sacral agenesis love marriage
Julie & Mark leaving the church

Everyone loves the “how we met” story because it’s sweet to hear how people fall for each other. Here’s mine.

On September 15, 1998, I started my first job out of college—customer service for a company doing data processing for credit unions. I was so nervous. My plan was to take a year off after college so that I could have spinal and hip surgery because of my sacral agenesis. After, I was going to go on for graduate studies in neuroscience or pediatric psychology. Instead, I fell in love, got married, and haven’t stopped having surgeries long enough for continued education. It’s funny how life changes in such wonderful ways!

Day 1 on the job, I was meeting everyone in the department and organizing my new workstation…all the usual first day of work tasks. I was probably cleaning the phone with Clorox wipes when this guy comes around the corner and stands in front of my cubicle. “Oh,” I thought, “He’s handsome. Great smile, very tall, beautiful blue eyes, nice watch…

Mark started talking to me and, since I am the farthest thing from shy, we talked for quite a while about our college days—we both had gone to small liberal arts schools. Suddenly, he asked me to go to a movie. I was shocked. I had to say “no” because I was having spinal surgery and it would be too uncomfortable. I was being honest, but oh, how I wanted to go. I assumed he would ask me for a quick dinner date instead, but he ran off…wounded, I think.

Over the next nine months, Mark and I became close friends. I knew he used to watch Ally McBeal (remember that show?) every Monday. So, when I passed his office on Tuesday morning, I would stop by so we could talk about the evening’s episode. Mark kept asking me out, but I kept on saying, “No, I don’t want to ruin our friendship.” I really meant it—it wasn’t a line, I swear. The reason I was afraid to accept is because I knew Mark was “the one,” and I was afraid to really open up and share all that is Julie. Opening up would mean sharing all my medical background. What if this was too much for him? I was afraid he would reject me. I didn’t know then and still don’t know now what the future holds for me in terms of surgeries and illness in the future. Looking back on this now, I have to laugh because no one knows what their future holds. Life happens, it’s how we choose to live our path that matters.

I am so glad Mark never stopped pursuing me. It made me feel wanted. I think it was important we had that time to develop our friendship. We got to see how we each handled stress. And, I got to see if he was short-tempered (he’s not, he’s the most patient person EVER), what his sense of humor is (very dry and utterly funny)…we got to learn a lot about each other before romance hit the stage.

 

Getting engaged

Julie and Mark dancing the night away
Julie and Mark dancing the night away

So, how did we go from being friends to being engaged? I’d had a rough day and Mark saw me in the hall and said, “You look like you need me to take you to dinner.” I sighed and said, “You know, that sounds great. Thanks.

That night in the spring of 1999, I knew, sitting across from him in a booth at Logan’s Roadhouse, eating chili and crunching peanut shells under our feet, that I was going to marry Mark!! We spent the next 4 hours talking about everything under the sun from music, to ethics, religion, family…there isn’t much we didn’t talk about.

It was so magical how, over a simple bowl of chili, we went from being friends to being so much more. “Oh my gosh,” I thought, “I love this guy sitting here across from me.”

Mark asked me to go back to his apartment and I stayed for a very short time. We sat next to each other on his futon, still talking and, no, we did not kiss! Oh, I wanted to kiss him so badly but, for the first time in my life, I was totally shy and Mark is already shy. There, we sat both really wanting that first kiss until I left, awkwardly.

From that dinner on, we haven’t stopped talking about everything under the sun, sharing in laughter and making the most of every moment together. You’ll be glad to know the next day after work, Mark asked me to come over. Again, we sat on the futon side by side. I couldn’t stop babbling. I was so nervous. Mark turned toward me, I babbled more incessantly, he grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me. I was dizzy. It was the best kiss ever. I said, looking into his amazing blue eyes, “Uh, could you do that again please?” We were engaged within a couple months. We got married on June 3, 2000.

 

The surgery

Shortly before our wedding, my neurosurgeon told me I needed to have surgery right away because my tethered spinal cord was beginning to damage one of my kidneys. “Okay,” I thought, “this is not what we planned, but those kidneys are important and everything will be fine. 

