News - McHenry County

Itasca firefighter gets married days after returning home to Crystal Lake with terminal cancer

Frank Nunez met Christina Patel two months before being diagnosed with rare cancer in 2019

Frank Nunez and Christina Patel of Crystal Lake were married at 12:29 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Nunez, an Itasca firefighter, has terminal cancer.

It was only two months after they met that Frank Nunez was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

Despite Nunez saying it was okay for her to leave back in 2019 when it all began, Christina Patel 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 Nunez going through remission but then seeing his cancer return and being told it was time to say his goodbyes, 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.

With Nunez’s best friend becoming officiated for the occasion, and having already had their commitment ceremony at the hospital, the pair 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, is a firefighter for the Itasca Fire Protection District and was diagnosed in 2019 with a rare form of tissue cancer called synovial sarcoma.

He has undergone treatment for the cancer at Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital, and he was taken home for hospice care on Tuesday by those he worked with in the ambulance he staffed for four years, fire officials said.

While he dealt with his cancer during the past three years, Nunez continued to work.

“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.”

Patel, 31, who became Nunez’s fiancé in June of this year, has been with him throughout the journey. During that time, Patel said mental health has been important, and the pair have tried to remain grounded.

Frank Nunez and Christina Patel of Crystal Lake were married at 12:29 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Nunez, an Itasca firefighter, has terminal cancer.

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 returning put plans on the back burner.

“We were jolted [when it came back],” she said. “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.

After returning back to Crystal Lake on Tuesday, Patel was able to convince 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 doing well at home, Patel said. He’s walking and talking and “enjoying the company.”