The ninth annual online Belief Awards, which highlights the best wedding planners, designers, and coordinators worldwide, is back with its latest slew of breathtaking, must-see photos and stories. Landing recognition in the contest's "Black+White Category" is one particularly moving award-winning wedding from South Africa, featuring a photo of the special moment a father diagnosed with cancer walked his daughter down the aisle. Have the tissues ready.
Bride Stephanie De Castro's now-husband, Sandro, popped the question with the ultimate romantic gesture. The Cape Town-based pair embarked on a helicopter ride over their favorite local farm, where Stephanie's family was stationed with a massive banner, asking her to marry Sandro. She obviously said yes, and the couple enlisted the help of planner Jadee Fernandes McGowan of Watermelon to make their November 17, 2018, wedding come to life. However, in the midst of planning their ceremony, Stephanie's father was unexpectedly hospitalized.
"Five months before my wedding, on Saturday, 17 June, 2017, my father got rushed to the hospital feeling ill," Stephanie recalls. "On Sunday, 18 June, Father's Day in South Africa, our lives changed forever. As my sisters and I made our way to the hospital, the doctor informed the family that my father had a tumor that was cancerous. Our whole family's lives fell apart."
Her father immediately began treatment, but Stephanie admitted that she felt like her "life was over," and she didn't want to plan a wedding without his support. "The thought of not having him at my wedding broke my heart into pieces," she said. "I told my husband that if my father isn't present at our wedding, then we have nothing to celebrate."
McGowan, who had also planned Stephanie's sister's wedding earlier in the year, was initially unsure whether the ceremony would go on. But, she stepped up to the plate and resumed organizing the couple's nuptials so that Stephanie could spend time with her dad. Stephanie says McGowan "basically felt like family."
A month before the wedding, her father underwent a seven-hour operation to remove his tumor. The next morning, the same day as Stephanie's bridal shower, complications arose, and he experienced another three-hour emergency surgery. Because the future bride had already booked her shower venue, Stephanie wasn't able to cancel, but she says they tried to make the most of the day, despite not being with her father at the hospital.
Things took a turn again a week before the wedding. Stephanie said her father "didn't seem his usual self," and they discovered that his small intestine had wrapped around his stomach, meaning he would need another surgery.
"Everything seemed unreal, and my father kept asking the doctor, would he be able to dance at his daughter's wedding?" says Stephanie. "The doctor was really an amazing family man that cared for all of us, and he promised me that my father would be ready to walk me down the aisle."
The doctor stayed true to his word and, the night before Stephanie and Sandro said "I do," her father was miraculously discharged from the hospital. Dearheart Photos captured the emotional moment when Stephanie and her father, with his stoma attached, made their way down the aisle of the Cavalli Estate on her wedding day.
"Although my father was very very weak, I will never forget when we were walking down the aisle, he grabbed my hand tight and said 'I can't believe I made it,'" says Stephanie. "It was very emotional for me. My father is everything to me, and no words can explain how much I love him, and can't explain what it meant for him to be present at our wedding."
McGowan also attested to the magnitude of this moment at Stephanie and Sandro's award-winning wedding, adding that the photo of the father-daughter duo heading down the aisle together "captures the essence" of the entire day.
"On the day, it was a joyous celebration of life, courage, and bravery," she says. "With our Cape Town weather, we so often experience four seasons in one day, so on the day it was set for some rain, but out came the sun and it turned out to be a perfect day with magical light over the vineyards and olive groves."
See more: This 3-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Was the Flower Girl in Her Bone Marrow Donor's Wedding
The proof is in the picture-after this amazing endeavor, combined with the stunning ceremony itself that McGowan helped plan, Stephanie and Sandro's South African wedding is truly worthy of recognition.