Maiden City to give brave cancer battler Leah Simpson wedding of her dreams
Every bride expects her wedding day to be the most important of her life. For remarkable Leah Simpson, however, there is even more reason for her marriage to Tony McLaughlin to live long in the memory.
The 35-year-old underwent a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in February last year.
While doctors said she was cancer-free afterwards, a sixth sense told her this was not the case.
In October, she went back to Altnagelvin hospital, where it was confirmed the disease had spread and was terminal, leaving her with between five months and a year to live.
Leah and Tony planned to marry in August this year, but after the shock diagnosis they brought the day forward.
Once the news spread around their native Londonderry, they were flooded with offers of support. So much so they got hair, make-up, flowers, favours, photography, video and suits for Tony and his best man free of charge.
Leah said the day she and Tony, along with Leah's three children, Tony's two and their families and friends, thought they would never see was better than they had even dared to dream.
She explained: "It was an incredible day. There were lots of tears, but it was a day we weren't sure we would get.
"We had our wedding booked for August, but I don't know if I am going to be here in August, so we decided to bring it forward."
Leah also thanked the many people who generously offered their support.
"Once people heard why we were bringing it forward, it was just amazing - everyone offered their services for free and the whole city just came together for us," she said.
"Really, we couldn't have done any of it without the staff at the Foyle Hospice. They helped me so much.
"Before I came to the Foyle Hospice, I was ready to give up, but the nurses here got me back on my feet and into a wedding dress in a matter of four weeks.
"They are absolute angels. They came down to the hotel where we were getting married and sorted everything out so that I had a nurse with me all day on my wedding day."
Leah remains in Foyle Hospice while husband Tony cares for their five children in between spending every available moment with his new wife.
"Our lives are not going to be what we had planned," Leah explained.
"I spend my time writing cards for my children to open each birthday until they are 30, and for all their special days, so they can have them in their memory boxes.
"I don't want another woman to go through it, so I want them to make sure they get tested for cervical cancer.
"I had neglected myself because I was so busy. (But then) I read Shauna Liddy's story in the local paper and that prompted me to get tested.
"When I found out I had cancer, I contacted Shauna and she has been an absolute rock to me."
Both women have formed a firm friendship, forged over their passion to raise awareness of the importance of cancer screening.
Ms Liddy explained: "I told my own story because, like Leah, it had been years since I had been tested for cervical cancer. But at the post-natal check-up after my second child, I was diagnosed.
"Thankfully my cancer was contained, but me and Leah would say the same thing: for the sake of 10 minutes and a bit of embarrassment, no woman should ignore a request to be screened - it really could save your life."