Audrey Parker had finally found love later in life after decades of searching, only for it to possibly be dashed after she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Her health setback was the beginning of a 10-year ordeal that also included being treated for breast cancer after surviving colon cancer. But standing by her the entire time was Allen Green, the man she started dating shortly before her diagnosis, who waited on bended knee on the other side of her cancer treatments.
Parker shared her story on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Friday of how she persevered through illness to tie the knot at 73 after thinking marriage might never happen for her. She spoke with Karen Swensen, Hoda’s best friend and former TV anchor in New Orleans, who filled in for Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY.
How she met her future husband
Parker grew up as the oldest of six children and dreamed of getting married one day and having a family, but it had not come true by the time she entered her 40s.
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"Everybody else got it, and then when you look at everybody and you see they look so happy, and then you wonder, what is it about me? Why?" Parker said.
That changed when she attended her high school reunion at 49 and connected with Green, whom she didn't know personally when they attended the same high school.
"I knew of him," she said. "You've got to remember, I’m in school before integration, OK? He comes to me he goes, 'Miss Parker, I’m not gonna let you get away this time this easy.' I never anticipated it going any further."
Fighting cancer with Green by her side
Just when Parker had found someone special, she feared she would lose Green after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
"I told him that if he couldn’t handle it, I would understand and not hold it against him if he felt he needed to leave," she said.
It turned out Parker had no reason to worry about that.
"He was going to be there with me through it," she said.
A few years after she was free of the colon cancer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had 18 lymph nodes removed. She also had extensive chemotherapy and radiation that prompted her to move in with her younger sister, with Green still by her side.
"I could not bathe myself for a period of time," Parker said. "You had to bathe me because I had tubes all over. And then I couldn’t lay in the bed. I had to sit up in a chair."
The dream of one day being married took a backseat while Parker focused on beating cancer.
"You really don’t know tomorrow," she said. "I knew I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to live because I felt like I hadn’t done everything that I should’ve done. However, if He felt that I had done everything, then still, take me with my dignity."
The proposal that was years in the making
Once she finished her treatments for breast cancer, she held out hope to one day be married.
"When a person gets married, to me, the two of you are telling everybody, 'This is mine, this is mine,'" she said. "And I had never felt that."
Green had asked her what she wanted for her 73rd birthday, and Parker said, "Wow me."
He took that suggestion and ran with it, getting down on one knee in front of her family and asking to marry her.
They enjoyed the entire wedding process
An overjoyed Parker then made sure she would undergo the full bridal experience.
She went dress shopping, enjoyed a bridal shower and held a rehearsal dinner with family and friends.
"I did not miss anything that a 20- or 30-year-old bride would've gotten," she told Hoda and Karen.
There also were some bachelorette shenanigans that involved a stripper, but she described the experience as “modest.”
Parker then enjoyed her special day at the altar with Green.
"Once we set the wedding day I prayed — my prayers were (that) the joy that I feel inside when I get through that door, that everybody else can feel it so that it transcends to everyone," she said.
"Oh, she was a beautiful bride coming through," Green said. "She lit up my eyes."
Parker said that she wouldn't have changed a thing about how everything unfolded.
“When you look back and you see where you are, there’s no way it could’ve been better than it is what it is at that moment,” Parker told Hoda and Karen. “And you realize that every step you went through, every disappointment, every tear, every dark day you spent ... was worth it.”
What about a honeymoon?
The pandemic scrapped their plans for a honeymoon, but Parker can also now add that to her list of wedding experiences.
She and Green were surprised by TODAY on Friday with a six-day, five-night stay at Margaritaville Beach Hotel Jacksonville Beach in an oceanfront corner suite. Their roundtrip airfare is included along with complimentary meals and beach chair and umbrella rentals.
"Awesome, awesome, awesome," a beaming Parker said.
Parker hopes her story can show others that it's never too late to find love, even if there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way.
"Keep your hands open, keep your heart opened," she said. "And somehow, some way, whatever it is that you desired, it will come. But don’t expect it to come the way you think it’s supposed to come. And above all, never, never give up in spite of the challenges."