It started as small talk. Then Cara said she was a cancer survivor. "Really," Val said. "Me, too."
Cara, who is now 32 and grew up in Lebanon, Pa., was diagnosed in the early stages of bone cancer when she was 9. Doctors managed to save her leg, and within a year or so, she was cancer free. Then at 18, she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma. That was also caught early. She has arthritis as a result of the bone cancer, and undergoes frequent scans for carcinoma, but is cancer free.
Val, who is now 33 and grew up in Moorestown, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011. Tests revealed she carried the BRCA II gene. She opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. And her ovaries were removed. "I went through menopause at 31," but she is also cancer free.
Hearing Cara's story, Val, who was divorced, knew they had something powerful in common. "You can't survive something like cancer," she said, "and not have it change you to the core."
They were outside, and it started to rain, then pour. "Let's stand under the canopy," Val suggested. Noticing Cara wasn't fully underneath, she pulled her closer. "That's when I thought, 'I think she likes me. And maybe I like her, too,' " Cara said. "I always thought she was super, super attractive. And then as I got to know her and talk to her . . . she was not so much of a B-word."
Their first official date happened later that month at Vedge. "Cara knew I was a vegetarian, so she did research and got recommendations," Val says. "It was one of the things that made me say, 'Wow. I think she's a keeper.' "
How does forever sound?
Within six months, Val, who teaches fourth grade at McVey Elementary in Newark, knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Cara, an IT implementer and support person at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center in Wilmington.
Val made a scrapbook of the first year of their life together. On the last page, she glued letters that spelled out, "Will you marry me?" with every intent to propose Aug. 17 - their first dating anniversary.
Then one day, Cara burst in with news. "I'm taking you to New York City for our anniversary," she said. Macklemore, with Ryan Lewis, was performing near Central Park, and she had gotten a hotel.
Cara says Val is a bit obsessed with Macklemore.
While Cara caught up on work with the hotel's WiFi, Val made a big sign that said, "Our one-year anniversary," with an arrow pointing down.
Later, as the concert began, Val got an idea.
She moved behind Cara, pulled out her marker, and made a second sign on the back of the first one. "Can I propose to my girlfriend on stage?"
Cara heard "A wwws"; all around them, but didn't know why.
Two hours passed. Both women were tired and hungry. Val's arms ached from holding up the sign. "Do you want to go?" she asked in Cara's ear. Then the chant started: "Read her sign! Read her sign!"
Comedian Tom Kelly, the concert's MC, theatrically leaned over to look. "You want to propose to your girlfriend on stage?" he asked.
"That's so cute!" Cara said. Turning to look at Val, she realized just who Tom was talking to.
"I'm going to kill you," Cara said.
During a performance break, they were brought on stage. In front of thousands, Val told Cara, "My life doesn't work without you."
"It was surreal," said Val. "It was like time stopped," said Cara.
The couple sat up front for the rest of the show. During the last song, Macklemore's big hit, "Same Love," they got to sit next to him on stage. Said Val: "We bawled our eyes out hysterically."
It was so them
At the Wilmington condo where they then lived, Cara and Val decorated with two white pillar candles and dozens of white flowers from Acme. Keeping with a beachy theme, both brides wore white, billowy tops, cuffed blue jeans, and no shoes.
The Rev. Edie Weinstein of By Divine Design told the couple's love story. Val was raised Jewish, and at the end of the ceremony, she and Cara each stepped on a glass vessel (in this case, lightbulbs) wrapped in napkins, the breaking glass symbolizing that what had been done could never be undone.
Then the couple and their 20 guests enjoyed gourmet pizza from a place around the corner.
"I'm not a mushy person," Cara said, "but when I read my vows, I cried hard."
So did Val. "These vows were the most poetic and profound words I'd ever heard from her."
They were: "With this ring, I give you my heart. I promise from this day forward you will never walk alone. My heart is your shelter, my arms are your home."
(The usually way-more-loquacious Val was so overcome that she choked on her own vows, and went with the simple, "I love you. I want to spend forever with you.")
A bargain: Cara and Val were the first same-sex couple Edie married in Delaware. To celebrate that milestone, she cut her fee in half.
The splurge: The sterling-silver band with a black diamond that was Cara's engagement ring. She lost it in the move from the condo to their new house in Pike Creek. The couple plan to have their ring fingers tattooed on their first anniversary.
As a wedding gift, friends gave the couple a weekend at a Poconos cabin.
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