Terminally Ill Woman Travels Cross-Country to Legally Marry Her Partner

11/18/2013 at 06:45 PM EST

Terminally Ill Woman Travels Cross-Country to Legally Marry Her Partner
Lisa Dumaw and Therese Pieper
Bill Miles
About three weeks ago, Kristen Eberhard had prepared her goodbyes.

The Woodstock, N.Y., resident, 48, packed her bags and headed west to Boulder, Colo., to spend time with her terminally ill cousin Lisa Dumaw, 47, during what was presumed to be her final days.

Dumaw, a retired attorney, was hospice-bound, following a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. At 90 lbs., she was no longer able to eat. Even though she was sick, Dumaw's time with Eberhard was meaningful and enjoyable.

"We talked about everything," Eberhard tells PEOPLE. "We laughed about the past, we cried, we talked about death, frustration, regrets. It was pretty intense. And at one point, I asked her if she and her partner had ever thought about getting married."



Dumaw has been in a committed relationship with Therese Pieper – whom she met through friends at a Halloween party – for 15 years, and when Eberhard returned from her trip, the unthinkable happened.

Planning a Wedding

"She called me after I got home from Boulder and asked if I was going to be in Woodstock on this [particular] weekend," Eberhard says of her cousin, who was now functioning slightly better by means of a doctor-prescribed steroid. "And I thought to myself, 'Oh, my God. You're not really going to do this.' She said that yeah, she was going to do it."

And just like that, Eberhard, her local community and her friends and family got to immediate wedding planning.

"I think it's the resilience of the human spirit," she says. "When you hear a story like this and you realize that someone who has been in such a committed, loving relationship has to go to these extremes to marry her partner, [it's ridiculous]. She wants her partner to have those benefits, legally."

Loving Partnership

Arriving on a Wednesday night, the couple was taken to obtain their marriage license the following morning. They had a 24-hour wait period and were then free to wed on Friday in a special ceremony that took place in Eberhard's living room.

"Her partner is so loving and doting on her," Eberhard says of Pieper. "She rubs her feet with essential oils and she makes her teas and broths. When I was visiting and my cousin couldn't eat, her partner was cooking her broths. She's very, very loving."

Unfortunately, the beautiful weekend concluded with a hospital visit.

"Sunday morning, I was in the emergency room with them," Eberhard says. "That was a harsh wakeup call. We were in this magical little wedding bubble."

Dreams Do Come True

And when she dropped them off at the airport, "I knew this time I wasn't going to see her again," Eberhard says. "It was different. How do you say goodbye to someone when you really know? In a way, it's a gift because you can make sure you have those [important] conversations beforehand, but on the other hand, I didn't want to upset her getting onto the plane, but then I got in my car and cried."

As for Dumaw's wife, "Therese obviously knows that every minute counts and every minute is precious and that the end is in sight – but at the same time, she balances that with a belief in miracles," Eberhard explains. "I think even when you're staring cancer in the face, you've always got to hold on to something. It's not over 'til it's over."

In fact, the couple still has hopes of honeymooning.

"They are dreaming of warm beach breezes and Key West," Eberhard says. "And who knows? Dreams do come true!"

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