Terminally ill bride-to-be Samantha Gamble, whose case persuaded authorities in Northern Ireland to allow weddings for people in her circumstances, will on Friday marry her love Frankie Byrne.
Co Down woman Samantha (53), who was diagnosed with terminal cancer last July, and Frankie (54) were set to get married next Friday, but due to coronavirus restrictions the nuptials were cancelled.
However, when Samantha was rushed to hospital gravely ill three weeks ago, her husband-to-be set about moving mountains and getting legislation changed so he could call Samantha his wife.
Last week, Stormont's First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, agreed to allow marriage ceremonies in which a person is terminally ill as part of the first steps in lifting lockdown measures.
As a result, on Friday Samantha and Frankie - who have three children between them - will tie the knot in a simple, heartfelt and poignant ceremony at their Loughbrickland home.
And in their first in-depth interview they took time out on Thursday from last-minute preparations to share the story of their romance, which since they went public last week has captured the hearts of people across Northern Ireland and beyond.
The couple first got together 12 years ago when Samantha, a school cleaner and dinner lady, and Frankie, who works for the Roads Service, met at a local bar. Initially, however, she refused to give him her telephone number.
"We have been together for 12 years now," says Samantha. "We met in the Downshire Hotel and Bar in Banbridge one evening. Frankie just came over and sat down beside me and started with his charm. It didn't actually work to start with. He was a good-looking man and we just sat and chatted.
"But I wouldn't give him my phone number. My brother Simon was there with me and was encouraging me to give him my number, but I wouldn't and I just went home. But Frankie got hold of my number anyway. He persevered and he texted me a few days later."
Reflecting on the evening when he first set eyes on his bride-to-be, Frankie says that, for him, it was love at first sight.
"She just seemed like a beautiful woman sitting across the bar," he recalls. "There was a space beside her so I took that space. She wouldn't give me her number, but I got it from somewhere anyway. Samantha was definitely worth the chase."
Samantha says that their love was a slow-burner, starting off with text messages, then a drink in a local bar. After her initial brush-off, the couple became close and eventually were inseparable. "I warmed to him quite quickly," she says. "You couldn't not warm to Frankie, he is very charming. He found out where I lived and I was sitting one morning just out of bed, hair every shape, in my pyjamas and the back door opened and in he walked.
I wouldn't have been here without Frankie. Every second of every day he has done everything for meSamantha Gamble
"And I thought, if there is anything that will put you off me, this is it. But he came back again and it just progressed from there. We got closer and we went away on little trips and weekends and that was that.
"I don't know if there was a particular moment that left me thinking 'he's the one', but I just remember thinking 'I'm going to be with you, whatever obstacles there are, we are going to be together' and that was it, really.
"We had both been through a lot before, with marriage break-ups, and we were both in exactly the same situation."
Over the years life has thrown challenges their way, but they have helped each other through everything. They got engaged in early 2018, just before the couple faced the biggest challenge in their lives together, when Samantha was diagnosed with cancer.
"Frankie got down on one knee and proposed," she says. "I thought maybe he had had a drink or two and was taking the hand. But it was lovely and I said yes straight away. And here we are.
"I was diagnosed later that year. I wouldn't have been here without Frankie. Every second of every day he has done everything for me. Obviously I have had great help from family and friends also, but he is the one that has been there through everything. He is just amazing. I couldn't have got this far without him. He is why I am sitting here today."
When Samantha was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, the couple set off on a journey that neither of them had predicted or wanted. Recalling how their lives changed, she describes how doctors broke the news of her cancer.
"I had a lump in my knee in December 2018 and I had a scan which showed that I had a sarcoma," she says. "I had that removed and had radiotherapy and a knee replacement. In February the following year it all went wrong. I got a bad infection and had to have more surgery. I can walk on crutches but I'm left that my leg does nothing.
"When I was diagnosed it was so hard to take in that it was me the doctor was talking about. Frankie was right there beside me the whole time, holding my hand.
Those words that were said in the consultant's room changed my lifeSamantha Gamble
"I was fine for a while and waiting for reconstruction surgery. But then I had a routine X-ray in July of last year and it showed up that the cancer had spread to my lungs. That was a big blow. I started chemotherapy, but it affected the wound on my leg again, I kept getting infections, so the chemo had to stop. Then the doctors told me that there was no treatment available to me.
"When the doctors were telling me that, Frankie was there beside me. We both felt like they were telling someone else this news. It was like an out-of-body-experience."
Frankie struggled to take in the dire news about his partner.
"I couldn't believe that something that had started in her knee had gone to her lungs," he says. "They were telling us that on average you have a two-year life expectancy."
Now, the couple want to cherish the time they have been given together.
"We want to make the most of the time we have left," says Samantha. "Those words that were said in the consultant's room changed my life. For a while it really got me down. I was thinking, 'This is it. I'm not going to be around to see my grandchildren grow up.' It was horrendous. But then I thought, 'I can't do this. I have to be strong for myself, to get through every day.' And we did try to carry on as normal. We would have gone out for something to eat and even a walk around Tesco was a treat. We did try to live life as normal and then the coronavirus hit so we were locked down.
