Sadly, Litisha passed away over the weekend. She shared her dream wedding with Woman's Day earlier this month.
Sending our thoughts and love to her family.
It's a sunny Saturday afternoon in Christchurch and the light streams down Litisha Cleave's back, giving her an angelic glow. Riki Boyle stands in front of his bride, gently rubbing the side of her hand and taking in her beauty, as their daughters Hazel, four, and Lylah, three, watch on in pale pink tutus.
It's one of the biggest days of Litisha's life, shared with 300 teary-eyed guests on the stunning grounds of Amberley House. Thanks to family and friends, the wedding's been pulled together in less than a month, so the 30-year-old registered nurse can fulfil her dream of marrying her best friend.
Sadly, after a fierce battle with breast cancer, Litisha's been told it's terminal. And she only has weeks, possibly days, to live.
"I really wanted the kids to see Mum and Dad get married – it means a lot to me," she says talking to Woman's Day after the emotional ceremony. "I feel lucky I have the opportunity to do this because for a lot of people, death can be quite sudden, but I've had time to prepare."
When the bubbly bride met Riki, 29, six years ago at a friend's Post Shop in Waimate, where he was working as a plasterer, he was besotted by her brown eyes and smile. "She was gorgeous," recalls Riki, who hunted her down on Facebook afterwards.
Throwing her wide smile at the man she describes as a big teddy bear, Litisha teases, "Was gorgeous? I am gorgeous."
Three months after their first date, playing pool at a pub, the pair found out they were pregnant with Hazel.
"I went into labour on my graduation day, so I didn't make it!" says the Plunket healthcare worker. "But I was blessed with a beautiful girl."
A year later, Lylah arrived. Litisha lights up as she talks about her gorgeous curly-haired preschoolers. "The girls are such happy-go-lucky children. They're so beautiful."
Riki proposed on Litisha's 28th birthday, in May 2017, on a tram in Christchurch.
"It was one that goes around the city in the evening and you have a three-course meal," she explains. "He'd organised it and I had no idea. The dessert came out with a souvenir tram and my engagement ring on it. Riki tried getting on one knee, but the tram was so small, he couldn't!"
Litisha said yes without hesitation. "Riki's shy, so doing it in front of people meant so much to me. I was smiling from ear to ear."
Not long after, Litisha stumbled across her dream wedding dress at a closing-down sale – a lace off-the- shoulder design by Robyn Cliffe.
"I didn't have an appointment, but the shop assistant said I could try it on anyway and it fit like a glove!" she gushes.
"It needed zero adjustments and the lady said that never happens. I left and thought about it all day, then spoke to Riki and we agreed to buy it as an investment."
On July 27, as she walks down the aisle to Singing in My Soul by Fly My Pretties, the gown is every bit as beautiful as Litisha hoped. The only difference two years on is corset-style lacing at the back of the dress where it's been let out because she gained weight with chemotherapy.
As Litisha is handed over to Riki by her parents, he chokes up. During the poignant vows, Riki tells his bride she's his one true love, promising they'll always be one, no matter what happens.
"You are the brightest star in my sky and together we'll navigate this journey that lies ahead," he says, wiping away tears.
The biggest battle of their life started in May last year, after Litisha noticed lumps in both her breasts.
"I didn't think they were anything much, especially because it was the same on both sides," she recalls. "I was doing weight training and thought it was possibly just muscle. I never thought it'd be breast cancer since I was so young."
But a couple of months later, feeling tired and dizzy, she went to her GP. "I mentioned the lumps because one had gotten a little bigger, and she sent me for an ultrasound," says Litisha, who was rushed in for a biopsy.
Less than 24 hours later, with Riki next to her, the brave mum was told she had aggressive stage three breast cancer.
"The first thing that went through my mind was, 'It's OK, we'll get through it,'" tells Riki, who took time out of his plastering business to be at Litisha's side for six months of chemotherapy.
He was there when she had a double mastectomy in October last year, followed by radiation treatment.
Litisha admits, "I thought the hardest part would be losing my breasts and that I'd be really self-conscious, but it actually was the easiest because I was just happy to have that cancer gone from my body.
"I still bathed with my girls afterwards and Hazel piped up, 'Oh, we'll go to The Warehouse and buy you some more boobs!'"
With the cancer gone, the family enjoyed a cruise to Vanuatu in May this year, and Litisha was feeling good. She started more chemo as a preventative, but stopped it because of side effects.
"I started getting severe back and bone pain, and after heaps of hospital visits, I eventually had more scans," she says.
Heartbreakingly, they showed the cancer had spread into her bone marrow, liver and lung. Doctors estimated Litisha had around six months to live. Two weeks ago, that changed to a possible four weeks, when a particularly large tumour was found in her liver.
"I've accepted that I'm dying and it's a really 'out of it' feeling. Sometimes you want to run away from it but you can't," she shrugs.
"I've been telling the girls in stages because they have big imaginations at this age. I said I'm really sick and may not be around forever, but I'll always be looking down at them. They can look up at the sky and there'll be a star, and that'll be Mummy."
As a nurse, it's hard knowing what's coming, Litisha admits. But the biggest struggle is leaving behind her girls. "That's the scariest part for me," she says tearfully. "I'm not actually scared of dying, but I'm afraid of not being there to protect them."
Litisha has bought gifts for every birthday until they turn 21, including a Pandora bracelet and charms with special meanings for each year. She's also writing letters and making videos, and has done the same for Riki.
"It's actually been really enjoyable and therapeutic for me," she says. "Riki and I bought a ring exactly the same as my engagement one, so there's one for each of the girls on their 21st birthday, and I've been wearing both."
During the wedding ceremony, there's another special surprise for Hazel and Lylah. Litisha's had her fingerprint put onto silver heart-shaped pendants, which she places around their necks.
She's also made a chain for Riki, and a wedding band set with his grandmother's greenstone. For the rest of the evening, more laughter and tears flow, on a day the couple describe as "perfect".
It was with the help of Givealittle page "Let's Help Riki and Litisha", made by a family friend (which is still open), and an abundance of community support that brought Litisha's dream to life.
"Everyone's been amazing and I can't thank them enough," tells the new wife, who spent a month in hospice before her big day, getting her pain under control.
With the wedding ticked off, Litisha's next wish is to spend her final moments at home, surrounded by family.
"Hospice has been amazing and they delivered a hospital bed so I can be comfortable at home," she enthuses.
"At the moment, we're all living marae-style in the lounge, sleeping with the kids, and Riki has really stepped up doing all the household stuff."
Laughing, Litisha admits she's a control freak, saying it took time to let Riki take over so she can relax.
"It's been really nice watching him bond with the girls and seeing that they're really happy. They're asking for Riki even when they're with me, and that gives me peace. He's the best dad ever, so I know the girls will be alright."
Riki says he's proud Litisha continues to smile every day.
"She's handled this far better than most people would. She's stayed positive and it's unreal how strong she is."
Now, the couple are relishing in the memories of their beautiful day, six years in the making.
"I feel like my dreams have come true, marrying Riki and having my girls there, but at the same time, I'm dying," says Litisha.
"I'm happy because I've been given three of the greatest gifts in the world – Riki, Hazel and Lylah. I want them to live life and to know how much I love them."
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