"I just want my mom there," Sam Falic remembers thinking, as wife Brooke adds that it wouldn't have been their "dream wedding" without her
Lavish wedding in a week? Impossible. But that’s exactly what Florida couple Sam and Brooke Falic accomplished. They went full throttle after Sam’s mom Jana received the devastating news that she'd been diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer, which meant she could not attend their planned dream wedding set for January 2024.
Wedding plans were not in the forefront of Sam’s thoughts when he learned of his mom’s health crisis, although that was all his mom could think about.
“We were at the doctors and, yeah, her number one concern was the wedding,” Sam, 28, of Bal Harbour tells PEOPLE. “She had a specific song she always wanted for the mother-son dance and kept asking when she could go to the wedding and the doctors just said ‘No.’ She was getting worse. We had to move quickly.”
In less than two months, Jana, 65, had gone from thinking she might have kidney stones to being told she had a rare TCC kidney cancer, and it was incurable.
“It’s not a great cancer,” a teary Jana tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to look good and feel good at the wedding. I wanted to dance with my only son. My three daughters, my son, we all danced together at the wedding and it was beautiful. I don’t know why I’m crying because it was so nice.”
She says now she can look at the wedding photos of her friends and family on that happy day and it gives her strength to continue her battle.
“My granddaughter made me an album and those are the reasons why I have to get better,” says the grandmother of 16.
Brooke, 28, says the wedding distracted Jana and others from her cancer diagnosis and prognosis.
“I think she sort of forgot she was about to go through this extensive chemo journey,” she tells PEOPLE. “And for just one week everyone stopped crying and everyone was just so happy. Both of our families fully came together, there was no fighting, no arguing about anything.”
When Jana received her initial diagnosis, the family pulled out all the stops to get multiple opinions. After two weeks of scrambling and flying around the country to consult with specialists, she was repeatedly told her choices were either an immediate aggressive treatment program that could severely impact her quality of life — and still not work. If she chose that option, attending any gathering, especially a large wedding, would be out of the question for at least two years.
Or she could opt to enjoy her remaining time through palliative care that would manage her level of pain.
“The doctors told me it was going to be horrible, the chemo, or we can make you comfortable and you can let go,” Jana says. “It was terrible when I was told that. So here I am fighting.”
With no time to lose once she opted to do treatment, Jana was slated to begin chemotherapy on July 4. That equaled a week of wedding planning, a wedding and two days before she started chemo. It was a tight deadline Sam, a lawyer, was determined to make work.
“I sat down with my amazing fiancée and said I’ll never forgive myself if God forbid she missed the dance she was always dreaming of doing,” Sam says. “I’d rather get married in my backyard. I just want my mom there.”
Brooke says her mom has an incurable form of brain cancer and did the aggressive chemo 10 years ago. “When my mom heard about this, she was on board with the wedding,” Brooke says. “She said we had to do it because she would have wanted this if she was in her shoes.”
The family quickly mobilized, knowing July 3 was the latest possible date for the wedding. Sam’s three older sisters — Tila, 42, Lisa, 39 and Shena, 36 — divided up the tasks. One booked the venue and the hotel for guests, one tackled the food and another handled the flowers, graphics and other details.
“We just told people we don’t have a venue, a time or a place, but fly into Miami on July 3,” Brooke says. “It was a scramble.”
It was hard enough not to have the venue she had wanted, or the touches she had carefully planned, but the kicker was Brooke would also have to give up her gorgeous Vera Wang gown she had ordered in June, which would need to be carefully fitted over several sessions and would not even be available until October.
But having his bride walk down the aisle in anything less than her dream dress was unacceptable to the groom.
“I don’t know why I said it, but I told her I swear to God we’re getting the dress even if I have to go directly to Vera Wang,” Sam says.
Team Falic went into high gear and through the help of Sam Falic’s business colleague Charlotte Shaw, they were able to get in touch with the London designer’s CEO, who made sure Brooke got her dress in time for the wedding.
Brooke was thrilled to get the dress but says it was having Jana at the wedding that made it a flawless event.
“The truth is that the wedding in January would never have been our dream wedding if Jana wasn’t there,” Brooke says. “You can have the perfect flowers and the perfect venue, but if the important people in your life aren’t there, that’s not really your dream wedding.”
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Jana had already purchased her mother-of-the-groom dress even before her son proposed on May 10. Ironically, he had planned to propose last year and Jana had suggested a venue that would be open on July 4 for the wedding.
“It was seriously the craziest week of our entire lives,” Brooke says. “Everyone had a task and everyone stepped up to the plate and no one complained."
One of the amazing feats they pulled off was getting the more than 300 guests to do a flash mob dance.
“His sisters are dancers and often dance, but how did they teach all those people that dance in less than a week?” Brooke says.
And speaking of guests, most did a complete pivot on their pre-planned trips and changed their reservations to go to the last-minute affair. For those who could not attend, a Zoom was set up so they could be a part of the big day.
Brooke says it all came together after the ceremony and she turned around to see everyone in the room who had made such an effort to be there.
“I started crying. I was so overwhelmed and grateful in that moment. I made eye contact with all these people who had to go through so much to be here,” Brooke says. “I was so caught up in the planning, I forgot about all the friends, family and colleagues that were here in this room with us with 10 days notice.”
Looking back, Brooke says she’s gained an important perspective on what a wedding really should be.
“We go to a lot of weddings now and hear people complain about the small details, and it really does not matter,” Brooke says. “No one notices or remembers those things. But everyone remembers how happy the bride and groom looked, and all the dancing and fun and the bigger moments. People don’t pay so much attention to the small details.”
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