My journey with Larissa “Poppit” Shaw (nee Riddle)
Perth-based Larissa (or, Poppit, as she is affectionately known) married her sweetheart Stevie on February 19th, 2019. They had known each other for 4 years, having met at a CANTEEN camp.
Larissa (who stems from Taranaki) was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2014 and began treatment immediately. She lost her hair within 8 hours of her first Chemotherapy Treatment but wasn’t phased by it, saying that bald is beautiful…and it is!
During this journey; after much research by her medical team, she was advised that she carries a genetic gene – and that gene is the cause of the cancer. This set Larissa and her mother, whom she followed to Australia in 2013, on a journey to find more of her family and know more about this gene.
One of the side effects of her treatment was that Larissa would never have children. The universe had other ideas though. Despite the odds, Stevie and Larissa bore two wonderful children: Jaylen, born in August 2016 and Karma, born September 2017. They had a family and couldn’t be happier.
Larissa didn’t know many members of her father’s side of the family. It was determined that the gene originated from this side of the family, and here began the start of a flourishing relationship with her father’s sisters and their children. She learned more about this gene and its effects on the family. It was a very empowering time, gaining knowledge and finding more support in the face of the situation.
Larissa had been cancer free since late-2016. When the cancer came back in early-2018, Larissa’s mum, Yvonne wrote a post on a New Zealand Wedding page seeking support from the community, hoping that anyone who could, would consider generously donating their services, so that Larissa and Stevie might still have their dream wedding. While they had paid a couple of deposits while life was running relatively normally, Larissa’s relapse meant that they weren’t going to have the funds for what they needed, in time for their big day.
The community came through for Larissa and Stevie one hundred-fold! Larissa smashed out her second round of chemo, and waited in anticipation for her wedding day. It was wonderful for Larissa and Stevie to have this to look forward to.
Larissa and Stevie arrived in New Zealand just under 2 weeks before their wedding. They attended Larissa’s friend’s wedding in the Bay of Plenty the week prior; and Larissa’s big sister Cynthia’s wedding a few days before, on Valentine’s Day. Cynthia is so dedicated to Poppit, very much one of the heroes who was present for every step in her journey.
Larissa and Stevie were married at Lake Farm Garden, in Ratapiko with owners Linda and Donald watching on diligently, there to help wherever they could. Larissa wore a gorgeous strapless mermaid-style wedding dress that she purchased in Australia. Her make up was lovingly applied by make-up artist Alicia Mcmahon and wig supplied by family friend Gyll King. She stood with her three besties: Tash, Alesha and Kelsey. The girls held beautiful bouquets of green and white, donated by Tania at Thistle do Nicely. Stevie, who was dashing in his grey vest stood with his Dad, Alan; Larissa’s cousin, Damien and Larissa’s brother Anthony.
The day was captured by Kate and Alisha at Wild at Heart Photography, with Dan Brighurst of Daniel Mark Photography helping out with the guys, as well as capturing the ceremony and bridal photographs with Wild at Heart.
Larissa was accompanied down the aisle by her step-Dad Brent, to the song Forever and Ever, Amen. Once up front & centre, the pair joined hands and therein began the ceremony that they had co-written with Celebrant Rose Haskell. Their ceremony encompassed the strength of their relationship, and their love for their families. It was never overshadowed by talk of Larissa’s health.
We paid tribute to their dog Mater, who was still in Australia; and family members who were watching on from above. Larissa described Stevie as generous and kind-hearted. Stevie complimented Larissa’s beautiful smile. Larissa expressed her heartfelt gratitude to Stevie, for loving her through her best and her worst; her ups and her downs and also her “hair, teeth and boobs (or lack thereof)”. Stevie promised his “Kiwi Chick” that he would be her biggest cheerleader, and that he would always support her dreams.
