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Dianne & Chuck

*Dianne Callahan, Deputy Executive Director, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society a.k.a. Fundraiser & Chuck Callahan, Sr. Systems Analyst, US Defense Media Center a.k.a. Nerd*

Today’s post is profoundly overwhelming in an Everyone Has To Read This way, and also in a Not At All Safe For Work You Will Be Bawling At Your Desk way. But for me, it’s way more special than that. Dianne has been reading APW since the very beginning, and in my fourth month of blogging, I wrote about her $10,000 wedding in reverse, where she worked to raise $10,000 for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light The Night Walk. But it’s more than that. At the LA book tour stop, which was my true hometown stop (more on that tomorrow), I started by saying that I’d founded APW because nothing I saw in wedding media bore any resemblance to the backyard weddings that happened where I grew up. And Dianne lives just a few blocks away from the house where I spent the first twenty-two years of my life. So, I’m proud to bring you a wedding from my hometown and from a woman I deeply respect. Now, I’m sure you’ll all join me with a love intervention for Dianne and Chuck, and you will send them your good wishes and/or prayers. I hope this makes all of us think about what our marriages really mean.

Last September, my amazing husband, Chuck, and I celebrated our third anniversary. Actually, we put off celebrating it until November, which is our tradition. We put off our anniversary celebration each year because we chose to combine our 2008 wedding with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light The Night Walk, and since I’ve been working for LLS for almost three years now and am in charge of the Light The Night campaign, our anniversary falls in my busiest time. So Chuck helps me by serving as one of our lead volunteers for the event so we can raise lots of money for this precious mission, and we wait a couple of months to celebrate our precious anniversary. Except for this year. This year, instead of getting away for a sweet weekend together, we were getting the news that my aggressive cancer had returned and once again I would have to fight for my life.

Which brings me to “…in sickness and in health…” You need to know that Chuck knew what he was getting into when he said those words during our traditional wedding vows. You see, Chuck actually proposed to me in a hospital room the night we found out that I had an aggressive form of stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We had only been dating three months. That night, I told him he should run, that he deserved to be with someone healthy, someone who wasn’t going to lose her hair and maybe her life. His response? “When God gives you a gift, you don’t give it back.” He told me he was not going to run and that he already knew that he wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, however long that might be. He said he didn’t ever want me to worry that he would leave my side through whatever we faced. He asked me to marry him that night, knowing that my cancer was incurable and would, undoubtedly, come back.

I suppose it is natural that the thing I remember most about our wedding is standing beneath the tree in our backyard in front of our family and closest friends as Chuck and I repeated those age-old vows. Promises to love and honor one another in good times and in bad, in richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The promises my parents made to each other that carried them through almost sixty years of marriage before my dad’s death just six months before our wedding. Promises that even today seem to echo back to us from all of the couples who went before us into this sacrament called marriage.

There were many things about our wedding (the second for each of us) that were not traditional that I loved. I wore an aqua dress and a white flower in my hair (that had grown out to almost 3 inches!). We greeted and mingled with our guests before the ceremony. We walked together down the aisle as my sister sang “When You Wish Upon A Star” (the music for the recessional was from Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade). Our attendants were Chuck’s son and daughter—my dream of being a mom answered at last!

It was a beautiful wedding but definitely not fancy—we actually had to ask our guests to pick up their chairs after the ceremony and move them over to the tables on the other side of the yard for the reception. There was no bouquet or garter toss, no limo or toasts or rose petal send off. We did, however, have a caricature artist and amazing Polynesian dancers and drummers who entertained us during dinner and then got everyone on the “dance floor” (the patio) to learn some moves. Those are some of the most awesome photos from the day—even my 80-year-old mom was “busting a move.” And we’ll never forget my then 3-year-old nephew Noah asking his dad if those dancing ladies lived in our garage.

When I think back to how I felt on that amazing day, I just felt so right and good and full of love for my husband, his children, and our friends and family. I knew for certain, to the tips of my aqua blue painted toes, that God had blessed me with this amazing man and that He would bless our marriage. I smiled so much that my face hurt. I wished so much that my dad could have been there, but I felt his presence deeply and I know before he died how happy he was that I was in remission and starting a new life with a man he had come to respect and love.

Finally, I love that the second part of the wedding happened the next day when we got a bus donated and loaded up everyone to go to Angel Stadium to participate in the Light The Night Walk. Together, our team (Team I Do) raised more than $11,000 for a cause so close to our hearts and so important for my life and thousands of others, turning our special day into a life-giving legacy that we could all be part of.

Having our wedding at our home seemed so natural and homey without being too overwhelming. We had actually booked a sort of swanky wedding venue when we first started planning, but we pulled out after we agreed together that our real goal during that time was to raise $10,000 to support the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society rather than spending $10,000 on a wedding. So goodbye white gazebo on a hill with an amazing view and uniformed waiters, and hello backyard with an even more amazing view of the sunset through our neighbor’s palm trees and a self-serve BBQ buffet and wine bar and the yummiest cakes baked by my mom and sister. You know what? Looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Over the past three years, whenever we have a get together or BBQ in the backyard I am reminded of that beautiful day filled with love, music, laughter and vows that will last a lifetime.

Photos by: Dianne & Chucks’ friend, John Schreck

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