Oncologists walk patient down the aisle: 'It was a huge honor'

A wedding ceremony set up
(Image credit: Claudia Casal / Moment via Getty Images)

Two very important people walked Sheri Shaw-James down the aisle at her wedding in June: her oncologists Emma B. Holliday and Van Karlyle Morris.

In February 2021, Shaw-James, a 70-year-old retired nurse, was diagnosed with stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma of the rectum. She told her new boyfriend, Bill James, 77, that she didn't think it was fair for him to have to go through her treatments, and told him he should end things. "I told her, 'No, I'm not going anywhere,'" James told The Washington Post.

James was by her side as she began treatment at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, receiving radiation and chemotherapy. "She was so incredibly courageous and wouldn't give up," James said. Shaw-James quickly grew close to her oncologists, Holliday and Morris, sharing stories with them about her life and family. This was the "lowest point" in her life, she said, and they were there through the fatigue and vertigo and nausea. "We became partners in getting through it."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Four months later, she was declared cancer-free, and when James later proposed marriage, she said yes. As they began planning their wedding in North Carolina, Shaw-James knew she wanted Holliday and Morris to play a role in the ceremony. "Without them and their hard work, there might not have been a wedding to celebrate," she told the Post. "I am here today because of God and because of them."

Both immediately agreed to be part of the big day. "We get a lot of hard questions as oncologists, but this was probably the easiest one to answer," Morris said. Shaw-James was touched, and found it a "huge honor" to have them by her side.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for TheWeek.com. Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and EW.com, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.