Heather Lopez and her family could have been any clan out taking pictures. On a sunny afternoon, they snuggled together in the chilly wind at Mukilteo beach. At one point, they put on Christmas sweaters.
With Lopez’s wedding little more than a week away, her family and her fiance, Jimmy Absher, created keepsakes and memories. Friend and photographer Tessa Burrus took picture after picture. There were lots of smiles.
What wasn’t apparent Tuesday was a cloud of sadness, and the possibility that the couple planning to marry Dec. 17 may not be together to celebrate their first anniversary.
Lopez, who is 37 and has a 10-year-old son, has battled cancer since August 2016. That’s when she was diagnosed with a sarcoma in her right lung and chest. This year, in mid-July, she had emergency surgery at UW Medical Center to remove a brain tumor. A scar remains atop her head, where she had 38 staples.
The very next month, on Aug. 26, her father, Richard Lopez, 69, died in a motorcycle crash on U.S. 2 near Lake Stevens. He had been in a funeral procession that included Heather and her fiance, and the couple saw the accident.
“When my dad passed, I thought OK, I need to get a wedding date and focus on something positive,” said Lopez, who grew up in Granite Falls. “There are a few things I wanted to do before I go, and the wedding is one of them. It took me forever to have this guy.”
So she and Absher, a 43-year-old heavy equipment operator who lives in Everett, set their wedding date — April 29, 2018.
Then, in mid-November, a medical appointment changed everything. “A bunch of tumors grew back,” Lopez said. Doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance found six tumors in her head and another on her spine, she said. “What we’ve gone through the past year doesn’t seem real,” Lopez added.
Her sister, Jennifer Goodman, of Monroe, recalled what Heather was told that day.
A doctor was “open and honest” about running out of options, Goodman said. Lopez learned her life expectancy would likely be months, not years. “They said, ‘You need to do what you want. You need to do what matters,’ ” Goodman said.
Karie Greiner, Goodman’s friend and neighbor, is a wedding planner with a Snohomish-based business, Unforgettable Weddings and Events. When she learned about Lopez’s situation, Greiner set out to help move the wedding up to Dec. 17.
“These are happy, joyous people. It’s such a blessing to give her her dream wedding,” said Greiner, who reached out to vendors through the Snohomish Wedding Guild, a directory of area wedding resources.
After getting on the phone and sending Facebook messages to wedding businesses, Greiner has been overwhelmed by their generosity. Hidden Meadows in Snohomish, the location of the Lopez-Absher wedding, is donating the venue for the day, Greiner said, “and Wooden Spoon is catering for free.” Other businesses have stepped up, she said.
“Bless Karie’s little heart,” Lopez said. “I’m just totally shocked. It’s a big wedding and will be a pretty amazing event.”
Goodman also is busy with arrangements for her sister’s special day. “Who needs six months to plan a wedding?” she said.
“We’re so thankful,” said Absher. “With Karie jumping in, the community has come together to help us.”
The couple met in January 2015. “I met him through a girlfriend of mine. I went to her house for a Seahawks playoffs game,” said Lopez, who recently found a gown for her hurry-up wedding. “It’s beautiful,” she said.
Along with losing her father, the family has weathered another tragedy. Lopez lost her brother, 41-year-old Phil Lopez, to a different type of cancer in December 2015.
As she looks forward to walking down the aisle next week, her cancer fight continues. Lopez recently finished a round of radiation, and has started a new chemotherapy pill. “I still have hard odds. I probably won’t beat it,” she said.
Her mother, Marsha Lopez, was bundled up against the cold Tuesday. For some pictures, she posed with her grandson. Her daughter’s boy, Landon Tarpenian, and his 8-year-old cousin, Gavin Goodman, ran down the beach with the energy of kids excited for Christmas.
As the day grew colder, Absher wrapped a blanket around his bride-to-be.
“This is like a dream come true for her,” Lopez’s mother said. “I’ll pray for a miracle.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
Heather Lopez’s sister, Jennifer Goodman, has established an online fundraiser on the YouCaring website to help the family pay medical and other expenses. The fund is called “Support for Heather (Jimmy and Landon).” Donations may be made at: www.youcaring.com/jimmyabsherandheatherlopez-1019396