Corey Cunningham was working in a refinery in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands last October when he had a seizure. The 45-year-old hydroblaster for an oil and gas company was evacuated to a hospital in Puerto Rico. A month later, while home in Houston, Cunningham was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital said there was no cure for his stage 4 Glioblastoma, but with treatment, his life expectancy was about 15 months.
“It was heartbreaking,” his longtime girlfriend and now wife, 42-year-old Tyyisha Evans, tells PEOPLE of the diagnosis. “We cried together. I said, ‘You have to fight. I need you to fight.’ And he did.”
Cunningham had radiation, chemotherapy and medication‚ but in January, MRIs showed that the treatment wasn’t working.
When a palliative care physician asked Cunningham who he wanted as his medical power of attorney, Cunningham told the physician that he had bought a diamond ring — and he wanted to marry Evans. The doctor called Evans and popped the question.
“I was so surprised,” says Evans, an accounts payable coordinator at an energy company. “I just didn’t expect him to have that on his mind. I thought this was going to be the last thing he would think about.”
She said yes.
This was actually the fifth time Cunningham had proposed. The couple met in February 2013 on a dating website.
“I fell in love with his strength,” says Evans. “He’s definitely a man’s man.”
She loves how spontaneous and adventurous Cunningham is, but there were a few things that had previously held them back from tying the knot. The die-hard Cowboys fan travelled a lot for work, and sometimes he was gone months at a time and miles and miles away. They lived together, and every now and then he would say he was tired of “shacking up” — and asked if would she marry him. Given the circumstances, she says, she just wasn’t ready.
Another obstacle preventing a wedding came up in November 2018, when Evans was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later — and a month after she was declared cancer-free — Cunningham received his cancer diagnosis.
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Once Evans accepted his proposal, Cunningham’s nurses mobilized into wedding planners.
“It was like Make-a-Wish, only with a wedding,” says one of his nurses, Rita Lane.
Nursing staff got the cake, the flowers and the photographer donated. They decorated the hospital chapel, and turned Cunningham’s wheelchair into a tuxedo.
“It gave us an opportunity to express the love we have for Mr. Corey,” says nurse manager Eva Boone, who remembers him as a pleasant, appreciative man with a big laugh. “He was a wonderful patient.”
About an hour before walking down the aisle on Monday, Feb. 10, Evans was informed that Cunningham was ready for Hospice care.
“It was overwhelming. Extremely overwhelming,” Evans says. “I cried before I even got in the door of the chapel.”
When nurse Boone handed Evans her bouquet of white roses, Evans burst into tears. Boone cried too.
The couple was surrounded by three out of four of Evans’ children, her 4-year-old grandson that she and Cunningham are raising, and Cunningham’s 19-year-old daughter.
“It was much more than I expected,” Evans says. “I couldn’t believe how many total strangers were in tears on our wedding day.”
The officiant focused on the love the couple have for each other — in life, death and eternity.
“The look on his face when he said ‘I do’ — it floored me,” says nurse Laine. “He started crying again. And then he said, ‘It’s about time.’ Then we were laughing and crying at the same time.”
The pianist played the couple’s favorite song, “You and I,” by O’Bryan.
“It melded them as a family,” Laine says of the wedding. “Whatever comes next, they’re always going to be a family.”