Larissa, Stevie, Jaylen and Karma took part in the most chaotic rock ceremony ever, something we totally expected, given we were doing this with two toddlers. Jaylen loves rocks, so we honoured this by switching coloured sand, for coloured rocks. With the help of Larissa’s mum Yvonne, we got there in the end! The rock ceremony symbolised Larissa and Stevie’s respective families joining together in love; and that they would always share a life as happy and fulfilling as they deserved.
The ceremony ended with an excerpt from Larissa’s aisle song and lots of cheering, as they updated their relationship statuses on Facebook.
Larissa and Stevie’s reception was a totally beautiful occasion, with family friends Ngaire and Mike Nowell on catering duties and Seismic Event’s Shona Smith on MC duties. We continued the evening at Lake Farm Garden, where we were taken care of by Linda and Donald throughout the night.
Many of us were introduced to “The Shoe Game” where Larissa and Stevie agreed more than they disagreed (which is rare). Larissa, in her usual character spent most of the time mischievously peeking back to see whose shoe Stevie was holding up. Morale was high!
The most beautiful part of the evening was when Larissa and her Mum came up to the front, to thank each and every one of their vendors for donating their time and energy to make the day possible. They presented each vendor with a thank you card, and in it held the most beautiful and heartfelt thank you that anyone could ever receive. A very special keepsake of their day.
The speeches were beautiful: the room overflowed with love, as guest after guest shared gestures of appreciation at what an honour it was to share this moment with Larissa and Stevie; acknowledging their courage and commitment to one another throughout the last 4 years and so many well wishes to them for what we all expect to be a bright and happy future.
Seismic Events’ DJ Al rocked the night away with all the groovin’-est beats and we enjoyed supper of cake, made by Poppit’s friend Lauren Woods.
The next 9 months proved difficult for Larissa and her family, as she battled with a persistent chest infection. Test showed that the cancer was back for a third time, but this time, her prognosis was terminal.
She enjoyed her last few months with her Husband, babies, Mother and Sister at her side.
She even watched her brother Anthony marry his partner Nikki on Back Beach on her birthday. Anthony and Nikki were always destined to be together forever, and chose to further immortalise her memory, by sharing their anniversary with her birthday. She and Cynthia watched via video conference as they exchanged vows, and as Nikki wrote her a beautiful tribute to read before they were pronounced Husband and Wife.
Larissa passed away peacefully at home with Stevie, Yvonne, Cynthia by her side. The date was November 23rd 2019.
A couple of weeks later, Stevie travelled back to New Zealand with Larissa’s ashes, and her New Zealand friends and family gathered back at Lake Farm Garden for her memorial service. The service began with her aisle song, and her family came forward to light candles to signify the beginning of the service.
There was barely a dry eye in the place, as friends and family came forward to share memories of Poppit; and her Aunt shared details of the gene that eventually took her life. Larissa’s mum watched on from Australia via video conference. We ended the service with a balloon release, led by her very courageous Husband, Stevie. Larissa’s favourite colour was purple and it was poignant to see a veil of purple fill the grey sky above.
It goes without saying that the vendors who chose to donate their services to Larissa and Stevie will always hold this event, and all that it meant, with them for many years to come.
The day was beautiful, and full of nothing but love and hope. Here, acquaintances became family, intertwined forever by this one beautiful, courageous couple.
It also goes without saying that Larissa’s family continue to find the strength that they need, to claw their way through adjusting to life without her. She was a best friend to all, a very sweet girl who deserved nothing more than to live.
Larissa Vallance Shaw, 19 September 1990-23 November 2019Fly high Poppit – you are such a sweet girl, and you created so much solidarity in your short life. You continue to do so as you embark on your next journey. We love you.
Celebrant – Rose Haskell
Photographer – Wild at Heart Photography
Second Shooter – Daniel Mark Photography
Venue – Lake Farm Garden
Cake – Lauren Woods
Florist – Thistle Do Nicely
Make Up – Alicia McMahon
Cars – Teena & Simon Cadwallader
DJ & MC – DJ Al & Shones from Seismic Events
Wig – Gyll King
Chiller Trailer – Tool Hire Taranaki