There are a couple things most brides will agree on: They want to be surrounded by the people that matter most to them on their wedding day — and they want great pictures.
For 22-year-old Kierstynn Foster Rozema, that meant taking her wedding party on a field trip to a hospital.
“It was one of my favorite moments of the entire day, to walk into that place not being there for a treatment but to be there in a celebration kind of way,” Rozema tells PEOPLE.
The newlywed was 16 and a junior in high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
“It was pretty surreal,” she says. “You don’t ever anticipate anything like that happening in your own life.”
Doctors initially missed the warning signs, so when her mom brought her back to the hospital on the eve of her diagnosis, doctors told Rozema’s family that her condition was dire.
“They told my mom that was the last possible day that she could have brought me in with a fighting chance,” she recalls. “Ninety-nine percent of my body was saturated with cancer cells.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, common leukemia signs and symptoms include fever or chills, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating (especially at night) and bone pain or tenderness.
The teen spent two years in and out of Spectrum Health Helen De Vos Children’s Hospital getting chemo treatments, and grew close with many of her doctors and nurses.
“I won homecoming queen my senior year and all of those special moments I shared with them,” she says. “They were the reason it was able to happen.”
That’s why she wanted to share the most important day of her life with them. In between the service and the ceremony, Rozema, her groom, and her entire bridal party posed for a series of pictures at the hospital.
She says her college sweetheart and new husband, Dan, an engineer, was just as emotional as she was to be there.
“He was really glad we did it,” she says. “He has seen how much it shaped who I am. He met me in the midst of my last year of chemo, and to be there and to be able to thank the people that made it possible was really powerful for him.”
It was equally as powerful for the hospital staffers who’d cared for her.
“It’s very gratifying and very humbling. It was a day filled with tears and a lot of hugs and happiness,” Dr. James Fahner, the division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos, tells PEOPLE.
“That is the greatest accomplishment for us as a healthcare team to know these families have come through this journey and are able to live normal healthy lives,” he adds. “That’s the most wonderful tribute.”
Rozema still has to come back for annual checkups, but says she feels great. She works at the Make-A-Wish Foundation helping grant sick kids wishes — something else she says happened because of her experience with cancer.
“You get so connected to the people that walk through these situations with you, so I knew I’d want to go to work there and it wasn’t even a question in my mind that I’d go back on my wedding day,” she says.