As Nell Cordukes exchanged vows with her new husband Matt in front of their family and friends, her eyes filled with tears of sorrow and joy.
Just hours earlier, her “smiley and caring” mum Becky Best had died from brain cancer at the age of 56 – three months after being diagnosed. Poignantly, it had been her last wish that 24-year-old Nell, from Kendal, Cumbria, married her partner of six years, Matt.
The couple got engaged a month after the mum-of-four was diagnosed in June and began planning their dream day so she could be there. But tragically, she died last month – on the morning of the wedding – just after Nell had left to get ready at the venue.
Nell said: “We knew mum didn’t have long and had discussed what would happen if she died before our wedding day. She would have wanted us to go ahead and it felt the right thing to do.
“It was so emotional but I tried to focus on my vows to Matt as mum adored him and was so happy we were getting married. It was a lovely sunny day after weeks of rain which felt like her blessing.”
“It was the saddest and happiest day of my life at once.”
Nell wore a necklace she’d bought for her mum and had her wedding and engagement rings nestled in her bouquet of white roses.
Photo credit: Joe Mather Photography
As the guests arrived, the best man greeted them and broke the news that Nell’s mum had died.
“After the ceremony, our guests hugged me, expressing their sympathy and congratulating me on getting married,” she said.
“It was the saddest and happiest day of my life at once.”
Nell is sharing her story to help The Brain Tumour Charity raise awareness about the disease – which is the biggest cancer killer of children and under-40s in the UK – and highlight how underfunded research is into brain tumours.
“I’m still trying to process that my mum died just three months after being diagnosed with this cruel disease,” said Nell. “And the worst thing was that nothing could be done to save her life – we had no hope.
“I’ve been robbed of having my mum at my wedding day or seeing her hold my babies in her arms one day.
“That’s why I’m now driven to help The Brain Tumour Charity raise awareness and funds so that other families don’t go through our heartache.”
Becky – who separated from Nell’s dad in 2012 – became in ill in June after giving up being a teacher to care for her sons Thomas, 25, who has chronic fatigue syndrome and Harry, 20, who has autism.
Nell, an assistant manager at a farm park, said: “Mum had the biggest heart and always put everyone else first.
“She adored my brothers but it was stressful looking after them and she was on anti-depressants, which I think may have masked her brain tumour symptoms. One day Mum was struggling to remember the right words for things.
“She was trying to tell me that one of her dogs was coming into season and kept saying ‘the pregnancy thing.’”
Over the next few days, she started feeling dizzy and when Nell’s sister, Camille, got a GP to come to her house they put it down to exhaustion. But her condition was rapidly deteriorating and on June 18 Camille was forced to call for an ambulance.
Nell raced to Royal Lancashire Hospital and when she got there her mum didn’t recognise her.
“She was disorientated and stressed, and didn’t really know where she was or what was happening to her. She couldn’t walk without us supporting her,” she said.
After other tests, Becky had a CT scan at about 1am where doctors said they could see something on her brain.
Nell said: “They thought she may have had a stroke – but that she needed an MRI scan.”
The next morning, a doctor called Nell, Matt and Camille over to see her results.
“I stared at the big white blob on Mum’s brain on the scan picture in shock,” she said. “I just thought, ‘what the hell is this?’ How long has she been walking around with it in her head?“
The doctor told them that their mum had a brain tumour, but they weren’t sure what type it was.
Nell said: “We couldn’t take it in. We were all devastated.“
On July 4, Becky had a six-hour operation to remove about 70 per cent of the tumour, and was in hospital for nine days.
“It was the worst brain tumour you could get,” said Nell. “We didn’t want doctors to tell Mum how long she had to live but we wanted the truth whatever it was. They said she had three-six months to live without treatment and 12-14 months with.
“In her lucid moments, Mum said, ‘I want to fight this’ and doctors advised treatment. But it’s all a blur and at first I was too shocked to even be upset. It didn’t feel real, like it was happening to someone else.“
Becky loved nature
The devoted family vowed to cherish every moment together – taking her to the park and lakes.
Now Nell has vowed to make the most of every moment and live life for her mum too
One of her final wishes was for Nell and 29-year-old joiner Matt to get married.
