TAMPA — Cassiday Gerweck wanted a wedding dress that showed off her breasts. Cancer-free for six months, she felt lucky to have them. The single mother from Hudson didn't have much money to spend on her big day. She had worked two jobs for most of her adulthood, until her disease forced her onto disability. She was surfing the Web for a used gown when a popup ad on her computer screen told her to make a wish. On a whim, she wished for a dress.
Thursday evening, she found herself surrounded by 2,000 of them, racks and racks of ivory and white beauties beckoning the woman with black locks and pink fingernails. Her wish had been granted by the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, a national organization that supports women with advanced breast cancer.
The group wanted Gerweck, 38, to help kick off its three-day Brides Against Breast Cancer gown sale by picking out the dress of her dreams.
The search didn't take long.
"Oh, my God, this is beautiful," she said.
She gazed into a full-length mirror, admiring how a white chiffon dress draped her curves, its sequined halter neckline showing a classy amount of cleavage. It was only the second dress she tried on.
"I think I'm in love with this one," she said.
Her eyes lingered on her reflection.
"It makes me look thinner," she giggled.
Gerweck had no health insurance when she discovered a golf ball-sized lump on her right breast in June 2007. During the next year, she underwent three surgeries, a dozen rounds of chemotherapy and 38 radiation treatments.
She credits the doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center for saving her life, and her daughter, Hillary Quick, 24, for giving her the will to live.
On Thursday, Quick received a magenta strapless chiffon gown of her own for the wedding day.
Outside the fitting room, Doug Spurlock remembered how his fiancee cried when she found out she would be getting a free wedding dress.
The couple met at Wal-Mart about three years ago. She worked in customer service in the garden center. They flirted, and he asked her for a piece of gum. She said she'd give him one if he promised to return the next day with a pack of licorice.
"We're good for each other," said Spurlock, 45, a painter. "She keeps me out of trouble."
He watched quietly as a hive of women whisked his future wife from the fitting room to another corner for a professional hair and makeup session.
"She deserves it," he said. "She's been through a hard life."
The Brides Against Breast Cancer organizers thought she deserved even more. Gerweck learned she would receive a free wedding photographer, videographer, florist, DJ, tux rental, alterations and officiant.
They will all converge later this month at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, which will host the ceremony and the couple for an overnight stay.
She had been fighting back tears the entire night. Now, a fresh flood came.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.