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Hospice patient granted wish of seeing daughter wed

By The Health News Team | March 10, 2023
Vanessa Dimashki, Rani Dimashki and Bibi Shahzad

“I'm fortunate enough that people say that I have her smile, so I get to carry her with me like that every single day,” Vanessa says as she poses with her mother Bibi and her fiancé Rani on their wedding day.

Bibi Shahzad, also known as Leonora Lopez Lima, and Shaheen Shahzad got married on a boat under the Coronado Bridge in September 1988. Later, they had a second wedding in a church in Mexico for Bibi’s side of the family. They were avid travelers prior to having their only child, Vanessa, and their relationship was truly inspirational to friends and family.

Growing up, Vanessa never had a babysitter. Her parents took her everywhere. Whether to a work meeting or dinner, Vanessa was always present, even if that meant she had to sit under the table with her toys. As she became an adult, Vanessa continued to be by her parents’ side, especially her mother — known as a beacon of light, whose smile always lit up the room.

It wasn’t until August 2020 that Vanessa and her mother were separated. To everyone’s shock, Bibi was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and underwent four chemotherapy sessions amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to COVID precautions, Vanessa wasn’t allowed to be with her mother during chemotherapy, which was terribly difficult for them both.

However, Bibi and Vanessa found a way to stay connected. They would talk over FaceTime and Vanessa would wait in the car for hours during her mother’s treatments to be there and offer support. Finally, in December 2020, Bibi underwent a double mastectomy and was declared cancer-free and in remission. Once Bibi was home, the family had what Vanessa remembers as “the best Christmas of our lives.”

A devastating new diagnosis

Sadly, nearly two years after she was declared cancer-free, Bibi had a hemorrhagic stroke and was admitted to the intensive care unit at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Doctors determined the cancer had returned and spread to her skull. They found five tumors in her brain— four in the front and a large one in the back. They also found several lesions within her bones, which made it difficult for her to move.

Bibi made the decision to forgo chemotherapy and radiation, and she returned home on hospice care. Vanessa continued to remain by her mother’s side. She fed Bibi every drink and meal her heart desired and bathed her with help from the hospice nurses and Vanessa’s fiancé, Rani Dimashki.

Vanessa and Rani were engaged just two months prior to her mother entering hospice and were planning to marry in the future. But Bibi’s health began rapidly declining. She was not communicating well and was unable able to stay awake for long periods of time. Vanessa was now concerned that her mother would not live long enough to attend her wedding.

Darci Fontenot, a social worker with Sharp HospiceCare, encouraged Vanessa to “take the leap of faith.” This gave Vanessa the confidence to quickly plan an intimate wedding in the family’s home while Bibi was still with them.

“My role is twofold,” says Fontenot. “One is to be here for emotional support, talk with you and be a listening ear. The other is to help with resources, such as exploring care options or final arrangements — anything practical that needs to get done.”

When Vanessa shared with her mother that she would host a small wedding ceremony, Bibi’s eyes lit up, Vanessa recalls. In less than 24 hours, Vanessa’s veil and wedding dress were shipped and received. And with the help of loved ones, the family was able to turn their home — with decorations and flowers in fuchsia and bright pink in honor of Bibi — into a wedding venue.

Different than expected, but beautiful nonetheless

Vanessa fondly recalls her wedding day — her best friend placing her veil on her and her father’s emotional first look before walking her down the rose petal covered stairs. And although the small home wedding was not the elaborate one they had hoped for, Vanessa is eternally grateful that her mother was able to witness her getting married.

The wedding guests were those closest to Bibi — her husband, best friend, new son-in-law and his mother. “It was so beautiful, heartbreakingly beautiful, to have her front and center,” says Vanessa. “It was like everything was just for her. And that’s exactly how I wanted it to be.”

Bibi had slept until the beginning of the wedding in hopes of having enough energy to be present and enjoy it. When Vanessa reached the bottom of the stairs, she went directly to her mother to share a sweet moment with her.

“I just kept asking, ‘Are you happy?’ Are you OK?’” Vanessa says. “My mom was in tears and replied, ‘You’re so beautiful. I love you so much.’”

Vanessa says that being with loved ones on that special day meant so much to their family. And they all credit Fontenot for helping Vanessa step out of her comfort zone to create the special moment with her mom.

“Darci was like my shining light in the darkness,” says Vanessa. “She felt the pain and the hurt that I felt. She made a connection with my mom to get to know the person that she was — well enough to make an impact on our family. She was like someone that we had known for years who genuinely wanted to help us.”

“It’s meaningful when we get to be with people,” says Fontenot. “Even though it’s a really fragile time, people allow us in and they share with us. It’s a great honor.”

Bibi Shahzad passed away in San Diego on Nov. 8, 2022.

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