Sitting in their first apartment together, St. Johns seniors Michelle Boog and Pete Maniez begin to run through the various obstacles they have come across in the past decade.
The constant subject between the devoted couple is the abnormal growth found in Michelle’s brain in April 2011.
“Originally, they had diagnosed Michelle’s pains as migraines,” Pete said while sitting next to his girlfriend of nine years. “But when they chose to do an MRI to double-check, they found a tumor, and we were told it was brain cancer.”
Out of all the people in the doctor’s office, Pete said it seemed like Michelle was the least scared in the room.
“I remember when we had first found out, I think the fear set in on me,” Pete said. “When I told Michelle what was happening, she was the solid rock, telling me everything was going to be OK.”
Within a day, everything changed.
Michelle spent three weeks in Lansing at Sparrow Hospital, after which she made continued trips back for radiation and chemotherapy treatments in pill form.
Then came the seizure and stroke, which bound Michelle to a wheelchair.
The prognosis only got worse for Michelle when doctors said they didn’t expect her to walk again without assistance.
Both were still students at Central Michigan University and had a month of school to go when it became obvious that Michelle was going to miss the rest of her classes. Both took incompletes.
“Pete never left my side when I was at the hospital,” Michelle said, smiling. “I never doubted him, but it was just very nice to have Pete there. Sometimes I struggle with certain things, and he has just been there all along.”
From the beginning
It would be an understatement to label Michelle and Pete as shy people.
When Michelle first saw Pete during in the summer of 2004, he was playing baseball with her brother Spencer, both of whom were coached by Michelle’s father.
“I had no idea who he was, because he had come from a different school,” she said, trying to hide her smile. “I saw him playing on my brother’s baseball team and asked my dad, ‘Who is that?’”
Back then, MSN Messenger was beginning to take off, and it proved to be the outlet that brought them together. They would Instant Message one another, which eventually led to Pete working up enough courage to ask her out during one of their Messenger conversations.
They began dating the summer before eighth grade on Aug. 8; an anniversary the couple just celebrated earlier this month.
“There was a time at night when I would wait on MSN Messenger for Michelle to get on so I could talk to her,” Pete said.
The two had only known each other for a couple of weeks and had hardly any verbal communication between that time, but that didn’t seem to sway Michelle’s opinion of Pete.
“I didn’t know that I would always be with him since I was 14, but it just worked out,” Michelle said, squeezing Pete’s hand. “And now, I am getting married.”
In the months leading up to her stay in the hospital, Michelle kept coming back to the song “Just the Way You Are,” by Bruno Mars. She had always joked that the song was about her.
At one point during her stay in the hospital, Michelle was put into a medically induced coma. The doctors said it would be a miracle if she made it through the next 48 hours.
“There was a big gathering in the hospital, because everyone wanted to see her,” Pete said, looking down at his hands. “At that point, I thought I was going to lose her.”
After she made it through those first two days, Pete decided he was past the point of waiting, so he asked one of Michelle’s roommates for a design she had been interested in for an engagement ring.
“I was waiting for the right moment (to propose), and I decided I was done waiting,” he said. “I wanted to propose now, so that we could get to experience that moment no matter what happened.”
Lansing senior Taylor Maylee lived with Michelle during their sophomore year at CMU and was familiar with the designs Pete was seeking.
“We were going through magazines not too long ago and she kind of said sarcastically, ‘Maybe I should cut this picture of this ring out and put it in Pete’s gym bag,’” Maylee said.
Pete went in search of the ring that resembled the drawings pinned on Michelle’s wall, accompanied by Michelle’s roommates and a few family members.
“When I walked into the jewelry store, the Bruno Mars song was playing, and it was at that point where you sometimes get those moments in life where you think you are in the exact right place at the right time,” Pete said.
Half awake and still groggy, Michelle was greeted with the question she had been expecting to come years later.
“I knew that he was going to propose at some point within the next few years,” Michelle said, blinking back tears. “I just didn’t know when. Being in the hospital was unexpected.”
The Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort Dream Wedding Contest began June 1 and was later discovered by Michelle.
“I first saw it on Facebook, and it had been going on for two weeks,” Michelle says. “So I brought it to Pete’s attention and we sort of went from there.”
The contest involves a number of couples vying for the top prize of a wedding valued at $40,000, catering for up to 600 people, complementary hotel rooms, a 50-person rehearsal dinner and numerous other bonuses.
Despite starting two weeks later than most of the couples, Michelle and Pete are leading in votes, gaining more than 17,000, with the Sept. 30 voting deadline in sight.
“It’s amazing that we have received this much support so far,” Pete says shaking his head in disbelief. “Just being in the running is amazing. There are so many other deserving stories.”
They started a Facebook page in 2011 called Prayers for Michelle Boog and continued to provide updates during her recovery. Support for them came rolling in online with more than 900 followers to the page.
Halfway through August, Michelle and Pete received a call from the 10th-place couple saying they hoped they were the ones to win.
Even now, sitting on the couch, Pete is both anxious and nervous about the last month of voting. Michelle sits beside him with both of her hands clasped around his forearm, like a child hugging a tree.
Pete says he’s worried they might be passed in the voting, and admits to having set alarms on his phone to remind him when to vote everyday.
As for Michelle’s cancer, doctors have no idea what actually happened. All they can assume is that the treatments did their job.
“It’s hard, because so much happened in such a small amount of time,” Michelle said, thinking back to those nights in her hospital bed. “Some of it I don’t remember, some of it I wasn’t coherent, and some of it has just been told to me through other people.”
Both of the CMU seniors are hoping to get not only a wedding from the contest, but a celebration of their lives together.
“Whether we win or not, we are still going through the process as if we are not going to win,” Pete said when thinking about the big day. “We are just enjoying the contest, but planning for our wedding in August.”
To vote for Pete and Michelle, check out the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort Dream Wedding Giveaway voting page.
Also, check out their video story here.