Itasca firefighter dies at 34 after several years with cancer

After having cancer for several years, Itasca firefighter Frank Nunez died Sunday morning. He was 34.

His death was announced by the Associated Firefighters of Illinois union Sunday afternoon on Twitter.

"The AFFI is saddened to learn of the passing of Brother Frank Nunez," the union said in the tweet. "Our deepest condolences go out to his family and the Brothers and Sisters of his local, Itasca Fire Department Firefighters' Local 3461."

The Itasca Fire Protection District posted something similar on Sunday.

"It is with deepest regret and sorrow that we announce the passing of Itasca [firefighter] Frank Nunez ... after a long and courageous battle with cancer," it said in the post.

Throughout the past few months, those close to Nunez have described him as somebody who wanted to make a difference and someone who looked forward to each day he was given.

Nunez, a Crystal Lake resident, was diagnosed with a rare form of tissue cancer called synovial sarcoma after attempting in 2019 to find the cause of pain in the back of his left leg, Northwestern Medicine spokeswoman Jill Edgeworth said in September. The discovery led to him receiving chemotherapy treatment, radiation and surgery.

The cancer went into remission, only to return in 2021, resulting in a stay at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. During his stay, his fellow firefighters from the Itasca Fire Protection District took shifts at the hospital.

In September, Nunez was taken to his Crystal Lake home for hospice care, riding home in the ambulance he staffed for four years, officials said. Those same firefighters who took shifts watching over him in the hospital were the ones who took him home on Sept. 27.

Just days later, he married his fiancee, Christina Patel, who began dating Nunez months before his cancer diagnosis in 2019.

The ceremony took place in the early morning of Sept. 29, with Nunez's best friend getting officiated for the occasion, Patel said in September. They were wed in front of a few friends and family members at their home.

"There is so much more to Frank than just this diagnosis that I fell in love with," Patel said in September. "I was honored that he even picked me as his partner to walk through this journey with him."

Itasca Fire Chief Jack Schneidwind said Nunez maintained a great spirit during his cancer treatment. He continued to work, showing up every day, despite being offered as many days off as he wanted or needed.

"He came in with a great attitude wanting to make a difference to the people that we served. And when you talk about somebody who looked forward to living each day, that was Frank," Schneidwind said.

In the months after arriving home, Nunez was walking around and talking with friends and family, and he got to spend quite a bit of time outside before it got cold, Patel said in November. They had a "wonderful Thanksgiving" with their best friends.

Frank Nunez
Itasca firefighter Frank Nunez, 34, of Crystal Lake, Nunez was taken to his home for hospice care in September. Courtesy of Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.