A devastated groom, whose fiancé died just two weeks before they were due to walk down the aisle, bravely delivered his wedding vows at her funeral instead.
Ryan Dixon, 25, met Kate Wignall when they were just 15 years old after he moved to her hometown, Lost Withiel in Cornwall. The pair became teenage sweethearts and started planning their future together.
On 30 May 2020, after nine years together, Ryan popped the question – and to his delight, Kate said yes.
But the next day, she started feeling agonising chest pains that seemed to come out of the blue.
After seeing various doctors and being sent for tests, Kate was given a devastating diagnosis, just six weeks after the proposal. She had skin cancer.
Further tests revealed it was stage four melanoma which had spread to her brain, spine, spleen, kidney and lungs.
Last year, shortly after her diagnosis, Kate said: “It was heartbreaking telling Ryan. We’d been on such a high and now our lives were suddenly and sharply going in a different direction.”
Kate’s treatment seemed to be working well at first, but soon after spending Christmas with Ryan and her family at home, her condition took a turn for the worse.
Ryan recalled: “Her scan in January had shown a significant decrease in her cancer, meaning her chemotherapy treatment was working as well as it was expected to.
“But then things happened very quickly.”
Later that month, Kate found a lump in her breast, which doctors confirmed was melanoma. Her cancer had spread again.
She was put on a course of immunotherapy.
But she started having bad headaches, being sick and experiencing high temperatures, and on March 7, 2021, she was taken to hospital. There, she received devastating news.
“Just two days into being in the hospital, Kate’s oncologist phoned to say there was a serious bleed on her brain caused by a tumour,” Ryan said.
“They told us she might only have a couple of days to live.”
The next day, Kate was allowed to return home where Ryan became her full-time carer. Soon, Kate seemed to perk up, and doctors were hopeful the treatment had begun to work.
“When she came round at home we could talk again and we started the process of trying to get married,” Ryan said, adding they moved up their wedding date and switched it to a small UK ceremony instead of Rhodes, where they’d originally planned to marry.
“We went to the register office and we had the rings and the venue all ready.”
But as they got excited to finally tie the knot, th
e couple were dealt a final devastating blow as Kate started to rapidly decline again.
Sadly, Kate passed away on April 14, 2021, just 14 days before she was due to marry the love of her life. She was 25 years old.
“We didn’t quite make it,” Ryan said.
“Only three and a half weeks after being at home she passed away with me, her mum, her dad and her sister by her side at home.
“Kate’s last memories were planning our wedding which is a slight comfort as she was so excited about it.
“She was very strong-willed, and she didn’t want to get married at home. She wanted the venue and the dress and, typical Kate, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“But neither would I.”
Instead of planning a wedding day, Kate’s family started putting together details for her funeral, making sure everything was “bright and colourful” like she always wanted.
Her mum and sister wrote poems and messages which were read aloud.
And Ryan stoically spoke the wedding vows he’d written for his teenage sweetheart.
He said: “Although these are the vows we did not get to speak, they will be ours forever, to cherish and keep.
“I feel so privileged to have felt true love. To have loved you and been loved by you, to have lived our lives so fully, together.
“You have already given me the world, Kate. I will always love you and my heart will always belong to you.”
Ryan said the ceremony was exactly what Kate, who was “always smiling”, would have wanted.
Then on May 30, exactly one year to the day he got down on one knee, Ryan returned to the spot in the Cornish headlands where he proposed to scatter Kate’s ashes, as per her wishes.
“It felt like I was fulfilling a purpose, but at the same time, I felt completely broken,” he said.
“It was an absolutely beautiful day. We had the place to ourselves and it was just very peaceful.
“It felt like it was the end of her physical presence and then the start of whatever comes next.”
Ryan and friends completed the Three Peaks challenge in memory of Kate, to raise money for Cancer Research UK ( Image: PA Real Life)
In the final months of her life, Kate compiled a ‘live list’, containing things she wanted to do while she still had the time. Now, Ryan is fulfilling that list for her.
Ryan said: “With lockdown, we hadn’t been able to do much. Kate wanted to go back to the cinema, go camping again and hike up Snowdon.
“One wish was to get a dog, which we did manage to do. We got Coby, our gorgeous little golden-red Labrador puppy for Kate’s 25th birthday on January 19, 2021.
“He’s now eight months old and a cheeky chappy, full of personality. He was one of the biggest ticks.”
In memory of his fiancée, Ryan has also set about fundraising for Cancer Research UK and recently completed the Three Peaks Challenge, raising £5,300 for the charity.
“I knew Kate wanted to hike up Snowdon, so it came from that,” he said. “I am sure she was with us, bringing us sunshine, for the whole weekend.”