When a 9-year-old girl who is battling leukemia says that her biggest dream in life is to see her parents get married, what’s a community to do?
It makes the “I do’s” happen.
Such was the case in Seattle recently, when Alejandra and Saul Olivera got to fast-track their wedding before daughter Miranda had to undergo a bone marrow transplant — the next in a line of treatments for a battle with leukemia that has lasted more than a year.
With the help of a team of social workers at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the support of friends, family and the Seattle business community, the Oliveras had the wedding with Miranda and brother Diego, 7, standing up for them. The Oliveras have been together for 10 years, and three years ago, Saul proposed to Alejandra. The family had been planning for an August 2013 wedding.
In October 2012, however, the family received devastating news — Miranda was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and Alejandra was told that her daughter might not survive through the night.
Miranda did more than survive: She fought. After six months of grueling cancer treatment and intense physical rehabilitation, Miranda relearned how to move, talk and eat on her own. The Oliveras were overjoyed to learn that their daughter had won her battle with the disease and was in remission.
By April, they were able to take Miranda home and began to plan their wedding — now a celebration of not only their love, but also of their daughter’s strength and determination.
In July 2013, just weeks before the wedding, the Oliveras learned that Miranda’s leukemia had returned. Their brave daughter would begin yet another battle in her war with the disease. The wedding would be put on hold, as a more important focus had emerged.
As Olivera watched her daughter endure more treatments and continue to fight to get well, discussions began about Miranda’s next course of action — a bone marrow transplant.
While plans were made for both the procedure and the care Miranda would need afterward, Miranda spoke up with one request. She wanted to see her parents get married.
Olivera explains that, in light of the plan for her daughter’s recovery, she and Saul planned to marry quickly at the local courthouse in the weeks before the transplant.
“The transplant is a big deal, and Miranda will have lots of limitations,” said Olivera. “For the first year she won’t be able to be out in public. Since it will be a while before she can go out, we wanted to do the wedding before the transplant.”
Enter a team of social workers from Seattle Children’s Hospital, the treatment facility that Miranda has called home for nearly a year.
Julie Arguez, a member of the pediatric advanced care team at Seattle Children’s, recalls visiting with the Oliveras when an idea struck her.
“I told them, ‘Let’s do this. No courthouse,’” said Arguez. “Life has been on hold for this family. These are beautiful, loving people who are so full of hope and joy — I knew we could help them celebrate and bring the day to them.”
With a team of helpers in place, Arguez and her coworkers had one week to plan the event. In that time, calls were made, donations were secured, and the event came together seamlessly. Every aspect of the Oct. 22 wedding — from Olivera’s dress to the couple’s wedding rings to the pink, flowered cake and chocolate fountain that Miranda chose herself — was donated by local businesses.
“I was amazed by how we’d ask for donations and these businesses would say, ‘Yes — and what else do you need?’ People are kind,’" said Arguez.
Ashlei Brooks, another Seattle Children’s social worker who worked to plan the event, shared that one of her favorite parts of the wedding day was having the opportunity to witness the love between Olivera and her daughter.
“To see Miranda’s face, see her getting into her dress, see her acting as her mother’s maid of honor — there was no doubt that we had definitely done the right thing,” Brooks said.
“This family hasn’t had a lot of good things happen,” Brooks said, “Miranda has defied all the odds. They have faced so much uncertainty and they do not know what the future will hold. While Miranda was doing well, we wanted them to be able to enjoy this day.”
Arguez described the wedding as “worlds away from (the family’s) day-to-day life,” a sentiment that was echoed by Olivera herself.
“The ceremony was amazing, and the whole day was wonderful. The memory that will stay with me the most is looking at Miranda, sitting at a table, eating lunch, eating cake — no medicine, no doctors — just being a normal kid,” Olivera said. “It’s incredible that so many people were willing to do something to help give us that time together as a family”
With memories of her parents’ wedding fresh in her mind, last week Miranda had her bone marrow transplant and is currently recovering.
Her family remains hopeful and wants their story to inspire other families in the same situation to hold on.
Says Olivera: “We are living proof that there are miracles. Staying positive is so hard when everyone tells you the situation is bad, but remember this — somebody has to be a miracle. It could be you. It has to be someone, so why not you? Why not your child?”