FORT WORTH -- Couples fighting cancer together had a chance to pause tonight and celebrate love.
It was the annual Valentine's Day dinner for cancer patients and their partners, hosted by Fort Worth non-profit Cancer Care Services. In a meeting room transformed into a restaurant, couples were waited on and treated to a steak dinner over candlelight.
"We want them to not have to pay a bill. We want it to be completely free of stress and worry," said Melanie Wilson, CEO of Cancer Care Services.
The Fort Worth non-profit has been providing support to cancer patients and survivors for more than 70 years. They help with medical expenses, and provide social programs to support families who struggle with a loved one's diagnosis.
"They just get to laugh," said Wilson. "Sometimes with the stress of cancer and the bills and the health issues, intimacy is lost. And we hope that for two hours, maybe some of that intimacy can be regained."
The dinner is staffed by volunteers, who carefully decorated the room and donned white shirts to act as servers. The meal was donated and prepared by Cathy Brown, who has volunteered her services for the last five years.
"Salad, steak and chicken kebabs, heart-shaped brownie sundaes, it's really a full meal," Brown said. "It's a meal to nourish the soul of the person undergoing cancer treatment and their significant other."
Ten couples arrived at the facility in Fort Worth's medical district. They were welcomed with a photo booth, and then a maitre d'hotel who escorted them to their tables.
Andrea Ondarza and Aaron Southall sat together on the side of the room, sharing their first evening out together in a long time.
"It kind of focuses on us a little bit, not what we're going through our what we went through," said Southall.
The couple met in October 2014. Ondarza was a single mother of two and an elementary school teacher, and after they had been dating just a few months, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33.
"I can't help but feel that maybe he came into my life at that time because maybe that's when I was going to need him the most," said Ondarza.
He stuck with her through it all -- chemo, hair loss, and ups and downs.
Ondarza was also supported through her treatment by Cancer Care Services. They assisted financially, and also provided a summer camp program for her kids and monthly movie nights.
She's been in remission for the last 9 months, and her hair is starting to grow back. She's volunteering for Cancer Care Services, and Ondarza and Southall are planning a bright future together.
"I'm scarred inside and out, but we pulled through. We did," said Ondarza. "And two weeks ago, Aaron asked me to marry him."
Tonight was their first chance to celebrate just the two of them. It's a Valentine's date they'll never forget.
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