They stood at the white altar on her parents’ driveway, in the exact spot where Chase Smith had parked his truck to pick up Sadie Mills for their first date.
That spot on the driveway where the two 18-year-olds now stood to exchange their wedding vows was the same spot where six months before they’d shared their first kiss, full of sweet teenage love and new beginnings.
As Chase watched Sadie come toward him in her simple white dress, he shook his head, smiled and then started crying.
Getting married had been part of the plan the high school seniors concocted on the couch during hours-long, deep conversations. Sadie would go to IUPUI for college to continue her elite diving career. Chase, once a nationally-ranked swimmer, would be by her side, hopefully in the water, too. They would marry after college. An amazing life would unfold.
But in March, it happened again.
The tumors that had attacked Chase’s body since he was 13 came back with a vengeance, one attached to Chase’s shoulder, another on his lung, one on his back, another on his hip. By April 24, Chase had severe pain in his left eye and both sides of his temple.
More scans showed tumors all over his skull, in the fluid of the lining of his brain, surrounding the pituitary gland.
With or without treatment, the prognosis for his 6-year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma was the same. Chase had three to five months to live.
The wedding was planned in four days. Through tears and laughs, creating a love story for the ages, the couple kissed to seal their vows on April 29. One of their promises: to spend every moment they have left together. Another: to latch onto their faith and God more than ever.
And so each morning when they wake up next to one another, they hold hands and pray. And every night before they go to sleep, they hold hands and pray.
“We, every day, pray for a miracle together because we trust in God,” said Sadie. “We pray that Chase would stay on this earth longer so we can bring more people our story of love.”
The love story begins
Chase goes to Indian Creek High and Sadie to Mooresville High. In 2018, Mooresville invited Indian Creek for a dinner and ice cream social after their swim meet. Chase and Sadie saw each other there, but that’s not when they fell in love.
Fast forward a year to their senior swim season, just more than six months ago. “I saw her before the meet. I thought she was pretty cute,” said Chase. He called her over to talk to him, asked for her phone number and they started texting the next day.
That weekend, Chase was busy. He had two swim meets and an SAT to take. It might not be a good time to go on their first date, he told Sadie.
“If you’re really interested, you’ll find time,” Sadie told him. Chase found time.
We haven’t been without each other more than maybe like a day or two since our first date,” he said.
Sadie, who finished out her senior diving season Academic All-State, All-State and third in state, loved Chase’s maturity and how he genuinely liked doing things with her.
They went to church together. To movies. They talked about life and their futures.
“He was so sweet. He’s very polite. He’s a good Christian boy,” she said. “We just fell in love with each other’s personalities. Now, he is all that matters to me.”
Chase said he knew he loved Sadie from the moment he met her, the way she made him feel, the way his fears calmed when she was near him.
“This is like a Hallmark love story,” said Chase’s mom, Kelli Smith. “A Nicholas Sparks love story. You just don’t see love like this.”
‘He has fought a big fight’
By the time Chase was 12, he was a nationally-ranked swimmer, 13th in the nation for the 100-meter butterfly, 6-time state champion and record holder for the 100-meter individual medley, 100-meter freestyle and three relays at Indian Creek Middle School. His sights were set on the Olympics.
But in 2014, at a national training camp, Chase’s left thigh started cramping. Then, the cramps turned to pain and then he couldn’t do a simple leg lift. The Smiths noticed swelling in his left thigh, so much bigger than the right.
After coming home from camp, Kelli and Chase’s dad and swim coach, Brad, took their son to the doctor.
“He pulled up Chase’s X-ray and said, ‘Do you see this lighter area?'” Kelli said. “‘There is a tumor on his femur.'”
Brad turned white. Kelli ran out of the room and broke down as she called her family.
“After that, it went like wildfire,” said Kelli.
Chase started chemotherapy weeks later. From that first fight, Melissa K. Bear has watched Chase grow into a thoughtful young man.
“He is a very kind, gentle — now — young adult,” said Bear, Chase’s oncologist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. “Over the years, I’ve watched him as this has recurred multiple times. I’ve watched him grow with the cancer, really come into his own as to what he wants and what’s important to him.”
His swimming and competitive spirit made him a true fighter, said Bear. And through the years, that fight has been monstrous — with setback after setback.
In 2016 came his second battle, a lump on Chase’s left leg in the same spot as his first. It was Ewing’s sarcoma again. In April of last year, he faced another round — a tumor the size of his heart on his lower lung.
Until March, he was doing well, enjoying life with Sadie. “Being two regular high school seniors,” Chase said. Then came the relapse.
And this time it was different. All over his body.
“Ewing’s is extremely aggressive, extremely brutal,” said Kelli. “He has fought a big fight, but he is tired.”
Two parents’ blessings
The day his son got the prognosis, the devastating one measured in months not years, Brad Smith looked at Chase and told him he knew.
“He said, ‘I can tell in your demeanor that you’re going to marry Sadie one day,'” Chase said. “‘I want you to know if that’s going through your mind right now, your mom and I support you 110 percent.”
Chase decided to talk to Sadie. The wedding they had been talking about after college, maybe now was the time.
As he started to spill his heart out to her, Sadie interrupted him. “I know exactly what you’re going to say,” she told him. “I wanted to tell you the same thing tonight.”
They call it “a God moment” that pushed them to have that conversation at the same time.
The Smiths invited the Mills over for dinner and as the two families sat in a room, Chase laid it all out.
“I told them how much Sadie had changed my life and how much I loved her, how special she had been to me, the simple fact that there is nobody I’ve been able to open up about my personal life and cancer journey like I’m able to with her,” Chase said. “She is able to calm me down in a lot of scenarios when nobody else can.”
Everyone in the room was crying. Jeff Mills turned to Chase and told him they loved him and respected him. He told Chase that he had given Sadie a new perspective on life, that he had never seen her happier than she is with Chase.
“He felt like that was both of our purposes in life,” said Chase. “To share our love story and show people how much is possible through God.”