Nell said: “Mum loved Matt and was always dropping heavy hints about it being time we got married. She jokingly said, ‘Well, now I’m ill you’d better get married now’.“
Race against time
On July 20, the couple went for a walk to a lake with their dog Rosa when Matt proposed.
“Mum was so happy when we told her,” said Nell. “She thought she was going to get better for the wedding and said she had to buy a new dress.
“We organised everything as quickly as we could but Mum was going downhill rapidly. We knew that whatever happened and whenever she died – even if it was on the actual day – we’d still go ahead with the wedding.”
Nell did all she could to involve her mum in the wedding arrangements.
“We took her to the wedding dress shop in her wheelchair and I tried on my gown for her,” said Nell. “She was so tired but her face lit up with her beautiful smile when she saw me do a twirl in my mermaid-style sparkly dress for her.
“Mum was a great baker and wanted to make our wedding cake, but she was too ill. So we took her to the bakery and she chose the flavour macaroons for the cake they made us.
“She’d wanted to write and read a speech at the wedding so Camille helped her to write it. She told me how happy she was I was marrying Matt.“
By the weekend before the wedding, Nell could tell that her mum was trying to hold on – she couldn’t speak, eat or drink but could hear them.
“We talked to her and read her favourite Winnie the Pooh stories, “said Nell. “Every time I left the room, even for a few minutes, I said goodbye to her.”
The night before Nell’s wedding on October 2, she and Camille stayed at their mum’s instead of the wedding venue.
“I got up at 5am and just sat with Mum holding her hand and talking to her about getting married,” said Nell. “I kept telling her that I loved her that it was OK to let go now – that we’d be fine and I’d look after my brothers.”
At 7am, Nell left for country house Hipping Hall in Cowan Bridge where the wedding was taking place. Camille stayed a bit longer with their mum and read her speech to her.
Less than two hours later, Nell got the phone call she’d been dreading at the wedding venue.
“Mum had died – she’d waited until we’d gone,” said Nell. “My heart was breaking but I knew the wedding had to go on – like Mum would have wanted.
“I texted some people to let them know but most guests turned up unaware. The worst part was when my aunty had to tell Mum’s 90-year-old dad when he arrived as we couldn’t get hold of him beforehand.”
Guests wept as they watched the grieving bride walk down the aisle with her dad and make her wedding vows.
At the reception, Nell placed a framed photo of her with her mum on an empty chair.
Guests listened to the speech Camille, 27, had read to their mum just hours before and Becky’s favourite Winnie the Pooh story was also a reading.
“It was tough and a little part of me felt guilty for going ahead with the wedding,” said Nell.”But we knew those were Mum’s wishes which helped us get through the day as best we could,” said Nell.
“We felt so much love and support from everyone.”
We felt so much love and support from everyone.
“It was tough and a little part of me felt guilty for going ahead with the wedding.”
“But we knew those were Mum’s wishes which helped us get through the day as best we could.”
Photo credit: Joe Mather Photography
Less than two weeks after getting married, Nell went to her mum’s funeral and read the Winnie the Pooh extract from her wedding.
Now she has raised over £2,500 for The Brain Tumour Charity and feels “compelled” to carry on raising funds and awareness.
“Before Mum’s diagnosis, we didn’t know anything about brain tumours and were shocked by underfunded research is,” said Nell. “We want to help The Brain Tumour Charity give hope to other families as her legacy.”
And she is determined to make the most of life for her mum’s sake.
“All Mum ever wanted was for us to be happy, “said Nell. “She always had a smile on her face and I miss her so, so much. Her life was cut short so it feels like now we’ve got to make the most of every moment for her, too.”
Sarah Lindsell, The Brain Tumour Charity’s chief executive, said: “It is heart breaking and cruel beyond measure that Nell’s mum died on her wedding day – and our hearts go out to her and her family.
“We are hugely grateful that she is sharing her story to help us raise awareness about brain tumours – the biggest cancer killer of children and under-40s in the UK – and how underfunded it is.
“And we are incredibly touched by Nell’s drive to raise money for vital research because she wants something positive to come out of her mum losing her life to this brutal disease.”
To donate to Nell’s fund, visit her JustGiving page
Interview: Carol Dyce. Originally published on The Sun Online