When Wendy Torres, 34, of Philadelphia's Wynnefield neighborhood, walks down the aisle in June, she'll be wearing the dress of her dreams.
That's not because it's extravagant - a strapless, mermaid-style Mon Cheri gown with a chapel-length train and Swarovski beading - or because she snagged the $2,500 dress for $460.
It's because the money she spent on her gown will support Making Memories, a wish-granting nonprofit for women and men with stage IV breast cancer.
Starting Thursday through Saturday, Philadelphia brides-to-be will have the opportunity to score similar deals when Brides Against Breast Cancer - an annual nationwide touring sale that brings discounted, new and used wedding dresses to 40 cities - comes to the Ramada Philadelphia Airport hotel.
Last year, the tour's first stop in Philadelphia raised $18,000, enough to fund 10 or more wishes filed with Making Memories, a 13-year-old organization based in Oregon.
"After reading the stories of people who submitted wishes, I knew that I had to buy the dress there," said Torres, who tried on 10 dresses at last June's sale. She was inspired by a close friend who has stage IV breast cancer, and her purchase was just one way to make her wedding about more than just herself and her fiance. "Some people had really simple wishes, like just having their parents flown in to visit, because they live in different states."
At each event, local breast cancer organizations and hospitals disseminate information about breast health and recommended screenings.
The rest of the event, though, is strictly about the brides-to-be.
Still, with 1,200 dresses from size 2 to 28, this isn't a "Running of the Brides"-style frenzy. Admission is free, and there are curtained fitting areas with mirrors and dressing stands, plus dozens of volunteers to assist. However, those who want first dibs can pay $35 to attend, with a friend, a wine-and-hors d'oeuvres night from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday.
Brides Against Breast Cancer is the primary fund-raiser for Making Memories, which works with patients and their doctors to fulfill one wish. The most common wishes are for vacations or family reunions, although the foundation also has honored more unusual requests.
"We had a wish recipient who has a beautiful voice. She's a gospel singer," said Making Memories' wish director, Kelly Heisel. "We actually helped her record an inspirational CD to give to other women with breast cancer."
For others, Making Memories provides $1,000 grants - like one that helped a Macungie, Pa., woman self-publish a book she had been writing.
Even simple vacations, said Heisel, can give cancer patients something positive to anticipate. "It's exciting for them to be part of the planning," she said.
A year and a half after being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, Elizabeth Breish, 47, of Wilkes-Barre, said her wish, for a trip to Provincetown, Mass., was a chance both to retreat into happy memories and to sort through difficult emotions.
Breish had visited the resort town on the tip of Cape Cod for a single weekend two decades ago.
"It was beautiful, but there was so much more that I wanted to do there," she said. "The years went by, and I took care of my children as they grew. My youngest had brain cancer and I had to care for her until she passed, so I didn't really get a chance to take any other vacations.
"I really wanted to go back there at least one more time to relax and get away from doctors and medicine and needles."
Between museums, beach walks to collect shells for her four grandchildren, and, if she's strong enough, whale watching, she said she'll be using the time away to cope with a fresh round of bad news: Two new tumors were detected a few weeks ago.
"They're talking mastectomy, and I'm talking about finding a rock to crawl under," she said, sighing.
Breish is hoping this head-clearing getaway will give her the perspective needed to make tough decisions about her treatment options.
Living on a fixed income of $700 per month, Breish said, she never would have been able to afford the vacation. She's already written her obituary and is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Making Memories.
Heisel said the wishes of some beneficiaries are as much for their families as for themselves.
"With wish recipients that have little kids, it's important to show that Mommy can still have fun and laugh and play," she said. "They have that opportunity to give that memory to their kids and their loved ones."