Love Like a Fighter

January 2016
Written By: 
Ashley Daniels
Photographs by: 
Paula Player Photography

Their wedding day and life together didn’t have room for cancer

Shannon Sommers & Harry James Johnson Jr.
June 6, 2015
Litchfield Plantation


Imagine planning every blissful detail of your big day. It’s a dream production that every bride looks forward to. Now imagine planning all of those details while sitting in your chemo chair, like Shannon Johnson.

“I had six rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments,” says Shannon. “I had seven good hours at a time to think things over. Cancer is stressful; planning a wedding is not.”

It certainly puts things into perspective when you’re fretting over buffet or sit-down service, place cards or open-table seating and silverware and china or plastic. Shannon’s troubles pre-nuptials were whether or not to wear a wig over her thinning hair and the large scar that would peek out of her strapless gown. “I didn’t have my long, blonde hair and you could see my scar, so I had to cry in the mirror,” she says. “I didn’t go with the wig.”

And she looked absolutely amazing. Shannon and her seamstress were worried about the gown’s fit after chemo, but the strapless, cinched mermaid gown was simply made for her. “When I first tried on the gown, I actually felt pretty in it,” says Shannon. “And I don’t have a huge self- esteem, so that was a huge factor.”

The Jersey Shore girl met her match—and the Southern gentleman who would eternally boost her esteem—on about three years ago. “I went outside my comfort zone in doing so, but it worked out amazing!” says Shannon. “He wasn’t my typical surfing type and actually had a college degree. The carefree guy didn’t work for so many years, so I decided to start dating someone with a little more responsibility. I’m carefree, so I wasn’t sure how it would work, but it does because we play off our strengths. … He says I let him live.”

Her groom, James Johnson, got down on one knee and asked Shannon to marry him with a Canadian diamond in hand in a romantic restaurant while the couple was on a trip to Banff, Canada. “It was funny, because I was wondering why James was answering his phone on a hike up a steep mountain,” she says. “James asked for my dad’s blessing before the trip and my dad was calling to make sure everything was going OK.”

It wouldn’t be the first mountain the couple would have to climb together, as she soon discovered a lump in her breast and her fight against cancer began in tandem with planning the happiest event of her life. Love always has a way of prevailing through the most difficult times. “James was amazing and supportive,” says Shannon. “He just wanted me to be me.”

Shannon’s carefree personality and love for surfing and the water were reflected in her wedding’s tranquil theme of simple elegance, with touches of shabby chic in hues of periwinkle, pink, aqua and deeper blue. Burlap blended with crystal antique chandeliers over tall bistro tables.

The festivities unfolded under the ancient live oaks of Litchfield Plantation in Pawleys Island on June 6. Though the weather didn’t cooperate, it didn’t shake Shannon’s fortitude. “The skies poured with tears of joy as the ceremony was postponed a half-hour,” she says. “But we weren’t worried, as we left it in good hands with Stunning and Brilliant Events, and the ceremony and reception cruised right along.”

North met South in the Johnsons’ reception celebration, with New Jersey boy Bon Jovi tunes and beach music oldies; Italian pastries and key lime pie; Southern hospitality and formality. “Northerners usually don’t partake in a cocktail party-style wedding reception and were pleasantly surprised at all the conversation and mingling between people who have never met before,” says Shannon.

Shannon continues to work as a third grade teacher at Myrtle Beach Elementary School, where she says another massive outlet of support streams from her classroom of tiny students. She and James have made their home sweet home in Murrells Inlet.

Key Vendors:
Venue: Litchfield Plantation
Photographer: Paula Player
Cake: Croissants Bistro & Bakery
Planner: Stunning and Brilliant Events
Dress: Little White Dress
Catering: Carefree Catering
Videographer: Hart to Heart Media
Makeup: Peggy Boodro