As from April 2013 we will be donating 5% of all sales through this website to the Wedding Wishing Well Foundation, this amazing charity arranges weddings for terminally ill people who would love to get married but can’t afford to have this final wish granted. Below is an interview with the inspirational Naomi Thomas who is the founder of this charity –
‘Where it all began’
IN THE YEARS leading up to the launch of The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation, Naomi Thomas had been through more than most people contend with their entire lives.
At thirty years old Naomi is a happily married, mum of one and settled in the beautiful Somerset town of Wellington, with her new husband, Graham. However, one thing you wouldn’t know about Naomi if you saw her in the street is that she is living with Secondary Breast Cancer, a disease which has transformed her life and the lives of others, in so many ways.
From the minute you meet Devon born Naomi, you cannot help but notice her bubbly personality, her creative flair and the way she is able to make others smile, just by her smiling at them. It is very true though; she does have a beautiful smile and manages to light up the room just with her presence.
As we chat, Naomi looks back over her life choices, focusing on her career decisions and admits she had not known what she wanted to do when she left school. With such a warming character, burning passion to succeed & an enjoyment for planning things, in 2005 she began working as a self employed Wedding Planner across the county of Devon. Life was going swimmingly, it seemed.
It was during this time Naomi learnt how to create the ‘perfect’ wedding for brides-to-be, from the dress, the venue, the flowers to all the little finishing touches which help make the day personal and extra special for all involved.
It was unquestionable; Naomi loved her job and flourished in helping brides-to-be with all the arrangements for their big day, helping to ensure it would be a day never to forget. But after only four years pursuing her dream career and only three months with her fiancé Graham, Naomi’s world was turned upside down as she was given the devastating news that she had Breast Cancer. She was only 26.
Naomi admitted it was a diagnosis that she never thought she would hear.
‘It was terrifying,” she says. “Your world just falls apart, especially thinking of my loved ones.’
Searching for an explanation, Naomi details, ‘I’m a young woman with no history of breast cancer in my family. It just highlights how it really can happen to anybody. Cancer doesn’t discriminate; it affects men and women, people of all ages, races and backgrounds.’
Three years on and the issue is still as important as ever before; around 9,000 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year with the other eighty percent effecting women over the age of 50, with the risks increasing with age.
Despite these figures, it seems the awareness of breast cancer amongst younger women is not as prominent as it could be. Many young women, just like Naomi, simply believe that are not at risk of developing breast cancer. Furthermore, many are unaware that once diagnosed, a high percentage will be told they have the more aggressive forms, often resulting in higher mortality rates.
Detailing her involvement with Bosom Buddies UK, an organisation which educates and advises on all aspects of breast health in schools, Naomi describes how it is essential that younger women (and men) are vigilant and check their breasts at least once a month.
‘Young people need to be taught from an early age, the importance of knowing what is ‘normal’ for their breasts, knowing what to look and feel for, and actually checking for lumps and changes. If they do discover anything they must report any changes to their GP’s without delay’ says Naomi.
‘Obviously’, she continues, there are many factors affecting the development of the disease such as lifestyle, weight, exercise and genetics. But if the younger generations are more aware of the issues relating to breast health and the development of breast cancer, more lives can hopefully be saved, before it is too late.’
The issues Naomi faced, from how to preserve her fertility, continuing to work for as long as possible and maintaining relationships are all still genuine concerns for younger women with the disease.
Naomi says, ‘When I was diagnosed I had to deal with all sorts of difficult issues, but it was just as tough for Graham. How partners cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and the rollercoaster of emotions that follow is often overlooked.’
‘The cancer rollercoaster’
But this news was just the beginning of a heartbreaking journey, for not only Naomi, but everyone close to her. After a gruelling series of treatments including an operation, chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy, Naomi had hoped she had beaten the disease and looked to the future with Graham.
Both were delighted when in early 2010, aged 27, Naomi discovered she was pregnant and expecting their first child. Naomi explained how she felt very lucky to be carrying a baby, especially knowing chemotherapy can more often than not affect fertility in women.
Unfortunately, this excitement soon turned to devastation as only six days after her newborn son, Devon, came into the world in September 2010 Naomi was rushed back into hospital with a serious MRSA infection. It was during this time that doctors delivered the massive blow that the cancer had spread and that her back had broken in three places due to her bones being eaten away by cancer. Despite everything, Naomi soon had come to terms with the fact she now had incurable Secondary Breast Cancer.
It soon became apparent that this news came as an even bigger shock to everyone, especially after the initial hope that the treatment had worked. Defiantly, Naomi bravely endured further treatment, only for surgeons to decide against operating on the tumour on her spine for various reasons.