"Life has thrown many challenges at us, but love has remained throughout. And if anything, it has made that love stronger."
Things took a terrifying turn three weeks ago when Samantha was rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital with pains in her head. She was moved to the Cancer Centre at the City Hospital in Belfast shortly afterwards, where doctors found that the cancer had spread once more.
We didn't know what they were going to say in the hospital and we didn't want to know the prognosis was. Myself and Jessica sat in the kitchen and planned to get this marriage happening, no matter what it tookFrankie Byrne
"Three weeks ago the pains in my neck and head started," she says. "I woke up in agony. I was screaming with pain and Frankie had to call an ambulance."
Frankie says that he was distraught seeing his wife-to-be in such agony, adding: "I was trying to tell the ambulance people what was wrong with Samantha while comforting her.
"When the paramedics were taking her out the door I said to her, 'Samantha, please don't die. Please come back.'"
Samantha was rushed to hospital and had a CT scan and it showed that the cancer had spread to her spine and neck. She says the doctors and nurses "got her back" so that she could marry her love.
While she was in hospital, Frankie, along with Samantha's daughter Jessica, hatched a plan to ensure the couple could wed.
"When Samantha was in hospital, myself and Jessica thought, we need to get this marriage sorted," Frankie says.
"We didn't know what they were going to say in the hospital and we didn't want to know the prognosis was. Myself and Jessica sat in the kitchen and planned to get this marriage happening, no matter what it took. We contacted Samantha's cousin Vivienne and she started sending emails and making phone calls and it all snowballed from there.
"Then we went on Stephen Nolan's show. We sent emails to the Executive and anyone who would listen. But it kept coming back that it couldn't be done. But Vivienne wouldn't let it go. Eventually after 10 days the Executive gave in and said that they would allow it, because of the circumstances, and they changed the legislation.
"I set out to do this, all for Samantha. In my head I said that I won't give up on her until her last breath. I still won't."
While those she loved were moving mountains at home to ensure she got her dream wedding, Samantha was in hospital having little contact with the outside world - and little idea of what was being planned.
"The doctors and nurses told me they would get me back and so they did," she says. "They are heroes. The treatment that I have had from the hospital has been amazing.
"When I was in hospital I really had no contact with family outside," she says. "I wasn't well enough to ring Frankie or my family and they were just relying on ringing the hospital and I couldn't have visitors because of the virus.
"We were due to get married on May 29, next Friday. But the coronavirus put paid to that, and it was cancelled. I don't know how [Friday's wedding] happened. They all sorted it out while I was lying in hospital.
"I couldn't believe what they had done. The first I knew about it was when they told me to put the radio on to listen to the announcement on the news with Arlene and Michelle. I was just sitting there with the nurses, they were holding my hand. I was trying not to break down.
It means so much to be Frankie's wife. It just means the world that I can say 'That's my husband' and that we are together, through everythingSamantha Gamble
"It is the most romantic thing that anyone has ever done for me. I couldn't believe it and I still can't believe that it's happening."
Samantha says that her wedding day will be a hugely emotional one - and very special. She says she can't wait to be Mrs Byrne.
"I think I'm the only one holding it together at the moment," she says. "I dread to think what it will be like, as the rest of them are all getting very emotional and I'm the one who is saying, 'Come on now, it's all going to be all right.' I think that might be because I'm resting and having everything done for me.
"My daughter got me a dress while I was in hospital. We tried it on and it fits perfectly. Frankie is giving me his mum Peggy's wedding ring, which means so much. It's actually his mum's anniversary on the day of our wedding. It means everyone will be there, in that regard.
"It means so much to be Frankie's wife. It just means the world that I can say 'That's my husband' and that we are together, through everything. I can't wait to be Mrs Byrne. The thing I want to remember most about our wedding day is me and Frankie standing there, taking our vows. It is going to be so special. My son and daughter, Stephen and Jessica, are going to be there and a long-time good friend of Frankie's is also going to be there. His son Stephen can't get back from Australia. We were restricted in the amount of people able to attend."
And just hours away from exchanging their vows, Samantha says: "Hopefully the sun will shine on us, but it doesn't matter, because today will be special anyway.
"If I could say anything to my future husband, it would be that he means the world to me, the whole world."
For his part, Frankie says he is greatly looking forward to the wedding and that his future wife is "his life".
He adds: "I didn't think I could ever be as happy with a person as I am with Samantha. She is my life and I can't imagine life without her."
Frankie and Samantha say that they are indebted to their friends, neighbours and even strangers who have rallied together to support them in their time of need. The Belfast Telegraph has made a donation to Newry Hospice and the couple have asked anyone who wishes to celebrate their wedding with them to also make a donation. You can make a donation online at www.southernareahospiceservices.org