Donated wedding helps ease heartache as Staten Island man, 34, undergoes treatment for terminal brain cancer
STATEN ISLAND, NY — Next week, Michelle Narducci-Aubry and Andrew Aubry will celebrate their marriage in front of their closest relatives and friends. The road to tie the knot has been extremely difficult for the loving couple.
When Narducci-Aubry first saw Aubry while they lived in the same apartment complex in Westerleigh, she knew he would be the most important person in her life.
She quickly played matchmaker for herself – heading to the same corner store when she saw Andrew walk by. And it worked. They struck up a conversation in the store one day and started to spend time together in the complex. One night, during a rare celestial event, Narducci-Aubry asked Andrew to skywatch with her.
"Ever since then, we've been inseparable," Narducci-Aubry, 38, said.
The pair started to date in 2019 and he proposed Dec. 6, 2020. They moved into a new apartment together in Charleston and began to plan their future together, starting with an October 2023 wedding.
But then their world turned upside down when Aubry, 34, suffered a severe headache six months ago.
On Feb. 17, Narducci-Aubry rushed Andrew to Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in Prince's Bay because he had "the worst headache of his life for the last 24 hours."
"He had no relief from Motrin 800. And then when he started to projectile vomit and lose his footing, I automatically thought aneurysm and so he did," she recalled. "So I said to get in the car and we're driving to the [SIUH] south site and he keeps telling me, 'If you love me, you'll take me back to my bed.' And I said, 'I love you, that's why I'm taking you to the hospital.'"
Within 20 minutes of arriving, the hospital provided the results of his CAT scan. Dr. James Kenny sat the couple down and explained why Andrew suffered the headache.
There was a mass in Andrew's brain the size of a clementine in his basal ganglia and thalamus — the deepest-seated part of the brain and extremely close to his brainstem.
He was quickly transferred via ambulance to SIUH in Ocean Breeze and started him on an anti-seizure medication. He stayed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) until Feb. 22, and just a few days later, was in major surgery with Dr. Raphael Sacho, who performed a partial resection and removed 70% of the tumor successfully.
"He only felt pins and needles but he was not paralyzed, no bleeding," said Narducci-Aubry. "He was able to speak, no cognitive impairment, thank God. So then I automatically took him directly into the city [Manhattan] once the resection was done because a biopsy was done at the same time. And we were told that it was in fact malignant. So it was cancer.”
Aubry has astrocytoma, a type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. It begins in cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. Some astrocytomas grow very slowly and others can be aggressive cancers that grow quickly.
The pair went to NYU Langone in Manhattan where he received six weeks of standard of care treatment. But his pathology report came back that showed he has a specific mutation in the tumor in his brain that makes it typically unresponsive to the standard care treatment.
"So in the six weeks of treatment, he actually had a number of setbacks, one of which was hydrocephalus — the accumulation and buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain. Because the tumor was growing so quickly because of that mutation, it closed off one of the ventricles in the brain and it wasn't allowing it to drain properly," said Narducci-Aubry. "So he needed an emergency shunt surgery. Also at NYU. It's a VP shunt, it's called, it goes from the brain down his neck and it drains out into his abdomen, and it's either absorbed or excreted through his urine or bowels. After that, he had to wait two weeks to heal and resumed the rest of the six weeks of treatment.”
The initial six-week effort took closer to two and a half months to complete due to setbacks.
Aubry went for another MRI a month after his last treatment round, but more bad news came: It showed a tumor growth of two millimeters. He started another aggressive, double-dose round of chemo.
On Wednesday, Aubry is scheduled for yet another test. Those results will determine if Aubry is a candidate for the LiTT procedure by Dr. Michael Schulder at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, Long Island.
The LiTT procedure is considered minimally invasive and is for inoperable brain tumors. The doctor makes a less than a centimeter incision in the scalp under a guided MRI. They enter a micro-catheter laser directly into the center of the tumor, heat the laser, and kill the tumor from the inside out.
The recovery time lasts about two weeks. But there are risks to the surgery. Swelling and bleeding could occur, or even more extreme, Aubry could become paralyzed.
"We're going to try to get our honeymoon in before the LiTT procedure. If not, he'll get the LiTT procedure done and then you know, months down the road, we'll take it as it goes. But unfortunately, the cancer is terminal,” Narducci-Aubry said. "It will always come back and it will be the cause of death for Andrew."
Narducci-Aubry had to leave her job as a phlebotomist to take care of Aubry full-time.
Aubry is still able to walk and is undergoing occupational and physical therapy once a week. But he neglects his right side of the body due to the tumor growth in his brain. His short-term memory is also non-existent, Narducci-Aubry said.
"I repeat myself all day every day," she said. “He leaves lights on, he leaves water running. He gets confused. He'll start a task but never finish it. I'll walk into the bedroom and I'll find him just standing there and I'm like, 'What are you doing?' And he's like, 'Nothing just standing here.' and I'm like, 'Okay.' And he knows this. He knows that his cognitive – he's impaired. And he is not taking it well at all. He's very hard on himself. He suffers terribly with depression, and he's very, very scared. He tells me every day, 'I'm scared. I'm scared to die.' And every day he apologizes to me.”
WISH UPON A WEDDING
Narducci-Aubry explained that, in February, Andrew was given 12 to 15 months to live. A month later, the couple was married by their friend on March 23 in their apartment.
They're celebrating their love together with a wedding ceremony and reception on Sunday, Aug. 14.
Their dream wedding will be granted by the non-profit, Wish Upon a Wedding, which provides weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal illness or life-altering health circumstances. It helps alleviate the financial burden and time commitment that planning a wedding entails, focusing instead on dealing with their treatments and spending time with their loved ones.
Narducci-Aubry will look radiant in her dream wedding gown from David's Bridal when she ties the knot with her husband (again!) on Sunday on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Livingston, with a reception to follow. Boulevard Cleaners 2 on Amboy Road in Pleasant Plains is providing a free tuxedo and alterations to Aubry for the big day.
Relish will cater the wedding and Palermo Bakery in New Jersey is donating the wedding cake.
"It's definitely gonna be a much more beautiful wedding than the one that we were able to afford ourselves [when planning] back in May so we're very grateful," she said.