ROYAL OAK, Mich. – Many little girls grow up dreaming about their wedding day, but Amanda Hoffman of Sterling Heights said she never dared to dream about getting married.
"I was always very well aware of my situation when I was younger," Hoffman said. "Not that anyone ever told me that I wasn't going to make it, but that's kind of where my mind was."
But looking through the scrapbook that Hoffman's mother has kept of her medical journey, it's clear that she's been a fighter from the start.
Hoffman was born with a rare tumor of the spinal cord.
"It's called a juvenile pilocytic spinal cord astrocytoma, a mouthful," Hoffman said. "When they first found it and found it was an astrocytoma, they pretty much told my parents that that was it for me."
Hoffman quickly proved that prognosis wrong. Her tumor was not as aggressive as originally feared, but there was no way for doctors to remove all of it. She endured the first of nine major surgeries at just 9 months old.
"When I was 11, they put two titanium rods in from my shoulder blades to my waist," Hoffman said.
She also went through radiation therapy at age 21.
Doctors said three times that she might never walk. She did. Now 29, she's getting ready to walk down the aisle.
Hoffman met her fiance, Kevin Kasper, when they were children.
"I couldn't even say 'Hello' to him without him blushing," Hoffman said. "He was so shy."
Hoffman and Kasper know that "in sickness and in health" aren't just words.
"There's a lot of people that can't handle my situation," Hoffman said. "And I think he handles it just so amazing, and he's really proven it."
The couple learned last year that Hoffman would need another major surgery. Their portion of the medical bills wiped out the money they had saved for their big day.
"I was very devastated when I found out that we might not be able to afford this wedding," Hoffman said. "That was kind of when it hit me that we had more to overcome than the average person, I guess."
Hoffman's maid of honor secretly set up a GoFundMe page to try to offset some of the medical bills.
It caught the eye of Royal Oak wedding planner Laura Davis of Laura Davis & Co.
Davis lost her father to cancer in January. She was looking for a wedding couple to help in his memory.
"What struck me so much about Amanda and Kevin is just that they've been through so much more than most couples have ever been through and probably a lot more in the future that they are going to have to go through, but they had such a positive attitude and they just love each other," Davis said.
Davis began assembling a dream team of wedding vendors, who are volunteering or deeply discounting their time and services.
"We have almost 20 different companies who are involved with this event," Davis said. "Everyone has been jumping through hoops to help and is just so excited."
The generosity is overwhelming to the bride and groom.
"I think I cried the whole way home after I left here. You know, it was just like shock to me," Hoffman said. "I even said to Laura, 'I've never won anything, not even a raffle.' It's just touched me in such a deep part of my heart to know that people hear about us, and they want to help."
Hoffman said her mother was approached by Make-A-Wish more than once during her childhood, offering to grant Hoffman a wish. Her mother never accepted.
"She would never let them do it because I guess, in her mind, that was like admitting that I was going to die or I wasn't going to beat my illness," Hoffman said. "I was joking with her, 'See, Mom, you didn't let me do Make-A-Wish and now I got an even bigger wish.'"
As the big day approaches, Hoffman is quick to point out that in the end, it's not about the beautiful details, though they will enjoy every one. It's about celebrating life, love and the man she found with whom to share it.
"I might not have a lot of money. I might not have the greatest health, but I think that I've been blessed with something so many people look for in their lives, and that's just true, pure, unconditional love," Hoffman said. "Most girls think of their wedding as their time to be the center of attention, but for me it was more about showing Kevin how much he really does, how much he really is appreciated, and how that's not something just anybody would do."
The vendors who are making Hoffman's and Kasper's wedding a dream come true:
- Wedding planner: Laura Davis & Co., Royal Oak, www.lauradavisandco.com
- Accommodations (wedding night suite): Royal Park Hotel, Rochester, www.royalparkhotel.net
- Bartenders: Miss Mixology, Shelby Township, www.missmixology.wixsite.com/miss-mixology
- Cake: Mannino's Bakery, Sterling Heights, www.manninosbakery.com
- Calligraphy signs: Leah Moss, Birmingham, www.leahemoss.com
- Caterer (appetizers): 2 Unique Caterers, Royal Oak, www.twounique.com
- Caterer (dinner): Crank's Catering, Shelby Township, www.crankscatering.com
- Florist (bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages): Parsonage Events, Clarkston, www.parsonageevents.com
- Florist (ceremony and cocktail hour): Bellisario Florist, Eastpointe, www.bellisarioflorist.com
- Florist (reception centerpieces): Viviano Flower Shop, St. Clair Shores, www.viviano.com
- Ceremony musicians: Ivybrooke Strings, Oxford, www.ivybrookestrings.com
- Chairs and chargers: Detroit Chiavari Chairs, Berkley, www.detroitchiavari.com
- Disc jockey: Happy Hour DJ, Shelby Township, www.happyhourdj.com
- Invitations: Gourmet Invitations, Macomb Township, www.gourmetinvitations.com
- Late-night snacks: Jet's Pizza, Rochester Hills, www.jetspizza.com/stores/largemap/308
- Lighting: The Lighting Guy, Oxford, www.weddinglightingmichigan.com
- Linens: Chair Covers & Linens, Madison Heights, www.linenhero.com
- Officiant: Perfect Day Celebrations, Livonia, www.perfectdaycelebrations.com
- Photo booth: ShutterBooth, Royal Oak, www.shutterbooth.com
- Photographer: Nicole Marie Photography, Novi, www.nmbphotographs.com
- Rentals: Colonial Events, Troy, www.colonialevent.com
- Transportation: AllStar Transportation, Troy, www.allstarvip.com
- Venue: Oak Arbor, Rochester, www.oakarbor.org
- Videographer: Lee Thomas Films, Rochester Hills, www.leethomasfilms.com
- Volunteers: students from Bishop Foley Catholic High School, Madison Heights, www.bishopfoley.org
- University of Detroit Jesuit High School, Detroit, www.uofdjesuit.org