VALRICO — On the way out of Chili’s, Dustin Snyder dropped to one knee.
After two years together, Snyder and his girlfriend Sierra Siverio started talking seriously about marriage on Monday.
On Thursday, he proposed after dinner.
The young couple can’t waste any time. Snyder, 19, has a rare form of cancer. Doctors say he has weeks, maybe a month to live.
But Snyder and Siverio aren’t focusing on that.
They have a wedding to plan.
They met at Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico. He was a brown-haired class clown, recalled Siverio, 21.
"He was a dorky kid," she said. But she was smitten.
Their middle school romance lasted through sixth grade, until Snyder’s family moved to Lithia and he transferred to Randall Middle School. They lost touch until 2015, when she walked into a Valrico Steak ’n Shake to apply for a job. She was shocked to see Snyder working the grill. They picked up where they left off.
"He’s just so fun to be around," Siverio said. "He brings people up."
On June 27, 2016 — the day before his 18th birthday — Dustin went to the hospital with chest pains. His mom thought it was asthma, but the next day doctors diagnosed him with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that targets soft tissue and is more common among teenagers and young adults.
"When I first found out I was devastated, but then he told me I needed to be strong for him," Siverio said. "Ever since he said that I’ve been by his side."
Later that week, surgeons removed Snyder’s lung and began chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The cancer went into remission. Snyder and Siverio moved into a Valrico townhouse together. A few weeks later, the cancer returned, this time on Snyder’s bladder. Doctors removed part of that tumor but the cancer would return a third time, spreading throughout Snyder’s stomach and pelvis. Doctors said there’s no way to operate.
A few weeks ago, Snyder began hospice care.
On Monday, the couple started talking about marriage. Siverio asked when he wanted to get married. As soon as possible, he said.
"After her being there with me through this cancer, always supporting me and loving me, that’s when I knew she was the one," Snyder said. "I wanted to give her something back before my time was up."
The next day, Snyder’s sister Brittany Hails posted her brother’s story on Facebook along with a request for a donated ring and tuxedo.
Within minutes, offers started pouring in. They continued as the story spread on news and social media. A woman donated a diamond ring. Several people donated tuxedos, but Snyder took an offer by the Men’s Warehouse to fit him with a new one. A company called Solid Asset Solution in Tampa donated a wedding dress — blue sequins with a sweetheart neckline and a long flowing train like Elsa the Snow Queen in Disney’s Frozen — and seven dresses for Siverio’s maid of honor and bridesmaids. The Big Red Barn in Plant City offered to host the wedding and reception on Sunday.
Hails started a GoFundMe page to cover other costs and had raised nearly $13,000 by Friday. On Thursday, Hails posted an update, saying they had met their goal for the wedding and the donations left over will go to help the family with other expenses, including the costs "when the day comes for Dustin to be at rest."
"I didn’t think it would go this far, but God was on our side," said Hails, 27. "Dustin’s really excited, and all we wanted is for him to be happy. And he’s happy right now. "
The couple say they have been shocked and overwhelmed by the support from strangers.
"It’ been amazing to see people in the community coming together and helping me out and supporting my family after everything we’ve been through," Snyder said.
Siverio admits her heart breaks with the reality of her fiance’s diagnosis, but she also believes God, not doctors, will decide, and that they’ll be together again eventually.
"Like I tell Dustin, no matter what, it’s not the end," she said. "I feel like this is the beginning."
For now, she said, she will focus on making her husband’s life the best it can be, not how much time he has left.
It’s a philosophy the couple shares.
"The more you think about it, the worse it gets," he said. "I just like to keep that off my mind and think positively and live life as much as I can until the day I die."
UPDATE: Dustin and Sierra were married on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, at the Big Red Barn.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.