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9 things people don't tell you about planning an LGBTQ wedding.

One woman's experience planning a wedding shows how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

9 things people don't tell you about planning an LGBTQ wedding.
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Modern Love

From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew that I wanted her in my life.

I swear I fell in love with her in a single moment. We were standing at a table enjoying a drink together when she shied away from a compliment. I could feel something in me come crashing down; for some reason, I felt like I needed her to know how special she was.

And I knew I wanted to marry her just a month into our relationship. A year later, I sent her on a scavenger hunt with each clue leading to a different part of our house and a different moment in our relationship. The last clue led her to me, standing in the kitchen, holding the ring. She said yes.


Our "we just got engaged!" selfie. All photos used with permission.

Now, we are planning our June 2017 wedding together.

I’ll be honest: My friends warned me about the wedding planning process, but I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for how crazy wedding planning can be.

Add to that the fact that we are two women and it makes for an interesting ride.

As an LGBTQ community, we have made great strides during the last year. After all, it’s only been a year since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. But at the same time, we still have so much work to do. Our work is not finished until our trans* friends can exist without fear, until we can all have job and housing security, and until we can feel safe again in the wake of tragedies like Orlando.

So here’s some real talk about what it’s like to plan a wedding with two women.

It’s shown me that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. We can all do better at making weddings a safe space for every kind of love.

1. People will probably ask, “Is your fiancée wearing a suit or a dress?”

This is a seemingly harmless question, but I find that it’s asked as a way to place us into gender roles. It falls along the lines of, “Who wears the pants in your relationship?”

But the answer: Both of us are wearing dresses. Because that's what we have chosen to wear. Not because that's what we're expected to wear.

2. People will ask you what day you’re getting married from the moment you’re engaged.

This is a normal one that most people face, but the day after I proposed, everyone asked me if we had set a date. Seriously? I was still nursing my hangover from the champagne celebrations! I was lucky I had put my clothes on correctly that morning, so no, we hadn’t set a date.

I finally found the woman I was meant to spend the rest of my life with — please let me stare at my shiny new ring in peace.

3. People will also ask: “Are you guys going to have kids? Who is going to carry?”

First, this is along the lines of asking me when our wedding date is right after we got engaged. Of course we’ve talked about kids a bit, but we haven’t even gotten married yet!

Second, this is yet another way of trying to place us into defined gender roles. But one of the joys of marrying a woman is that we get to challenge what marriage is “supposed” to look like. We get to make up our own rules.

4. You will have to decide what traditions are important enough to keep.

I want to have my moment in the sun and be the one to walk down the aisle ... but I also want to watch my fiancée walk down the aisle. As a compromise, I hope to walk first and then wait at the altar for her while she walks down the aisle.

And as a feminist, I struggle with the idea of my dad walking me down the aisle at all. I am not his to give away, but I also want him to feel valued. As a compromise, I hope to walk halfway down the aisle with him and then walk the rest of the way by myself. I am also entertaining the idea of doing a dance with my mom at the reception in addition to a dance with my dad.

I’ve realized that, for me, these traditions are important enough to keep ... but I want to put my own spin on them.

5. You will have to come out. Over and over and over again.

Coming out is never a one-and-done thing, but nothing compares to planning a wedding.

I often get caught between wanting to make sure a vendor is going to be accepting and feeling like I shouldn’t have to explain things because it’s 2016.

More often than not, I have to correct people after they’ve referred to my fiancée as “he” or “him.” And that is kind of awkward for everyone involved (#heteronormativity).

6. And even after you say there are two brides, they still might not get it…

This is an actual conversation I had with a caterer. I can’t make this stuff up:

Caterer: Are you the bride?

Me: I am one of the two brides.

Caterer: Oh, is it like a double wedding?

Me: No, I’m marrying a woman.

Caterer: What?

Me: I am marrying a woman…

7. But more often than not, people will welcome you with open arms.

From the moment I knew I wanted to marry my fiancée, I had our wedding venue picked out. After we were engaged, I contacted the location I'd spotted and told them a little about us as a couple and what kind of wedding we wanted.

They immediately responded by sending us an article about a wedding at their venue with a similar vibe and … two brides!

It was a really nice way for the event coordinator to show me that everything would be fine without saying, “We are cool with gays,” (which can be contrived and awkward). That pretty much sealed the deal for me. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the venue is everything I ever dreamed of and more.

8. Wedding planning is only as stressful as you make it.

We started planning really early, and we gave ourselves over a year to do it. Our venue takes care of a lot of the details (seating, dinnerware, glassware, etc.) and we are letting go of control on many other details.

For example, we chose purple, yellow, and gray as our colors. Our wedding party members will find a purple dress or a gray suit and purple tie. And each member of the wedding party can wear either a dress or a suit — whatever they are most comfortable in regardless of gender.

If I could give one piece of advice, it would be this: Find some things you’re willing to let go of and let someone else decide. You’ll thank yourself later.

9. And in the end, despite the roadblocks, it will all be worth it.

Next summer, I get to stand in front the most important people in my life, look into my bride’s eyes, and promise to love her for the rest of our lives.

And in that moment, the cake, flowers, dresses, food, venue, the weird heteronormative conversations ... will all have been worth it. Because this will be the start of our very own family.

As my fiancée and I plan a wedding against the backdrop of Orlando, loving each other loud and proud has taken on a new level of importance.

We will not let hatred stop us from being ourselves or from expressing our love boldly.

For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."