The two exchanged numbers before Vicki and her friends left to have dinner. At her friends' prodding, Vicki called Andrew, who suggested lunch the next day. That morning, he sent a text from his train back to Perkasie: He had forgotten he needed to return early to meet his ride home.
"I figured he was married, or just blowing me off, or something," said Vicki, who is now 43. But Andrew called a few days later, and traveled to Wilkes-Barre, where they met for sushi, then heard a band at Mohegan Sun Casino.
By the time Andrew, now 35, drove home that night, he knew he wanted a relationship with Vicki. "I felt an instant comfort level with her. I didn't feel like I had to hold anything back, that I could just be myself," he said.
Vicki, who was previously married in her 20s, said Andrew made her laugh, had a great personality, and "seemed like he had it all together." She wasn't sure about the long-distance thing at first, but soon, she was all in, too. Frequent trips on the turnpike extension ensued.
How does forever sound?
Christmas morning 2011, Vicki and Andrew were hanging out at the Collegeville home where they now live.
Andrew said he had some things for her, but first, he handed her a book of photographs and stories.
"It is called: The Story of Us, Volume 1," Vicki said. Page one told of their meeting, and a sticky note instructed Vicki to open gift No. 1, a Benny the Bum's T-shirt. The story of their first date led to a restaurant gift certificate, the one about their trip to the Napa Valley came with wine, and the one about buying their house came with a home-store gift certificate.
The last page was dated Dec. 25, 2011, and the sticky note said, "Look under the Christmas tree. " Vicki lifted a small flap with a tree photograph and read: "The day I asked you to marry me, and you said yes."
Andrew pulled out an engagement ring. Vicki said yes.
The next few days were mostly filled with happy excitement, and the couple began planning for a fall 2012 or spring 2013 wedding, so they'd have plenty of time to plan and save.
But then …
The off-and-on back pain Andrew had been having, which a doctor attributed to a pulled muscle, became constant, got worse, and started affecting his stomach.
Four days after the engagement, Andrew was admitted to the hospital for what at first seemed like pancreatitis. The next day, more tests were run.
On New Year's Eve, Andrew got the diagnosis: "There was a mass on my left kidney, and it was likely malignant, and it needed to be removed as soon as possible."
Andrew's left kidney was removed Jan. 17. The couple figured by the time their wedding rolled around in a year or so, this whole episode would be behind them. Then doctors told them that Andrew's cancer was not typical, but a rare and particularly aggressive variety: a type of non-clear-cell renal carcinoma.
Andrew's body had to heal from the surgery before any treatment could begin. Body scans revealed the cancer had moved on to his right adrenal gland and lymph nodes, and also that he had a sinus infection so bad it required surgery. His sinuses had to be taken care of before Andrew could take any immune-suppressing drugs, but on April 20, he began taking oral medications in a four-weeks on, two-weeks off cycle.
In late March, when the couple realized that Andrew was likely in for a much longer fight than they had anticipated, they decided it was no longer necessary to save or plan for a big, fancy wedding. They wanted to marry as soon as possible.
"What that did for both of us, is it gave us some perspective," Andrew said.
The fatigue, loss of taste, and mouth tenderness caused by Andrew's medicine are cumulative. Doctors said it would dissipate quickly during breaks, so Vicki and Andrew decided to wed on Memorial Day weekend, when Andrew would not be taking the drugs.
It was so them
The doctors were right — Andrew felt fabulous the day that 80 friends and family members gathered in the couple's backyard to see them wed on the patio.
Journeys of the Heart's Diana Smith-Hoban crafted a ceremony based on the couple's story. She told the couple they could kiss, and 10 family members began to holler and twirl their Phillies rally towels as the closing credits theme from the original Rocky movie began to play.
Andrew, who compiled several playlists on his iPod for the ceremony and reception, chose that song because he has always loved Rocky. But to Vicki, it seemed especially appropriate. "Rocky is a fighter, and Andrew is going through the same thing now," she said.
Everyone moved to the large tent set up in the side yard, where strolling servers offered hor d'eouvres and guests visited carving and pasta stations — all the better to keep people mingling and talking, Andrew noted.
Andrew's niece, Melissa, was flower girl and the only member of the bridal party. At this wedding, the bride and groom toasted their guests. "We toasted everyone there for all of their support of us," Andrew said. "For everything they have done for us in the last five months, and for helping us pull off a wedding in just a few months."
This was unexpected
After sunset, Andrew asked Vicki to leave the tent with him. He led her back to the patio, where 30 candles were lit and Lifehouse's "Everything" played. Who needs a dance floor to have a first dance?
Then Andrew danced with each of his three sisters, Kim, René, and Nicole. And before the couple knew it, the tunes were cranked and the patio was filled with dancers.
Vicki still can't talk about the last of Andrew's vows without choking up. "He said, ‘I will never stop fighting and I will never give up, as long as you're by my side.'?"
Andrew was so pleased to surprise his new wife with a first dance that he picked a six-minute song to make it last awhile. "If it wasn't for the flash bulbs, I wouldn't have noticed anyone else was there," he said.
A bargain: The writing and orchestration of the ceremony by Diane Smith-Hoban. "When you look at the cost for what we did, hers was the most important part of the day, and the least expensive," Andrew said.
The splurge: The food. By the time the couple made sure they ordered something that everyone would enjoy, they broke their budget by 25 percent. But the food was delicious, and the caterers worked hard on a hot, humid day, Vicki said.
A honeymoon is in the future. Andrew is still in a doctors-tests-and-treatment mode. "When we get to a point where we hear, ‘Everything looks good, see you in three months,' we'll plan something," he said.
Andrew is in a second drug cycle now, and says that at the end of it, his doctors will know if the treatment is working, or if they need a Plan B.
Behind the Scenes
Diane Smith-Hoban, Journeys of the Heart, Glenside
The couple's Collegeville home
Jack Francis Catering, Conshohocken
The groom and his iPod
Taylor Horne Photography, New York and Philadelphia
Risher Van Horn, Collegeville
David's Bridal, Plymouth Meeting
Brian Stoudt, the Factory, Reno, Nev.