Real Life

Why this Kiwi bride wouldn’t let her brain tumours ruin her big day

Rotorua mum Cherie reveals her rocky ride to the ceremony of her dreams
Robert Trathen

Planning a wedding is stressful enough without the added panic of a pandemic, but it’s been an even rockier road down the aisle for Rotorua bride Cherie Waterhouse, who was last year diagnosed with two brain tumours just before her big day.

That health crisis meant postponing their wedding in November, but last month, administrator Cherie, 40, and her partner Phil Gaffaney, 43, a heat-pump technician from Hamilton, finally tied the knot in a rustic, romantic ceremony at Te Miro Woolshed in the heart of the Waikato.

Cherie is still recovering from her second round of brain surgery and growing out her shaved hair from the first, but she wasn’t letting “little details” like these ruin “the best day of my life – marrying my best friend”.

Tears fell as the pair pledged their love.

Accompanied by her 23-year-old daughter Zoe, Cherie walked down the aisle in white sneakers adorned with daisies – she chose flats because she is prone to losing her balance after the operations – and a breathtakingly beautiful gown from Daisy by Katie Yeung.

She’d entered a competition to win a wedding gown in Woman’s Day because the medication she takes to prevent the seizures caused by her tumours has led to weight gain and meant she couldn’t fit her original dress.

Overjoyed to win, Cherie grins, “I felt like maybe my luck was changing – very lucky, blessed and relieved.” And as for the flattering A-line frock with a boned bodice, stretch lace and chiffon sleeves, she says, “I was very self-conscious trying it on, but Katie did the fitting and made the process relaxing. I felt confident and beautiful – not frumpy, like I had been feeling.”

Because of all she’s been through, the brave bride adds, “I’ve had to stop obsessing about my weight. For the original wedding in November, I’d lost 10 kilos. After my surgeries, it piled back on, but it wasn’t my biggest worry. I’m just glad to be here – and alive!”

Gazing into each other’s teary eyes under a magnolia tree as they vowed to stick with each other in sickness and in health, Cherie called Phil “my rock, the calm to my storm” and there was no doubt about the strength of their bond.

“After the shock diagnosis, I didn’t know what lay ahead,” she tells us. “I could lose my vision, mobility, memory or even my life. I gave Phil an exit opportunity, telling him I’d understand if he wanted

to separate.

Showing the scars from her first op.

“When my mum had an aneurysm, Dad looked after her for 12 years and although he loved her, I didn’t want to be a burden. But Phil took my hand, said he loved me and that he’d be by my side whatever the future held.”

Phil is used to Cherie laying her feelings on the line. After they matched on Tinder, she told him that if he didn’t intend to marry her within two years, “off you go”!

“He didn’t bolt,” laughs Cherie. “We dated for two years before he proposed, so he did keep me waiting a little! He got down on one knee in Hamilton Gardens, with Zoe hiding on the bridge taking photos. At that time, we didn’t know the chaos ahead.”

What Cherie calls “the spanner in the works” started last June.

The bridal party, especially daughter Zoe (second from right) have seen Cherie through her highs and lows.

“I was in bed when my left arm started to feel odd. Tingles spread to my neck. I freaked out as Dad died of a stroke. I couldn’t lift my left leg or talk.”

Tests revealed two brain tumours, which would necessitate two separate operations to remove.

“It was a shock. Tears popped out, but then I laughed at the doctor as it felt unreal. When it came time for the first surgery, my wedding was just 11 weeks away – or so I thought at the time – so I was telling everyone, from the anaesthetist to the guy pushing me on the trolley, not to shave too much hair.”

Cherie’s surgeon agreed to postpone the second operation until after the wedding, but last August’s sudden lockdown “threw more spanners”. She recalls, “My daughter, most of my friends and the bridal party wouldn’t have been able to come, so we made the decision to postpone. But I didn’t have a breather as they decided to do the second surgery before this wedding.”

Cherie won her dream dress in a Woman’s Day competition. “I felt confident and beautiful,” she says.

Both tumours proved to be benign, but the second seven-hour operation really impacted Cherie. Her right side has been left numb, especially her foot, so she can’t go on runs or hikes with Phil, and she has problems with her memory.

“I forget words for things or what I’m supposed to be doing. That frustrates me as I used to be super-organised. But Phil is happy as he doesn’t get as many to-do lists!”

Despite Cherie’s memory issues, she didn’t let up on meticulously planning the big day, keeping detailed notes in a huge binder – and her efforts shone at the ceremony, where the green and orange theme beautifully complemented the rural setting.

Flowers and foliage from Raglan Flower Co decorated the long wooden tables inside the woolshed, where guests dined on delicious grazing platters from Lush Bites and Vietnamese cuisine from the On A Roll food truck.

Cherie’s niece whipped up the stunning cake.

Cherie had collected a haul of vintage Champagne flutes and silver-rimmed china plates, and fairy lights and hand-decorated jars added to the vintage vibe.

For the dessert table, decorated with her late mum’s doilies, Cherie made her mother’s famous caramel slice recipe. She’d wrapped her father’s blue rugby tie around her leg as a garter, so both her parents were “there with me”.

Cherie tells, “I felt their presence and it was really emotional. It was special walking in with Zoe, my life’s greatest achievement, too. She’s been my shining light through many tough times.”

‘Phil said he’d be by my side whatever the future holds’

Cherie’s niece made the wedding cake, decorated with raspberries and a fondant tree to represent the couple’s love of bush running. After it was cut, the newlyweds enjoyed a first dance to Donovan’s rock classic Sunshine Superman.

Their honeymoon was spent at a friend’s bach in Waiotahe, near Ōpōtiki, and a friend has gifted them accommodation in Hawaii for when travel opens up. Now back home in Rotorua, Cherie will continue her recovery with regular brain scans.

“Phil’s done up our patio and we got a blow-up spa so I can relax. What I’m looking forward to most about married life is not having to plan a wedding!”

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