Jamie Shanker and Rick Passero
October 20, 2018, in Philadelphia
Jamie was returning to her Franklin & Marshall dorm room after brushing her teeth late one night in 2004 when a jovial group of fraternity brothers persuaded her to join them on their trip to Waffle House. The ones she knew introduced her to the one she didn't: Rick.
Over breakfast food, and over the next few weeks, Rick and Jamie became friends. Rick was soon smitten. When Jamie came down with mono and strep throat, he kept her company, gave her medicine, and rubbed her back as needed. She found him as cute as he was caring and might have smooched him were it not for her contagion.
The school year soon ended, and Jamie spent the next one studying in Chile. Her absence did little to quell Rick's interest. "She has this special something, this way about her that I was very drawn to," he said. He wrote love poems on her Facebook wall. That fall, when both returned to Lancaster, they kissed.
Jamie enjoyed every moment spent with Rick. "He was so, so loving," she said. But she didn't think their relationship would last forever. Jamie hesitates when asked why, but Rick jumps in: "I was a stereotypical frat boy," he said. "I drank a lot. I didn't go to class a lot."
Jamie, who grew up in Queens, graduated with a degree in a major she fashioned for herself — social justice in the Americas — and went to work for a nonprofit law office in New York. Rick, originally from Fairfield County, Connecticut, nearly earned his philosophy degree but left without the paper when he was offered an IT position, also in New York.
They had been a couple for more than two years when Jamie began applying to law schools. In hindsight, she realizes she had some maturing to do herself and should have consulted Rick about school options. He felt hurt and disregarded when she left for Philadelphia and Temple University's Beasley School of Law, and for the first time since they met, his attentiveness waned. Jamie broke up with him.
Both dated others, yet there were reunions of various lengths when they were simultaneously single. It was during one such on-again that Rick built the website for Jamie's food tourism company, Philly Food Adventures, which offers private culinary tours of Chinatown. A mutual friend feared their boomeranging was destructive for them both. Knowing Rick wouldn't stop seeing Jamie for his own sake, she convinced him that he was holding her back from a future with someone else. Jamie didn't know their friend had done so, but when she found out, she agreed it was for the best — especially for Rick.
They had not communicated in two years when, in 2016, Jamie sent Rick a text: Could he meet her at a post-Thanksgiving party at her sister's apartment in Queens?
In the hallway outside the apartment, Jamie shared very difficult news with him. Because she carries the BRCA gene mutation, she had started mammograms and other screenings early, and had them more frequently than most women. Something had shown up, and a biopsy confirmed she had early stage, highly aggressive cancer. She needed a double mastectomy, then chemotherapy. Rick held her the whole time she spoke.
She was in a new relationship with someone kind and wonderful. Yet when faced with crises, she wanted Rick, and before long she ended things with the other man.
Late that December, Rick visited Jamie, who was recovering from surgery at her parents' house. He helped with her care, physical and emotional.
"It is indescribable where my mind was at that time," Jamie said. "I was soon starting chemo, which was terrifying. I had just had this really brutal surgery that drastically impacted my femininity at such a young age. I still had drainage tubes coming out."
To Rick, "She was beautiful as ever."
Jamie knew he really loved her. She had matured so much since they were last together, she thought. Maybe he had, too?
"Maybe you should write up a husband contract for me," the lawyer said, half-kidding.
Rick, who had asked her to marry him many times, put his heart into the series of promises he wrote, and, reading them, Jamie knew he was exactly right for her. They were soon a couple again, and have been ever since.
Before their reunion, Jamie had signed a contract for egg retrieval and storage to preserve her fertility. In January, they decided she should also freeze embryos they made together.
Rick, who is now 32, is a solutions architect for New York IT consulting company IPM. In addition to her food tourism company, Jamie, now 33, is associate director of the Temple University Small Business Development Center.
In August 2017, Rick joined Jamie in Philadelphia, at a home in Graduate Hospital they have since bought.
Genetics mean Jamie must stay vigilant for the rest of her life, but she is now cancer-free, healthy, and strong.
The couple agreed to spend Thanksgiving 2017 apart, at the homes of their respective parents. Rick knew it was his only chance to catch Jamie off-guard. He took her father, David, to dinner a few weeks before, and made secret plans with her mom, Fran, and the rest of her immediate family.
And so it was that Rick was stuffed into a tiny bathroom at Joe's Shanghai in Queens, waiting to make his surprise appearance — one delayed by nearly an hour when a Black Friday beauty product sale lured Jamie off course.
Finally, she joined her family. The in-on-things waiter brought her a tray bearing a small silver box inscribed with "Come What May," hidden beneath a cabbage leaf. Jamie, who had pulled pranks on sister Lauren all day, was certain the tray bore her comeuppance. She would not touch that leaf. The waiter did it for her, and Rick sneaked up behind her chair.
He praised her beauty, her brilliance, and her sass. "I promise to devote the rest of my life to the pursuit of your happiness," he said. "Will you marry me?"
Jamie said yes, and the restaurant burst into applause.
As Jamie walked down the aisle at the Courtyard Marriott, Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am," played and Rick's best man, Ege, marked the beat of her feet with a hapi drum. Jamie and Rick wrote their own ketubah — the Jewish marriage contract. They did not write their vows, because they didn't think they'd be able to get through them. That turned out to be a very good call. "We basically cried the whole time," Jamie said. They were vaguely aware of other people crying along with them, but, as Rick put it: "As far as I was concerned, it was just Jamie, and me, and the rabbi. I was pretty oblivious to the rest of the world."
Their 130 guests were welcomed to the Reading Terminal Market with glasses of champagne and bacon on sticks. Then came cheesesteak-stuffed pretzels from Miller's Twist and made-to-order hot and hand-pulled mozzarella appetizers. Dinner included roast pork sandwiches from DiNic's, pasta from By George! and filet mignon from Hershel's East Side Deli. There were cake and cannoli from Termini Bros. Bakery and Beiler's Donuts for dessert.
Everyone ate and then danced around Filbert the Pig, batting around a three-foot LOVE balloon.
Jamie was running late with hair and makeup, increasing Rick's anticipation even more. It was so worth it. "When I turned around and saw her, that's kind of when it hit me — this is really real," he said. "Look at this incredibly beautiful woman I'm about to marry!"
"Finally being under the chuppah and holding his hand, I was so focused on him and what we were about to do," Jamie remembered. "It was just very, very intense."
Best bargain: A multicourse, family style rehearsal dinner at Ocean Harmony in Chinatown.
The splurge: Lessons at Society Hill Dance Academy. "I've been to some weddings where the grooms look like idiots, and I didn't want that to be me," Rick said. It was not cheap, the couple says, but it was really fun.
A spring trip is planned.
Officiant: Rabbi Joshua Bolton, Penn Hillel, Philadelphia.
Ceremony venue: Courtyard by Marriott, Philadelphia, with the assistance of Kelly Rogers.
Reception venue: Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia.
Photography: Samantha Marie Photography, Philadelphia.
Videography: Benjamin MacMaster, Philadelphia.
Music: Pianist Jeremy Sweet and DJ Shane Petrelis, EBE Talent, Philadelphia.
Flowers: Marianna Coppola, Creations by Coppola, Philadelphia.
Hair: PreNup by Salon Fiber, Phoenixville.
Makeup: JKo Beauty, Philadelphia.