy and surgery that removed 30cm of her bowel. But it was a couple of weeks into the relationship that Cameron learnt the "cute and amazing" blonde was sick.
"It's not easy to bring up with people and I didn't know if we'd go anywhere or if I wanted to put it on him so early," recalls Brittnea, who still likes to get lost in the "meditation" of
cycling if she can. "I've given him so many outs and said I understand if he wants to step away, but he's stuck by me. I've never had anybody give me that sort of support."
It was eight months after Brittnea's terminal diagnosis that Cameron proposed. After the day's celebration, the adoring pair head to the Whitsunday Islands in Australia for their honeymoon, where they plan to unwind after the chaos of organising their nuptials in four months.
Photo: Doug Richardson of The Records with Heather and Doug.
Brittnea admits the end of their wedding is tainted with sadness. "Ninety-nine percent of people get married for a future, whereas it was kind of like the beginning of an end for us," she says. "It's quite hard knowing we won't get to do the things like creating a family and traditions. And I do worry about Cameron when I'm not here."
But the new wife knows she hit the jackpot when it came to finding someone to share some of her best life moments with.
"I feel extremely lucky to have the loyalty and support I do from Cameron and I can't imagine my life without him," she smiles. "Not a lot of people get this kind of love in a lifetime."

Get the facts:

Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. About 3000 people are diagnosed with the disease here each year and while it can affect anyone at any age, 75 per cent of bowel cancers are beatable if detected early enough.
Symptoms to look out for and talk to a GP about include: Blood in the stool and/or bleeding from the rectum, a change in bowel habits lasting over six weeks, stomach pain, lumps or a mass in the abdomen, weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness and tiredness (symptoms of anaemia). For more information, visit cancernz.org.nz or phone 0800 CANCER (226 237).

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