PLANT CITY — She spun in her glistening dress and marvelled at the diamond ring on her left hand. A broad smile stole her face. Beside her, the new bride’s husband glanced around in bewilderment.
“What people have done has just blown my mind away,” Dustin Snyder said. “How much they all made this come together for something so special is something I never could have imagined.”
The days ahead are also something he never imagined. Snyder, 19, is dying.
In the time that it takes many couples to plan and pull off a wedding, Snyder beat cancer twice. Nothing, he vowed could break his spirit, destroy his dreams. But just a few weeks ago, Snyder was told it was time to get his affairs in order because there was little time — perhaps a few weeks — left.
When Snyder heard the word hospice, he finally broke down and cried — something most would have done in June 2016 when faced with the same scenario as the fresh-faced boy who just graduated from high school. It was a day before his 18th birthday when Snyder was told it wasn’t growing pains that were causing the discomfort in his upper body, but a rare form of cancer.
Eventually, the cancer was gone, but then came back. Then over Thanksgiving, he was told again that it was gone. By early January, he was told there was nothing doctors could do other than call on hospice to provide some comfort to him.
With the reality that time was running out in his mind, over the past few weeks, Snyder has rattled through his Bucket List. He did an Escape Room; he raced a go-cart; he met players of the Tampa Bay Lightning; he rode a Zamboni and attended a Monster Truck Jam. There was just one other important thing left on the 19-year-old’s list.
And so on Sunday he said, “I do” and so did she — the girl of his dreams, the girl in the Disney-inspired, glistening dress — the girl he intends to spend the remainder of his life with.
At a little past 1:20 p.m. Sunday, the couple exchanged rings, gifts from strangers who responded to social media posts about the dying teen’s last big wish. She wore the sparkling dress and he a black tux, also gifts from strangers. The flowers were gifts, the food, the photographers — everything as support for this young man and woman came from strangers from Jacksonville to Tampa.
Afraid he wouldn’t live to see his wedding day, Snyder stayed up all night Saturday. In the end, he was strong enough to stand for the 15-minute ceremony.
“We have made the most amazing memories,” 21-year-old Sierra Siverio told Snyder as she read her vows to him. “You are truly my soul mate.”
A crowd of about 100 rose to their feet in tearful applause as the couple kissed.
This wedding was pulled off in a matter of days after Snyder’s sister Brittany Hails of Jacksonville floated the idea in a message from her phone to his on Tuesday.
“Is getting married something you want?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“OK” she said and keyed in a smiley face.
“Why?” he asked.
“Just want to see all your wishes come true,” she responded.
Snyder then asked his sister how they would make it happen.
He’d need a ring, he said.
“We will work out the details,” she said.
And she did with the help of strangers who saw Hails’ plea on a Facebook group called Swip Swap: “My 19yo [year-old] brother is losing his battle to cancer and we are trying to fulfill his wishes... 1 of them being getting married to his girl friend of almost 3 years. If anyone has a size 10 dress or tux for a 5 ’10″ slim male pm [private message] me... no negative comments please.”
Hails was stunned by what came next.
“I didn’t think anyone would be willing to give up a wedding dress and tux,” she said.
Within 10 minutes, the first offer came in. Then more — lots more. All told over 200 offers for a dress and tux flooded Hails’ Facebook account. Another 10 people offered wedding rings. People offered prayers, services for the wedding and gave money to a GoFundMe account Hails set up for her brother in the event there’s still time to explore other cancer-fighting routes.
Many sent Hails kind notes and spoke of their own battles with cancer. Others said they wanted to help because if their child or brother was sick, they’d want their loved one to realize his or her dreams as well.
Later, Hails updated her Facebook post: “Update: We got the dress. She looks amazing btw. We have a cake, photographer, decor, tables, food and table cloth. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported. It means the world to us and more importantly to him.”
Forty-five minutes before the ceremony, a beaming Siverio came into the wedding venue, a big red barn in rural Hillsborough County.
“I’m really excited,” she said before racing through a door to get into her gown. As she left, her husband-to-be walked into the barn stopping to hug an allegiance of family and friends.
The couple met in middle school. After a year of dating, Snyder’s family moved to a different school district and that was the end of the relationship until about three years ago when Siverio walked into a Steak ’n Shake where Snyder worked to apply for a job. His eyes met her familiar eyes and vice versa. They’ve been a couple ever since.
“Sierra is amazing,” said Snyder’s mother, Cassandra Fondahn.
When Snyder was first told of his cancer 1½ years ago, both he and Siverio had won athletic scholarships for college. Both gave them up to tackle his cancer.
“She has been by his side literally every step of the way,” Fondahn said. “She has not left his side and that is a lot to ask of a person much less a young person.”
Another young person Fondahn is amazed with is her son.
“He is a trouper. He is a fighter. His strength is amazing. He has taught me a lot through this whole process. He is not going to give up until the day the Lord calls him home.”