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Here comes the bride - no matter what Add to ...

The beaded ivory gown is precisely how Erika Heller had envisioned it. The aisle at Blessed Sacrament, one of Toronto's longest, means she can savour the walk today with her father, George Heller, on her arm.

A gaggle of young girls waving fairy wands of flowers will also walk down that aisle, as relatives from the Czech Republic take their place in the pews to watch Ms. Heller marry Ryan Cornell and see them head off for a Mediterranean cruise.

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But her blissful vision was challenged as recently as four days ago, during her latest visit to her oncologist. Dr. Monika Krzyzanowska told the 30-year-old twice during that visit to consider postponing the honeymoon.

Morphine has not seemed to ease Ms. Heller's pain complaints lately. Chemotherapy, the doctor said, would help.

"Out of the question," she responded. "I'm going."

A cancer patient for more than three years but a daughter of high society all her life, Ms. Heller looked starkly out of place as she made her way down to the lobby of Princess Margaret Hospital among the greying grannies and granddads who make up the overwhelming majority of cancer patients.

She studied her prescription, which would provide her higher doses of morphine to control the pain on her Mediterranean trip and beyond.

And unlike many new wives, Ms. Heller knows just when the honeymoon will be over - at 9:30 a.m. on July 2, when she is scheduled to have an magnetic resonance imaging scan of her tumour. On July 10, she will start one more cycle of chemotherapy, having already completed more rounds - 32 - than her age.

But today, her wedding day, she doesn't want to think about cancer. The only thing that separates her from other brides is a quarter-sized bump on the right of her chest, where a port was surgically placed to provide access for chemotherapy drugs.

That and the knowledge that her fiancé is willing - no, eager - to become her husband despite the very real possibility that their union will be cut short in a few years and include more than its share of suffering.

"I absolutely love her and I think the world of her," said Mr. Cornell, 31, a manager of space planning at Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), where the man who is about to become his father-in-law was not long ago the chief executive officer.

"I don't know what tomorrow holds. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But I've got today and I'm going to enjoy it."

Long day's journey

Ms. Heller was only 9 when she experienced her first bouts of abdominal pain intense enough to curl her into a fetal position. Despite visits to emergency wards and family doctors, no cause was found.

It wasn't until the severe symptoms of blood loss, diarrhea and anemia that a colonoscopy was ordered 14 years later, in 2000. Doctors discovered a startling 500 polyps - growths that produce mucous membranes - lining her colon. Without treatment, cancer was all but guaranteed.

Genetic testing would reveal that Ms. Heller had familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), usually a hereditary illness, although neither of Ms. Heller's parents has the gene. Like 20 to 30 per cent of patients, Ms. Heller had a spontaneously occurring mutation. Most of her colon, rectum and some of her small bowel were removed at a Toronto-area hospital that summer.

There were severe complications. Her family was told that she might not make it. When she awoke from a second surgery, just after her 23rd birthday, she was wearing an external pouch to collect her solid wastes. A different colorectal surgeon, Zane Cohen, replaced it the following year with an internal pelvic pouch built out of the small intestine, which gave her control of her stools.

For the next few years, life was similar to that of other people her age, save for her bland diet of chicken, white rice and white bread.

In the spring of 2003, Ryan Cornell was in the management-trainee program at HBC when he spotted a high-spirited young woman working in the company's Brampton offices - slender with long brown hair, strong shoulders and exotic cat-shaped blue eyes.

"When I saw her in the halls at work … she was just incredible," Mr. Cornell said in an interview. "She was very beautiful, confident and easy to talk to."

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