SHREVEPORT, La. — After Liza Heaton was told she had less than a month to live, about 150 friends and relatives came to say a last good-bye at a lakeside fish-fry. Rather than play host to her own living wake, the 25-year-old turned the gathering into a huge celebration — her wedding.
She was still Liza Haynie when she was told in November that a rare cancer called synovial sarcoma had returned after three years in remission, and when she was told in early December that a gastrointestinal obstruction would prevent treatment. Oncologists at Johns Hopkins cancer center recommended hospice and palliative care.
She and Wyatt Heaton had talked briefly about getting married after learning in November that the cancer had returned on Thanksgiving Day.
"When they said it would not be months, but weeks, I took that to mean a wedding was off the table," Liza Heaton said. "Wyatt took it to mean, OK, we have to get married this weekend."
The two decided on Dec. 11 to get married. Their marriage was two days later, at Liza Heaton's aunt and uncle's house on Cross Lake.
"We had 150 people. Tons came in from out of town — from all areas of my life," she said. "From summer camps, college, friends from Atlanta, Baltimore. It was amazing. That's how I wanted to spend my time."
The couple said spirits were high despite the circumstances.
"I wanted that day to be about the wedding, not about cancer," Liza Heaton said. They thought it might be her last week, "So I wanted it to be about the wedding and about love."
The wedding was a success, Wyatt Heaton said: His wife was strong despite going from about 30 minutes a day out of bed to "eight hours of straight partying."
"I kept thinking, she needs to be on her fluids, but her dad said, 'No. She's having the time of her life,'" he said.
The day after the wedding, the obstruction that prevented her treatment cleared. Oncologists prescribed a chemotherapy pill to halt the tumors' progression.
"The hope is that the pill will stop the tumors, and in the spring she can join a trial and treat the cancer," said Liza Heaton's mother, Michelle Haynie. "The chemo pill could even shrink it."
Liza Heaton said she wants it known she no longer is in hospice care, and her treatment is not considered palliative.
She is fighting.
"We're hopeful to beat it again and go into remission and spend the rest of our lives together," she said.
Her father, Dr. Richard Haynie, said his daughter will participate in a test of a new drug that is working well on other tumors.
Her second chance inspired her family to start an online campaign to raise money to study the cancer, which often strikes young people. In about 24 hours, the "Love for Liza Fund" at GoFundMe had received nearly $200,000; in six days it was more than three-fifths of the way to a $500,000 goal.
Liza Heaton said she is overwhelmed both by the money and the support of family and friends who have donated or sent gifts, cards and paintings. One arranged a phone call from cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, she said.
"It's humbling to know so many love you and care about you and are willing to stand up for you," she said. "And now looking at the donations, there are people I don't even know."
Liza Heaton hopes her story, which the generally private young woman reluctantly tells to raise money for the research, inspires others with negative prognoses to stay strong and to hold onto hope.
"Maybe it will turn around, and if it doesn't, enjoy what you have. Enjoy the time you have left," she said.
Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com