Katie Kirkpatrick’s illness marked a stark turn of events for the Metamora, Michigan, native. The high-school valedictorian and homecoming queen had moved onto Rochester College, where she earned a scholarship to play basketball.
But in February 2002, during her freshman year as a student-athlete, Kirkpatrick’s life changed dramatically. A brain tumor was found, and the growth was removed one month later.
Recovery from the operation would be lengthy, as Kirkpatrick lost the ability to speak and read after the tumor’s removal. But she was up for the challenge and relearned both skills after the operation.
She also had support from an unexpected source – her high-school boyfriend, Nick Godwin. The pair split up after they had graduated, since they didn’t want to navigate the trials of a long-distance relationship in college.
Even though they were young, Nick’s mom, Sandy, told Cancer Positive that she had known Kirkpatrick’s relationship with her son had been something special. “The first time they ever really talked to each other was at a basketball game. I think she had him right there. You could tell by the look on his face,” Sandy said.
So when he found out about Kirkpatrick’s diagnosis, Godwin came home to be with her through surgery and recovery. He had a simple explanation for having done so, saying, “Something about her made me feel differently than anybody else did.
Unfortunately, Kirkpatrick’s cancer battle didn’t end there. The year after her brain surgery, doctors discovered that the disease had spread to her lungs. Of course, the one-time survivor was ready to fight again – she even cycled alongside fellow survivor Lance Armstrong to raise awareness of cancer in the fall of 2003.
Another highlight in this difficult time came from her boyfriend, who got down on one knee in March of 2004. Godwin popped the question in front of a Lake Huron lighthouse, a place they both loved. Kirkpatrick, of course, said yes.
Her mom, Niki, told M Live, “She was happy to be engaged and looked forward to moving into this next stage of her life. Both she and Nick had hope that her health would improve, and they had dreams of starting their life together as any young couple might and hoped to one day start a family.”
But Kirkpatrick’s lung cancer had different plans for her. It twisted around her pulmonary artery, rendering any sort of operation impossible. Soon, it became clear her time was limited, so she and Godwin pushed up the date of their wedding.
A hastened timeline didn’t mean the couple missed out any of the magic that a carefully planned wedding tends to possess. They would say “I do” in a church decorated with pink roses, lights low to create an intimate atmosphere.
Then Kirkpatrick slipped into a Cinderella-style ball gown, her hair tied up and crowned with a sparkling tiara. Still, the most spectacular moment of the day took place when the 21-year-old bride walked down the aisle.
Kirkpatrick wanted to walk the length of the church without the help of her wheelchair or oxygen tank. Instead, she grabbed her father’s arm and began the trek, making it all the way to the altar as she had envisioned.
During the ceremony, minister Garth Pleasant chose not to include “until death do us part” in the couple’s vows. He said, “Marriage is a little bit of heaven on Earth, and… love is unconditional.” No one knew that better than the young couple who said “I do” that day.
Just five days later, Kirkpatrick succumbed to her disease. Almost 1,000 people came to her funeral and reminisced about the person she was. Godwin’s brother-in-law, Kevin Helms, told The Oakland Press, “I’ll always remember [her smile]. When she would walk in, the whole room began to glow.
That smile – and the images of her wedding day – spread across the internet in the wake of her death. Her story pulled at many people’s heartstrings, including those of Arianna Eisenberg, Aegis Film & Television Group’s owner.
In November 2010 Eisenberg said that she hoped to turn Kirkpatrick-Godwin’s story into a film. “It is a 21st century love story. Imagine being a gorgeous girl in your 20s, being married to the man you adore, and only having a week with him,” Eisenberg told M Live.
Kirkpatrick’s local community seemed to agree that her tale was worth telling. Together, they hoped to raise the $40,000 required to pay for the flick so that the rest of the world could learn more about her. Like them, Eisenberg knew that Kirkpatrick had been someone special.
“I just think Katie herself is so illuminating. We’re focusing on how she lived her life, how she touched others, and what was so extraordinary about her,” Eisenberg said. The project, entitled Katie’s Story, has yet to come out, but the film had a full production and writing team in place as of August 2017.