Calm in eye of two storms: Couple’s hospital wedding during Ian, after devastating diagnosis

Andrea and Brian Haney

Brian and Andrea Haney thought they would get married "someday." Then Brian was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. During the storm of Brian's diagnosis, and while Hurricane Ian descended on Florida, the couple decided someday was now. Mayo Clinic staff rallied to help mark their commitment.

As Hurricane Ian raged outside, Andrea and Brian Haney were enduring a personal storm.

A month earlier, Brian had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. It was a devastating diagnosis for the couple, childhood friends whose relationship turned romantic after Andrea's husband passed away in 2010. They had been best friends for many years without dating. Then one day, Andrea's daughter, Hannah, said, "I think Brian like-likes you." Hannah's hunch was correct, and she accompanied her mom and Brian on their first date.

By September 2012, Brian and Andrea had merged their households and settled into a new life together in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. They didn't marry but thought they might in the future. Brian and Andrea both loved to travel. Maybe they'd take a trip and get married somewhere new someday?

Then their personal hurricane hit. Life suddenly revolved around doctor's appointments and bloodwork, chemotherapy and scans. "Someday" seemed impossibly far away, the future uncertain.

What was certain was Brian and Andrea's love for each other and for the life they had built. They decided to stop waiting for someday. They wanted to get married as soon as possible.

Initially, they'd hoped to have a small courthouse wedding after Brian was discharged from the hospital. But as Brian's hospitalization went on, they decided there would be no more waiting. If they couldn't plan a wedding outside the hospital, they'd plan one inside it instead.

Andrea reached out to Palliative Care staff for help planning their special day. She met with Chaplain LaWanda Banks, who agreed to perform the ceremony. A marriage license was obtained via Zoom. And on Sept. 27, Andrea and Brian would be married in Brian's hospital room.

"The staff on 5 North were honored to help with this celebration of love. It was a welcoming moment of beauty before the storm."

Becky Spee

When Ryan Chadha, M.D., an anesthesiologist who'd met Brian early in his journey, heard about the wedding, he thought the couple deserved a celebration. Dr. Chadha contacted Angela Majerus, director of Patient Experience in Florida, to ask if there was anything Mayo could do for the newlyweds.

Indeed, there was.

Majerus immediately began playing event coordinator, reaching out to colleagues throughout Mayo Clinic for help creating a reception.

In true Mayo fashion, a multidisciplinary team pulled together to give the couple a true celebration, working against the clock as the looming storm pulled staff in many directions. The nursing team on 5 North worked with staff from Patient Experience, Food Services and Humanities in Medicine.

"The staff on 5 North were honored to help with this celebration of love," says Becky Spee, nurse manager. "It was a welcoming moment of beauty before the storm." 

They found twinkle lights, flameless candles and party favors for ambiance. M Brothers, a restaurant at Mayo Clinic in Florida, donated a reception meal that included crème Brule, one of Andrea and Brian's favorite desserts.

Liz Mattson, education coordinator for Humanities in Medicine, provided the soundtrack, serenading the couple with a few of their favorite songs, including "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

As Mattson sang, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be alright," many of the staff witnessing Brian and Andrea's commitment to each other were moved to tears.

"Words cannot describe how wonderful it was to see two individuals so in love, embracing the moment and forgetting, just for a moment, the devastation they have been living with."

Angela Majerus

"Seeing staff put everything on hold and partner together, during such a chaotic time, to bring hope and happiness to this couple was so rewarding," Majerus says. "Words cannot describe how wonderful it was to see two individuals so in love, embracing the moment and forgetting, just for a moment, the devastation they have been living with. Moments like these are my why."

"Having been a patient here this summer myself, I have truly felt the personal touch and care we give to our patients, and I think they did as well," says Tammie Massey, Mayo Clinic Food Services. "Often, even though not always as planned, life gives us joy in the most unexpected ways, from the most unexpected people."

For Brian and Andrea, the joyful moment had an even deeper meaning and would be one of their last together. Brian passed away on Oct. 9.

Brian was grateful for his time at Mayo Clinic, Andrea says, saying he believed the care he received gave the couple more time together. 

"Every time Brian received care at Mayo, he was careful to thank every staff member he saw, from housekeeping and food service to nurses, techs, doctors and PT," Andrea says. "We were all part of one wonderful team fighting this terrible disease, and every single person contributed care, skill and compassion."