‘You forget it’s happening to you,’ says Naomi. ‘All I know is I won’t survive this and I just enjoy every day as it comes. Over time I’ve come to terms with it. It’s the people you leave behind I feel for’ she explains.
Despite Naomi struggling to cope with her recent diagnosis, looking after a newborn and dealing with her shocking news she bravely decided to try to focus on the future with her new young family.
Having had to cancel their wedding day due to the financial impact cancer has on people going through it Naomi decided to arrange a charity event in the town she grew up in, Sidmouth, Devon to lift her spirits. Naomi’s extraordinary story and the way the disease impacted her as a young woman soon caught the attention of local Wedding Planner Sam Williams. Unknown to Naomi, this event was to signal the first step towards her becoming the beaming Mrs Thomas, as she is today.
Through the enormous generosity of Sam, the local community and from complete strangers, a dream wedding was arranged with donations from wedding suppliers on 6th June 2012, Naomi and Graham eventually tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony at St Audries Park, Somerset.
Naomi admits, ‘It was a stunning day; one to cherish for ever. I loved feeling special for the day and getting the chance to marry the man who has supported me through so much. As I have always proclaimed, I am eternally grateful to everyone who made the day possible; it really was a real group effort.’
Determined to put her experiences to positive use, Naomi set about ways to help others enjoy the wedding day of their dreams, just as Sam and her event planning business Perfectly Planned Events had enabled her to.
So, in early 2012, with this passion and determination right at the centre of what she wanted to achieve, The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation was born.
One thing Naomi thinks about a great deal is how, that despite the devastating impact cancer has on so many people’s lives, ‘it is magical how cancer brings people closer together and it is this fact which inspired me to help others in this way.’
‘The highs and lows of new beginnings’
However, as with any new venture, there are always challenges, as Naomi has found out: ‘One major challenge has been receiving the applications and the dealing with the range of emotions it stirs up. It is exciting to think we can help people have a fantastic wedding day but at the same time, it is difficult to think about the limited time couples will enjoy as husband and wife.’
‘Behind this upset, however,’ says Naomi ‘lays a desire to focus on the positive side of things in life. If The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation is able to help, in any way, make the couple feel complete, just as Graham and I did on our wedding day, I will be one happy lady!’
The foundation is going from strength to strength and with the support and generosity of not only suppliers and businesses, but individual fundraising efforts, the project is really coming into its own. ‘It’s going really well and I cannot wait for our new fundraising teams in each county in the UK to be in full swing and generating vital funds so we can continue the great work we do.’
Still, as Naomi explains, ‘Of course, we need more money to develop the organisation and such funding is vital for the foundation to continue in its quest to ensure people can enjoy their perfect wedding day, without the stress, uncertainty and financial burden that cancer inevitably brings to families’.
‘Looking forward to the future’
Although Naomi now has to consume a concoction of hormonal drugs to force her into premature menopause and prolong her life as long as possible, she explains that her plans for the future of The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation are simple. Naomi said she wants ‘to spread the word about the project, continue raising funds and awareness, in turn helping more and more people in the same position as me’.
She continues, ‘When I began the foundation I wanted to help as many people with terminal illnesses or life threatening conditions have the wedding day they could only have dreamed of and I want this to continue.’
It is clear that Naomi wants this project to continue even after she is no longer around to see her project continue to thrive. ‘The foundation will be my legacy and that makes me a very proud woman.’
With this in mind and as the foundation’s first year draws ever closer, it seems Naomi will be busier than ever with more applications flooding in, but with an innovative idea and an impressive determination, there is nothing stopping this mum of one.
So, how can you help this worthy cause?
If you are a supplier, individual or business and can offer your services for free or at a reduced rate, The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation would love to hear from you.
Whatever your niche or specialism, with your help you will be supporting this inspirational organisation, be it through cake decoration, wedding dress supplies, food distribution, venue hire, stationery, floristry or car hire. Any wedding products, services or support are always welcome and the foundation continually searches for enthusiastic people to generate vital funds too; through donation, sponsorship or fundraising.
As Naomi reiterates, ‘We cannot continue with this fantastic project without the generous incoming funds, so any help is always gratefully received and very much appreciated.’
When such fabulous projects support people and their loved ones through some of the most challenging of times in their lives, there is nothing more rewarding than giving something back and putting a smile on everyone’s faces.
So, why wait?
Support this fantastic organisation today and spread the word about their inspirational and dedicated mission with everyone you know.
As the old saying goes, one good deed deserves another.
The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation