Father with cancer walks daughter down aisle, minus groom

John Penn had waited 28 years to walk his daughter down the aisle.

He did it on Sunday morning, even though there wasn’t a groom.

Penn’s body isn’t what it used to be. In May of 2012, he was hit by a car in Panama City and suffered 23 broken bones. Around Christmas of 2013, he found out he had Acute Myaloid Leukemia, a rare but aggressive type of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects immature blood cell growth.

After three rounds of chemotherapy, doctors told him the cancer had become resistant to the chemicals. Doctors were measuring his life in months. He decided to measure his life in moments.

On Feb. 28 of this year, he visited his daughter, Shayna, in Lithia Springs, Ga., where she has been living. They talked about the prognosis. They shared memories, and regrets.

”We had some alone time and he told me how important it was to him to be able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and that he hated he was going to miss it,” Shayna recalled.

Shayna, 28, decided to have a wedding with everything but the groom. The other part will come someday. Sunday, friends and family gathered at Woodham Farms near Wicksburg to share the experience.

The entire ceremony lasted less than six minutes. Shayna, in full wedding regalia, walked down a set of stairs inside the building and met her father. He has walked recently with the aid of a cane, but not this time. He guided her to the foot of the aisle and they walked together to the minister.

We had some alone time and he told me how important it was to him to be able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and that he hated he was going to miss it.

–Shayna Penn”Who gives this woman to be married today?” said Eddie Henderson, chaplain for the Dothan Police Department and friend of the family.

”Her mother and I,” Mr. Penn said.

With that, John Penn faced his daughter. She put her hands around him and the two began to dance. Tim McGraw’s ”My Little Girl” played in the background.

John Penn doesn’t say much. When he does, the purpose is typically to get everyone around him to laugh. While waiting for the ceremony to start Sunday, he played his cane like an air guitar and quipped about how long it was taking Shayna to put on her wedding gown. He hummed and even sang a little.

He served as a game warden in Houston County for 30 years and as a Pinckard police officer for 10. His 2012 accident forced him into retirement. His 2013 diagnosis came way too soon.

For John Penn, there is no need to belabor the point.

”It is what it is. You just have to make the best of it and go on,” he said. ”You just have to play the cards you’re dealt.”

Shayna Penn was never the girl that planned her dream wedding at an early age. Even four days before Sunday’s ceremony, there were still plenty of things to be decided.

It all came together Sunday, and will be an integral part of her ”bride and groom” wedding. The ceremony was filmed by a professional videographer and the clip will be played during her wedding when it is time for Shayna to come down the aisle and unite with her groom.

PHOTO CREDIT: sexy wedding dresses

”I can’t imagine it being any more of a connection,” she said.

She graduated from Wicksburg High school in 2004 and Auburn University in 2008. She spent much of her time in Wicksburg training horses. Now, she works as a skin cancer surgical tech and does some part-time modeling.

The ceremony was possible in part because of the Dream Foundation, a national wish-granting organization for adults. The Foundation helped facilitate the funding necessary to put the event together.

Overall, the Dream Foundation has fulfilled more than 20,000 dreams since forming in 1993. Now, John Penn’s dream of giving his daughter away at her wedding can be fulfilled.

John Penn turned 64 Sunday. After the morning ceremony, friends and family gave him a birthday party. It was attended by more than 100 people who had been influential in his life. More than 30 game wardens from throughout Alabama were scheduled to attend.

One day. Two bucket list items.

There will be more special moments. He is building a shooting house on his property for the purpose of spending time with his two sons. The whole family will spend time on the back porch of their home. He will continue to make people laugh.

Sunday, however, will always be special because of what actually happened and for what it represents.

”I think the thing to remember is always let the people who are special in your life know that you love them,” said Carol Penn, John’s wife. ”Sometimes you lose contact with those special friends in your life. Maybe the point is to try not to lose contact.”

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