Mayo Clinic Health System physician-turned-patient celebrates wedding a week and a half after cancer diagnosis — thanks to her care team

Christina Wika, D.O., learned she had leukemia a week and a half before her wedding. Treatment plans took over wedding plans, until her care team suggested hosting the wedding at the hospital. They worked together to plan "a perfect evening," according to Dr. Wika. "Mayo Clinic is my first job," she says. "And hopefully, my forever job."

Christina Wika, D.O., was midway through her overnight shift in the emergency department at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse when she decided a patient needed an abdominal ultrasound.

Not an unusual decision, usually. But this time, the patient was Dr. Wika herself.

She'd been experiencing a host of symptoms over the past few weeks. First there was back pain and muscle spasms. Then night sweats.

"My fiance had COVID, so I thought I might have caught something too," Dr. Wika says.

But then she began feeling breathless. Light-headed. Her abdomen was bloated, and her eyes were tinged yellow, a sign of jaundice.

The next morning, after her shift ended, Dr. Wika checked herself into the hospital for evaluation.

Three hours later, a colleague gently delivered the news she'd feared.

"It looks like leukemia."

After additional tests in La Crosse, the diagnosis was confirmed, and Dr. Wika was admitted to the Methodist Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester for treatment.

Wedding plans delayed — or not?

A cancer diagnosis hadn't been in Dr. Wika's plans. But something else had been.

A wedding. Which she'd been planning for months.

"I got the official cancer diagnosis a week and a half before I was supposed to get married," Dr. Wika says. "My whole world was turned upside down."

Treatment planning quickly took over wedding planning. There were tests and treatments and many, many conversations with doctors and other members of her healthcare team.

Some of those conversations involved Dr. Wika's wedding, which she and her fiance had decided to postpone.

Lindsay Olson, a certified nurse practitioner and self-described "huge romantic," hoped the couple might change their minds. She asked Dr. Wika's primary hematologists, Mithun Shah, M.D., Ph.D., and Nicole McLaughlin, M.D., if she could discuss wedding options with Dr. Wika one more time. They agreed.

I often talk with patients about how much cancer takes away from them. I told Christina that her wedding and her marriage were things that cancer didn't have to take away.

Lindsay Olson

"I often talk with patients about how much cancer takes away from them," Olson says. "I told Christina that her wedding and her marriage were things that cancer didn't have to take away."

Dr. Wika thought about it. Talked with her fiance, Matt Schaaf, about it. And together, they decided to keep their wedding date.

"We thought, why should we let this stop us?" she says.

That was Oct. 3. Their wedding date was Oct. 6 — giving the couple just three days to plan a very different wedding than the one they had expected.

But they weren't planning alone.

A care team that truly cares

When Dr. Wika's care team on Eisenberg 9-4/9-3 learned that she and her fiance wanted to get married at the hospital, they quickly stepped up to help.

"One of her nurses, Anne Thompson, took Christina around campus to look for the right location," says Michel Benz, a nurse manager in Bone Marrow Transplant/Hematology. "They decided on Lipps Atrium."

Benz sent an email to Daniel Brown, M.D., Ph.D., hospital medical director, and Kenneth Ackerman, associated administrator, to ask for permission to use the space as a wedding venue. They agreed, and the ad hoc planning team kept moving forward.

Food Service staff Jorge Ocegueda, Brandon Ziebel, Kyle Meyer and Taylor Torres.

"To pull this off took incredible collaboration from the medical side," Olson says. "Our physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, pharmacists, schedulers, health unit coordinators and phlebotomists all worked together to ensure Christina got the care she needed while working around the wedding schedule."

Then there was the question of food. Hollie Stegemann, operations administrator for Hematology, arranged for a catered meal to be served by Mayo Clinic Food Services staff.

She also arranged for musicians — a pianist, guitarist and violinist — to play at the ceremony and reception, and for a Mayo Clinic photographer to capture images of the occasion.

There were legal matters to take care of as well. Amanda Schumacher, a social worker, helped the couple get a Minnesota marriage license. Their officiant, who would be traveling from Wisconsin for the wedding, also needed to obtain Minnesota credentials.

"So many people stepped up to help us pull everything together," Dr. Wika says. "Everyone was amazing."

On the day of the wedding, everything was amazing.

'A perfect evening'

"There was a different atmosphere on the unit that day," Benz says. "Everyone was so excited for Christina."

That included her nurses, who decorated her room; Olson, who gifted the bride with a blue bracelet ("Her something blue," Olson says); and the staff from Mayo Clinic Food Services, who served the wedding meal. After learning about the bride's love of chocolate, they even located a chocolate fountain.

"Our catering team did so much work to get ready for the dinner," Stegemann says. "They were polishing the silverware like they were getting ready to serve a princess."

And at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, Dr. Wika and Matt were married in front of family and a few friends in the courtyard outside of Lipps Atrium. Then the group moved inside to celebrate over that lovingly served meal before cutting into the couple's wedding cake, which had been transported from La Crosse.

It was, the bride says, "a perfect evening."

She wasn't the only one who thought so.

"It was one of the best days I've had working at Mayo Clinic," says Stegemann. Benz agrees.

Dr. Wika says the wedding and her experiences as a patient have reinforced her decision to work at Mayo Clinic.

"I was truly blessed to be admitted here," she says. "Everyone — the providers, the nurses, the Environmental Services staff — is wonderful and do whatever they can to make my stay comfortable. Mayo Clinic is my first job. And hopefully, my forever job."