Three days after he was meant to get married, Tauranga man Phil McLean was wheeled into surgery.
His fiancee was by his side when he woke. They had hoped he would walk out of hospital cancer-free, but this turned to despair after they were told not only could the tumours not be removed, but he had suffered complications.
Worse, these complications now mean his pancreas is leaking - and that could kill him before the cancer does.
McLean was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 2018 and it progressed to the liver and one lymph node.
The bowel tumour was removed two months later and he had chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the other tumours in February last year.
The chemo was unsuccessful as McLean suffered a stroke after the first two doses.
"They said there's nothing we can do," his then-girlfriend Debra McNeil said.
Six months later, he proposed.
He continued to have scans throughout the year to monitor the tumours and in December last year, doctors decided to operate when the tumours had not grown.
Rather than holding their wedding on April 4 as planned, the couple instead went to Auckland for his operation three days later.
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They stayed in the Auckland Cancer Society's Domain Lodge after the surgery at Auckland City Hospital was delayed a week.
But the stay was "horrendous" for them, unable to be with each other as a result of Covid-19.
McLean had an infection during this time with high temperatures.
"He thought he was dying. It was really traumatic, and I still wasn't allowed in there," she recalled.
What was meant to be 10 days turned to 25.
"There was one time where Phil managed to get himself to a window and I walked along from the lodge to the Auckland City Hospital.
"I looked up and I could see him looking down at me. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes."
But the surgery was the finish line and there was hope.
"We've won," they thought.
But they had not.
"They realised the lymph node had attached itself to the pancreas and the main arteries, so they couldn't remove it," she said.
As a result of a complication during surgery, pancreatic fluid has collected at the back of the pancreas and they cannot get to it, she said.
Rather than medicine or treatment, they now relied on the hope that his body would absorb the fluid.
"There's quite a high chance, apparently, that it could kill him before the cancer does."
But they resolved to be optimistic and she said McLean was "one of the most positive people I've ever met".
When they returned from Auckland, McLean was admitted to Tauranga Hospital for two days with another infection, but has been home since.
"He's positive and fighting the fight."
This weekend, the couple will camp at Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park in their RV and McLean will sit in front of it as he watches McNeil walk the 5km circuit around Mauao.
She will walk lap after lap with close friends aiming to reach a total 198km, which is the distance between Tauranga and the lodge. She aims to complete at least 120km on her own.
It is to show her thanks to the Cancer Society for their saving-grace support, and give back to the lodge as other charity events had either been postponed or cancelled because of Covid-19.
The support she received from hospital staff, and other families and patients was "just outstanding".
"It was traumatic enough as it is without having family and friend support.
"Without them, I would've been a wreck."
Thursday was the ninth anniversary of losing her mother to cancer, and this weekend marked the time between her death and funeral.
Since starting the fundraiser, three people close to the couple have been diagnosed with cancer.
"What I'm doing is minor compared to what these other people are going through.
"I can't raise enough money to cure cancer, and I, myself, cannot cure cancer, but if I can make the journey a little more comfortable for the people that end up in the lodge, my job's done."
She has raised just under $6000. Her initial goal was $3000.
A friend, who did endurance walking, has coached her since she decided to do the walk 11 days ago and had been walking between three and five hours a day.
When asked by McLean if she was nervous, she said no.
"I'm not even feeling anything. I think it's because what we have been feeling as far as dealing with the cancer has been so overwhelming, this is actually nothing."
The walk will span over Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 5am. McNeil has friends in Tauranga, Whitianga and the UK who will be joining her.
McLean will walk the last kilometre with her.
She said anyone is welcome to come along, track how many kilometres they do, to be added to the grand total walked.
Cancer Society Auckland Northland chief executive Andrew Young said it was because of people such as McNeil and everyone who donated that the organisation was able to support patients and families.
"Like many charities, we've taken a financial hit from this pandemic. We've had to cancel major fundraising events, so to have Debra decide to take on this challenge for us is amazing, she's an absolute inspiration."
'It was never intended to be an engagement ring'
When her mother died of cancer, Debra McNeil inherited her jewellery, which she got broken down and made into one precious ring.
The ring tells a story with a sapphire to remember McLean, a diamond to resemble McNeil and the little diamonds which symbolise family and support people which wrap around everything.
"It was never intended to be an engagement ring at all."
Once it was delivered, they were in the car last August when McLean said, "well, now you've got the ring, we might as well get married".
Although they had known each other since McNeil was a child, the couple only started seeing each other 18 months after her mother died.
The couple have moved the wedding to August 8 as well as to a larger venue, and they hoped by then that larger gatherings would be allowed so their 200-guest list of loved ones who had supported them throughout the diagnosis could attend.