Itasca firefighter gets married days after returning home to Crystal Lake with terminal cancer
It was only two months after they met that Frank Nunez was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Nunez told Cristina Patel it was OK for her leave back in 2019 when it all began, but she chose to stay.
"I just felt from the beginning Frank has just this exuberant personality and such loving, caring open arms," she said.
"To me, this was something he didn't ask for. ... I felt so drawn to be there and support him through it."
Three years into the diagnosis, which included a period of remission before his cancer returned, Nunez and Patel reached a new milestone in their relationship and were married at 12:29 a.m. Thursday at their home in Crystal Lake.
Nunez's best friend became officiated for the occasion, and the pair, who already had a commitment ceremony at the hospital, were wed in front of a few friends and family at their home, Patel said.
"There is so much more to Frank than just this diagnosis that I fell in love with," she said. "I was honored that he even picked me as his partner to walk through this journey with him."
Nunez, 34, a firefighter for the Itasca Fire Protection District, has a rare form of tissue cancer called synovial sarcoma. He underwent treatment at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was taken home for hospice care on Tuesday by those he worked with, in the ambulance he staffed for four years.
Nunez continued to work during his cancer fight.
"They allowed him to work, and he showed up every day," Patel said. "I think (Chief Jack Schneidwind) said it perfectly. He could have had a million days off, but he chose not to, and that's just the type of person he is."
Nunez was ready to wed Patel in 2019, she said, but she needed a little more time before she was ready to take that step. In 2021, she said was ready, but the cancer's return put plans on the back burner.
"We were jolted (when it came back)," said Patel, 31. "I just went into overdrive mode trying to help him through this."
The couple's anniversary is on Oct. 8, and they made plans to elope in Tennessee at that time, Patel said. But Nunez's hospitalization made getting everything in order an impossibility.
Patel persuaded the McHenry County clerk's office to come to their home and give them a marriage license on Wednesday, allowing them to be married at midnight.
"It would be such a blessing to have him as my husband in any form," she said.
As far as Nunez's status, he's walking and talking and "enjoying the company" at home, she said.