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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  • PA

    “When God gives you a gift, you don’t give it back.”

    Meg, you were right – I am crying at my desk. This was beautiful, Dianne, thank you so much for sharing it!

    • Red

      That’s the part that got me too! I thought I’d last longer than that before getting teary eyed.

      • That line started my tears too! There is so much love in the words & photos of this post. You & your family are in my thoughts & prayers!

  • Phew… this was a “take a break in the middle before I start bawling and come back to it in a few minutes” kind of post. I love, love, love those last two pictures- pure joy.

  • I was trawling through the archives the other day and read Diane’s wedding in reverse post – I was wondering how they were getting on. I’m so sorry for what they are facing, again, but her attitude is amazing. Such a lovely couple, I wish them all the very best.

  • Karen

    Now THAT was an amazing story!!! Definitely a tear jerker, even with the warning. True commitment, in sickness and in health (makes me wonder if there is going to be a “for richer and for poorer” week???). The incredible love and support in this story is amazing. Real life puts everything in perspective. This is why I love APW.

  • Richelle

    sending you and your beautiful family lots of love and prayers. Good luck with your treatment. we’re pulling for you

  • Thank you for this wonderful reminder about marriage and what it is really truly about. Do you have a link to your Team I Do fundraising page?

  • Jess M

    Oh my god, LLS! My fiance and I are planning on asking for donations to the LLS in lieu of a boatload of registry gifts (save for a few key things we still need and our mothers insist on some kind of traditional registry). We participated last autumn in Boston’s Light the Night Walk.

    My father has multiple myeloma (which is currently incurable), and my cousin Roger lost his battle with a very rare lymphoma, hepatosplenic t-cell lymphoma, just this past May. The LLS is very important to me, so I’m already teary-eyed just beginning to read this post.

  • Jess M

    And now that I’m done reading, you were right Meg, this was definitely a cry-at-your-desk post. What a beautiful couple, and I hope the very best for them.

  • Sending you lots of love. I am so sorry for your struggles but I am so touched by your spirit! Meg’s right, I just cried at my desk. Best wishes to you both.

  • I am so very sorry for what you’re facing, but I’m grateful on your behalf that there are two of you to face it together. Good luck with everything- your spirit and attitude are amazing, and I wish you the best (in sickness and in health.)

  • Red

    Dianne – you, Chuck, and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. You’ve got such spirit that I know you will fight with everything you have. Sending healing wishes your way.

  • When I read the quote, “When God gives you a gift, you don’t give it back,” I didn’t cry. The chorus of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Whatta Man” rang through my head instead. Chuck *is* a mighty mighty good man.

    Dianne, I cannot imagine what you’ve been through, but I’m in awe of your strength and grace. I am thinking of all of you as you face this hurdle. Keep us updated, okay?

  • Mattingly

    God has truly blessed you with each other. Thank you for sharing your story, your hope, your courage, and your love with us here. May He continue to protect and uphold you!

    (now off to find my tissues…)

  • This post hits me … right in the gut. And in the tear ducts. I donate to the LLS and am just WAITING FOR THE CALL to be a marrow donor. It almost happened last year but another, better, match was found.

    Dianne, you are remarkable and Chuck is so lucky to have found you and obviously smart enough to hang on to you. I am sending you and your beautiful family thoughts, prayers, and precious dollars to the LLS.

  • So beautiful and inspiring. I’m not a cryer – but you got tears in my eyes.

  • Cassandra

    Not kidding on the tears at your desk… Luckily my desk is at home so no one saw that but my cat.

    You and your family are in my thoughts. I’m glad you’re surrounded by love.


    What a beautiful partnership. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Autumn A.

    Love and light sent to this lovely family, especially to Dianne and Chuck. Thanks for sharing their story.

  • Diane and Chuck, your wedding and your lives are the kind that give meaning to so many other lives. Thank you for sharing your journey, bravery and love with us. It is beautiful beyond words. Chuck is right, you are certainly a gift.

  • lani

    Sending good thoughts & love to you and your family. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story with us.

  • I love the group shot. Everyone looks SO happy! And you look beautiful in blue.

    I’m sending all of you good thoughts and wishes and vibes and love.

  • Best Wishes!

    I have a friend who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma 2 weeks before her wedding. It was certainly a shock for everyone, but she felt so blessed that she at least got to get married before she started chemo and lost her hair. I found her joy in the small things to be so uplifting, and the “in sickness and in health” moment at the ceremony? Everyone had tissues out for that.

    So I am sending you love from here, and hoping the joy you remember from your wedding (and many of the days after it) will help carry you through this new fight.

  • What a beautiful outlook on weddings- and on life. I wish you both courage and support as you go through this next chapter, and I hope you emerge even stronger as a team than you are now (if that’s even possible!). Love to you!

  • Claire

    Thank you for your strength and bravery in sharing your touchingly beautiful story. Sending well wishes to you and your family during this trying time. Stay strong!

  • I wasn’t at work and now all the people at the laundromat think I’m a crazy person for crying into my blackberry. But whatev.

    Lots of love, hugs, goodness and light sent your way as you fight the good fight.

  • Lots of love your way.

    I love that you remember your wedding every time you go into the backyard. I love how sacred regular places become throughout our lives.

  • Emily

    Thank you – I’m sending lots of love your way!

  • msditz

    You and your husband are amazing, brave, and some of the happiest people I have seen on this blog! I am sending my love and hope that you get to be that happy for many, many years to come.

    And also, I need to say…music from Disney’s Electrical Parade?! AH-MAZING! Why didn’t I think of that?!

  • Class of 1980

    This is wonderful.

    I am watching a couple go through yet another medical catastrophe. It’s the fourth time in five years. This sort of thing has the ability to change all your life plans around, so take the vows seriously, people.

  • corley

    Jiminey Christmas. what an awesome grad post. thank you so much for sharing–sounds like you two are really lucky to have found one another!

  • Dianne Callahan

    Hi everyone,
    I just wanted to thank you for your beautiful comments and support. This wedding graduate post came out when I was right in the middle of a month-long stay at the City of Hope for my stem cell transplant. It was my darkest time of being away from my husband, in pain and feeling so so sick. Your comments really helped me get through it. I am so very happy to share that I got to come home last Thursday and am starting to rebuild my strength with Chuck at my side taking care of basically every need I have. I have no idea how I deserved to be blessed with such a wonderful man, but I thank God for him every day and do my best to show him all the love and appreciation in my heart.

    God bless you all,

  • Haley

    Wow Dianne, you are one amazing lady! I am so thankful I found this blog today. I am currently planning a wedding for summer 2013 and have been desperately trying to think of way to use our wedding as an opportunity to do something good for others in need. I have always been very involved in my community, and been told I should have gone into social work, but I give because it makes me happy, simple as that. My finance and I have the things we need, so I am determined to find a way to make this happen.
    When I tell people that we might ask people to donated to a particular charity in lieu of gifts, or that we are having a potluck style wedding, or that I am not going to have a budget higher than $5,000 (for approx. 300 people)……the common response is, “you’ll change your mind” or “good luck”.
    I don’t want to loose my enthusiasm and your story helped and came at a great time!
    I would love to hear more about how you approached the idea with your friends and family.
    Thank you so much for such an inspiring story :)