It’s the oldest love story there is, but with a heartbreaking twist.
Sarena and Tyler first met in the sixth grade. Their attraction to one another was immediate, even if they didn’t understand what was happening to them yet. They remained friends through high school. By their senior year, Sarena and Tyler were deeply in love.
“It was love at first sight,” Sarena told People. “I didn’t know back then how much he would end up meaning to me in the future.”
Today, Sarena has come to learn just what Tyler means to her.
“He would be my everything,” she said.
After graduating from high school, Sarena and Tyler started thinking about college. They also planned for a life together. It wasn’t a question that they would get married; the only question was when.
In February 2015, a startling diagnosis sped up their plans to build a family together. Sarena had a rare and serious form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma. Lots of young people would run away from the pain and responsibility of loving a sick person. Not Tyler.
“He’s stuck by my side when I’m my most vulnerable,” Sarena said. “And I can’t explain how much that means to me.”
When she first got her diagnosis, Sarena immediately started chemotherapy.
At first, the treatments seemed to be working. Sarena went into remission. But there’s always another step in the cancer dance, and by January 2016, the illness began to spread again.
Tyler’s response was beautiful.
“I told him I wanted to get married,” Sarena said. “He was like, ‘I do too.’ So we began planning a wedding to happen in a few months, because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to have.”
Two months after Sarena transitioned to hospice care, she and Tyler were married in a lavish ceremony at a gorgeous venue in Dallas.
The wedding took place at Historic 512, which doubles as a charity for a very worthy cause. The venue gives all of its proceeds to a group called the Center for Transforming Lives, which offers housing to low-income women and children.
Like most young couples, Tyler and Sarena didn’t have a lot of money to pour into their wedding. A not-for-profit organization called Heroes for Children stepped in to help. Heroes for Children usually focuses on financial assistance for families taking care of a child with cancer, but this was close enough to their core mission. They paid for the entire event.
Tyler and Sarena don’t know how much time they have left. They treat every moment as if it could be their last, because it truly could be. That added a bittersweet pang to Valentine’s Day 2017. It was their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. It would almost certainly be their last.
Valentine’s Day has always been an important holiday for this young couple.
Sarena attributes that to Tyler’s “romantic nature.”
“He is sorta cheesy,” Sarena admitted. “So, like, for Valentine’s Day in high school he gave me five surprises throughout the day, so each class I had something new waiting on my desk, like chocolates or balloons.”
This year, Tyler planned something a bit more intimate. The newlyweds had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. It was quiet and intense. The important thing was that they were celebrating their love together, with the profound recognition that proximity to loss can bring.
“It was beautiful and perfect,” Sarena said of that Valentine’s Day dinner. “Just us two.”
Tyler and Sarena might not have another Valentine’s Day together, but they will always have those moments they spent speaking softly and clearly, hands clasped beneath the table. They will always have their love.
“He’s so caring,” Sarena said. “When he was there for everything, I kept thinking, ‘Wow, this kid really loves me. We’re going to be together forever.’ I’ve accepted that death could come soon, and it’s been my purpose to inspire and help others going through the same thing, so I feel I’ve fulfilled my purpose.”
She couldn’t have done it without the loving support of her husband.