Young Comox Valley couple Shawn Wood and Emily Niinemets are astounded by the community response to their request for help to create their dream wedding.
“Both of us are just completely flabbergasted,” said Wood Thursday morning. “I mean the responses are just overwhelming.”
Niinemets, 24, was diagnosed with Stage 4 aggressive large-cell lymphoma in January and underwent four different types of chemotherapy since then. But, last week doctors told her the chemotherapy just wasn’t working, and gave her three to 12 months left to live.
Wood — her boyfriend since the two were teenagers and her fiancé for the past five years — asked her what she wanted more than anything else in the world, and she said she wanted to be his wife.
Because of health-related costs, like spending time in Vancouver for treatment, the couple didn’t have extra money for a wedding — but they wanted to get married as soon as possible — so Wood reached out to the community for help.
He set up an indiegogo account online over the weekend with a goal of $5,000 to help with the wedding and honeymoon by a closing date of July 11.
As of Thursday morning, over $9,000 had been donated.
And offers of gifts-in-kind have been pouring in — from free photography and makeup services, to numerous people offering to donate their wedding dresses because they have been touched by the couple’s story.
Wood said nearly everything is in place for their wedding on Tuesday thanks to the many people and businesses that jumped in to help the couple.
Besides the money donated online, close to $2,000 has been donated towards Niinemets’ wedding dress, which she will shop for on Saturday.
But, Niinemets may not even need that $2,000 for the dress after all.
“Yesterday alone, I had three bridal boutiques from Victoria send me a message and say that anything she wants she can have, just come see them,” said an awestruck Wood, adding a wedding dress shop in Nanaimo offered to give the best deal it possibly could as well.
And, as for the honeymoon, Niinemets had previously said they are “happy doing whatever together,” but mentioned a cruise may be nice because they would be able to travel somewhere but still have the comfort of a room if she’s not feeling well.
Well, Expedia CruiseShipCenters Comox Valley announced it will donate a seven-day cruise to the couple for their honeymoon. And, the company is continuing to fundraise to upgrade to a balcony room and cover any onboard expenses.
“She’s so overwhelmed,” said Wood, adding Niinemets was floored when they got the phone call about the cruise. “She just looked like a deer caught in headlights, she didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know what to think, she didn’t know if she should cry or scream or clap — we were both like, ‘What just happened?’ “
Wood added they both “absolutely” want to go on the cruise, but they do plan to speak to Niinemets’ doctor first.
But even more than all of the financial support, Wood said the messages wishing the couple happiness have been incredibly meaningful to them.
“Things like that speak more powerfully than, I think, money does — you know, to take that time to sit down and think about something and then e-mail,” he said, adding he’s been busy but plans to respond to each message they have received. “Just spread her story, let her inspire someone, like she’s inspired me. I dropped out of high school — she inspired me to go back to high school and graduate, she’s inspired me to go back to college and work on a bachelor’s degree, it’s just, she’s very inspirational, you know, and so many people are just like, ‘Wow, you’ve touched me.’ “
The couple’s wedding on Tuesday will be very small with just family and close friends in attendance, but Wood wants to have a larger celebration later in the month.
And he’s already had offers of help with that; a wedding planning company in Nanaimo offered to plan their second celebration free of charge, and Coastal Black Estate Winery offered to hold it at its estate in Black Creek.
Wood said he’s thinking about making this celebration open to the general public.
“I want everyone to show up at this,” said Wood, adding he will start planning this celebration after their official wedding on Tuesday is complete, but he knows he wants to hold it somewhere with plenty of space. “That’s kind of what I envisioned, like this giant sort of party that I can just throw for everyone in the community to say — thank you.
I’ll never be able to say thank you enough, and I could walk around all day just hugging strangers.”