Back in April the local paper published a sad but heartwarming story:
CITY OF NEWBURGH — The young woman hurts.
Knees. Feet. Bones.
She shuts her mind to all of it and locks onto the questions of the moment: Long, flowing train? What about the veil? Ivory? Pure white?
Dozens of wedding dresses hang on racks at Bella Couture in Newburgh. Many young women have lingered here, musing on the combination of details that must come together to create the perfect dress.
Jessica Vega is a good age – 23 – for this adventure. She and a girlfriend pick their way through the aisles.
Keri Ciastko is working alone in Bella Couture when Jessica comes in, but that's no problem. She's a natural at this. Even pregnant, Keri reflects the energy of the young women who go whirling through the store, matching their giddy anticipation.
Jessica, however, presents a problem. She needs the dress by May 2. The staff at Bella Couture usually have months for the fitting, tailoring and perfecting all the little details to make sure the dress is THE dress for the wedding day.
But Jessica can't wait months.
Jessica, readers learned, was dying.
The young man hurts.
He worked a 16-hour shift the day before. He's grateful for the work. Hours were hard to get during the winter, but he wrenched his back jumping off the truck last night. He's 23 and moves like an old man today.
Michael O'Connell was like a kid, eager, two years ago when he finally had the opportunity to walk Jessica to class on the Manhattan campus of the Institute of Culinary Education.
“You going to give me your number?” he asked her. “You going to give me your number?”
He asked five times before she finally said he could call. It wasn't long before they were spending long weekends together, and not long after that they moved in together. Their daughter, Ava Lily O'Connell, came in May 2009.
The restaurant where Michael worked suddenly closed, but he was able to find a construction job with Boyce Excavating Co. to support his young family.
Jessica had worked as a private chef in Westchester County – until the diagnosis.
They didn't believe the doctor at first, but a second opinion came back the same: acute myeloid leukemia. Terminal.
Jessica never knew Michael to cry, but he cried with her each day for two weeks. Just the two of them, sitting in their car parked outside their apartment.
One day, they stopped crying. Jessica stopped talking about the pain. Michael tried to forget the doctor's letter was even in the house. Instead, they would focus on a wedding.
Michael and Jessica didn’t have a lot of money. But when people heard about Jessica’s condition they wanted to help.
Tom and Kim Kavanagh's son, Shawn, was 10 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
It was a frightening time for the family, and they took comfort in the Young Champions program at Stewart Air National Guard Base. The soldiers treated Shawn like a friend, inviting him on base for an awards ceremony and then back as an alumnus for parties.
Shawn eventually recovered and grew into a strapping, 22-year-old Marine. Tom and Kim never forgot the Young Champions program.
So when a soldier and longtime Young Champions volunteer named Rachel calls Kavanagh's Jewelers one day, it takes about 30 seconds for Tom to offer two wedding rings to a young couple he and his wife have never met.
The dress shop knocked half off the cost of Jessica’s gown. A stylist offered to do Jessica and her bridesmaid’s hair and make-up for free. Someone offered the couple their time-share in Aruba for their honeymoon. Someone paid for their plane tickets.
Jessica and Michael had their dream wedding in May.
You can read the whole story in the Times Herald-Record.
Then you can read the story the paper ran Sunday.
Michael O'Connell preferred to pretend there was only today and to forget that his wife's cancer would probably kill her in less than a year.
That's the way he used to think.
"I had to prepare for her to die," O'Connell said.
Now O'Connell says his wife, Jessica Vega, had pretended — saying she had terminal leukemia in order to scam him, everyone they knew and a long list of strangers who heard her story and wanted to help.
Read all of Doyle Murphy’s story in the Times Herald-Record.
The New York Daily News has more.