Mills and Tancock on their wedding day. (courtesy of kirstie-2ndchanceatlife.blogspot.com)
Too sick for a phone interview with Shine, Kirstie Mills responded to our questions over email. Mills is used to working around her limitations, rather than letting them get in her way.
Since childhood, she's suffered from cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung condition that's ultimately fatal. Despite being given days to live at just 21, she decided to wed her long-term boyfriend Stuart Tancock this past summer. Now her journey to the alter is the subject of "Breathless Bride: Dying to Live", a TLC documentary premiering tonight (Wed, 10PM EST).
Unlike the title of the documentary, Mills answers to our questions aren't alliterative. They're candid, honest and at times, layered with frustrated emotions.
Mills' wedding was "fake flowers and a cake that kept." She chose the venue because it would "let her cancel at the last minute if I was too ill."
This is not a story about a wedding but about a marriage that almost didn't happen.
The U.K.-based Mills met her her husband two years back through mutual friends and he's become her closest companion and biggest motivator ever since. Leaving the hospital, where she was hooked up to breathing tubes, to wed Hancock could have killed her, she says. She was already expected to die within days if she didn't receive an organ donation in time.
"I suppose they let me go through with it at a last wish," writes Mills.
That night she went back to her home away from home: the hospital bed. "The nurses were told I was back to die." Three months prior she had gotten her name on a transplant list. She needed a set of new lungs to survive. Then, amazingly, eight days after she became a wife, she was matched with a donor.
The four hour operation and the initial recovery was excruciating, according to Mills."I never expected to feel that awful," she explains. "I had hallucinations and suffered terrible grief for my donor."
Mills' would not share any details about her donor or the donor family, but she did open up about the complicated feelings that come from receiving life saving organs.
"I am still grieving for [my donor family] and would have rather died myself than have them go through what they did. My donor made a decision to donate and their family, in a state of huge grief, went through with it. That was truly selfless."
Now 22, and living in Devon with her husband, Mills keeps a blog about her experiences and helps recruit new donors and raise awareness for CF with her own personal story. She also runs a fitness business from home.
Despite her fragile health and the heaps of medication she has to take daily to stave off infection, she's intent on making the most of being a wife. The newlyweds spend most of their time together when they're not working. They enjoy cooking, going to movies, even rock climbing, now that Mills is in miraculous physical shape for her condition.
But she's realistic about the possibility of expanding their family. "I don't have a normal life expectancy, so I couldn't bring a child into the world knowing I would leave it or that I would be ill and Stuart would be looking after a baby and me."
The dangers of childbirth after a transplant coupled with the possibility of passing on CF outweigh Mills' need to be a mother. But she and her husband would like to become foster parents someday. In the meantime, her marriage is her number one project.
"I take our marriage very seriously," Mills says in her email. "I don't think many people have had to go through what we have. Stuart sometimes likes to say I don't realize how hard it was for him. I do. I couldn't have sat there and watched him die. That would have killed me."
Watch a preview of TLC's documentary and an interview with Mills below.
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