I had been through surgery before and knew it meant a few days in the hospital and then home to recover. But, five days after my initial surgery, I had to have emergency surgery because a fat graft from my buttocks that protects my spinal cord from further tethers had created hardened nodules within the dural sac. They were pushing on my spinal cord, wrecking havoc with my cerebral spinal fluid pressure. What was supposed to be four days in the hospital became a month.

This was Mark’s and my first surgery together (we have since been through about 17). He came directly to the hospital every day after work and stayed with me until I was tucked in for the night, always holding my hand. We talked and talked and, yes, we even found things to laugh about.

Mark joined my church in anticipation of our wedding. The pastor, Paul, who would marry us also came frequently to visit me in the hospital. He spent so much time with Mark and me that we joked that we were a captive audience for his pre-marital classes. We spent hours talking about marriage, commitment and everything in between.

 

The wedding

Julie Hemker and her Dad at her wedding
Julie Hemker and her Dad at her wedding

I got out of the hospital just three weeks before the wedding. Oh, the stress. There was so much left to do. I remember putting together our wedding bulletins, which, of course, I had to make special vellum paper and individually cut pieces of a gold ribbon as the binding. (They really were gorgeous!) Somehow, all the items on the to-do list were accomplished and, finally, we were exchanging our vows in front of God and family and friends.

Wow! I remember it like it was yesterday. The doors swung open to the sanctuary filled with everyone we loved. Now, I just had to make it down the aisle! There is a photo of my Dad and me at that very moment. I was smiling from ear to ear. Thank goodness my Dad is strong because he practically had to drag me down the aisle because I was determined to walk instead of using a wheelchair. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church. I was in so much physical pain, but the happiness of marrying the man of my dreams was my focus and it pushed the pain into the background!

There we were at the altar in front of Pastor Paul who helped pull us through our first of many surgeries to come in the years to follow. Actually, we sat at the alter because it was easier, but we did stand and face each other for the exchange of vows and the rings. Saying “I do,” facing each other was a life-altering moment. There we stood, committing ourselves forever to one another. It was as if it was only Mark and me as I was lost in his eyes.

Our pastor, Paul started the reception off with a prayer. I remember him saying that we had already endured more than what most couples do in a lifetime. It’s true, though. Most couples would never dream that the vows, “…in sickness and in health,” would be how a marriage begins. For us, it hasn’t let up yet, and I am thankful that God put the man in my life who is phenomenal enough to share my life with sacral agenesis.

 

15 years later

It is our 15th wedding anniversary this year.

Mark is, without a doubt, the kindest, most gentle, most patient, handsome, funny, brilliant, supportive, sensitive, loving, etc. and he’s mine! Mine forever. Once I asked him, through tears, “Do you love me even though my body breaks a lot?” Without hesitation, he said, “Honey, I knew, when I married you, about your medical stuff and I don’t see you as broken in any way. I love YOU.”

I think there may be a perception some have that if you have medical issues, limitations etc, you are less of a person or not worthy of love. I often hear people say how fortunate I am that someone married me with all my problems. Yet, Mark and I are probably the happiest couple because we really understand how each day is a gift and how lucky we are that we get to share that day together. We still listen to music, play our favorite songs, and sing like we are driving in the car with the windows down. You know why? Because we can be sitting in a hospital room, our living room, or actually in the car, but, in all cases, we are together and that’s what matters. We are together forever. Fifteen is a milestone to be celebrated as each day is.

This year, we will not be having a fancy dinner or going somewhere for the weekend. I’m on bed rest waiting for my third back surgery since February. What will we do? Does it matter? We will be together and that’s what counts. We are probably different than most couples because it is the simplest of moments we share that we treasure the most. When I make Mark belly laugh with something I’ve said and he looks at me like he did September 15, 1998, he still looks at me with adoring eyes that cherish me. I feel loved and wanted. So on this very special Anniversary, we will have a simple evening just laughing at something and saying “I love you” as we turn out the light.

Because I believe life truly is a musical, I always close my posts with a song. Perfect for this one is Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” as she sings: “I see your true colors and that’s why I love you, so don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow…

Thank you, Mark, for loving all that is Julie, because I more than love all that is you, my Mark, now and forever! Happy Anniversary!

15 COMMENTS

  1. This is our favorite photo of us which works out bc we look so young ;). Thanks for posting this Pat!

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