Like almost every little girl, Netis Negron had dreamed of being a princess on her wedding day, dressed in a beautiful white gown, and celebrating the future with her family and friends. And her dream was fulfilled at last. But it isn’t an actual wedding, because there isn’t a groom. Instead, her three young sons, looking spiffy in their tuxedos, were filling in for the groom.
Meet Netis, a single mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, at the age 29, and now the cancer has progressed, spreading to her bones.
Laura Gordillo, her photographer friend recalls, “She [Netis] was telling me about this idea she had, and it just melted my heart and I got teary eyed. I remember my wedding day, and she may not get to go through that.”
A simple idea from Netis to get some perfect photos of herself trying on some wedding gowns developed into a full-fledged wedding straight out of her childhood dreams, with tuxedos for the kids, and close friends and family members in attendance. But she couldn’t do it alone, so she sought help from the community.
Laura was deluged with donations and well-meaning messages for her initiative to help her friend realize a cherished dream. Donations were in many forms – dresses, flowers, venue, and even hair services.
“I told her that a bride had donated a dress and we were going to David’s Bridal to get the alterations done,” Laura recalled of the ruse she had used to pull off the surprise dress shopping to Netis. “It was just really hard to lie to her because we had so many wonderful people offering up their dresses for us to use for the shoot. But I wanted for her to be able to choose her own, to have that feeling and share in that experience.”
On her arrival at the bridal salon, Netis was faced with a rack of 20 gowns just for her. Once she found the right dress, she was very happy with it. “I loved the dress I picked. I liked what it stood for,” Netis explained. “It has these vines on it with amazing detail. To me, it was a sign of growth. It stood for living, and growth, and moving forward and hope. The vines keep growing and I felt like it was an extension of my family and the love and all the people helping make this happen.”
One of Laura’s favorite moments to capture on camera was a happy Netis choosing her dream wedding dress. “When they told her she could keep the dress, that was the most exciting part,” Laura said. “And when they told her mom, she was just overwhelmed with joy. To see Netis’ reaction afterward, that’s what made my heart melt.”
And on the actual day of the photo shoot, Netis was accompanied by her three tuxedoed young sons, who are 16, 11, and 9.
“We all feel like we are the men in her life because we are always trying to help her and support her,” explained her oldest son, Nick.
And Netis’ youngest son, Noah, had this to say: “When I got dressed, I kept looking in the mirror.”
Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words, but Netis plans to leave a thousand great memories in each of those pictures for her sons to cherish. Nobody knows whether she’ll survive the intense chemotherapy she’s undergoing, but she wanted her children to have something good and wonderful to look back on, and remember her by.
“I don’t want people to see this as a fake wedding,” said Netis. “It was a celebration of life. It was an amazing experience, a symbol for hope and faith. I was with family, friends and complete strangers that I now call friends, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
Netis’ intention for the whole fantasy wedding shoot was to leave behind happy memories, mementos and other wedding keepsakes for her sons’ big days, whenever that may be. And Netis has this insight she would like to share: “I can’t express how short life is and how important it is. When you’re sick, you see life differently. I think everybody should see life like that. They shouldn’t wait until bad times when it’s too late. Live life to the fullest, like it’s the last day, because you just never know.”
Our best wishes and prayers are with you, Netis.
Image credit: Laura Gordillo