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Another chance at life, love

When people develop cancer, their lives change forever. It becomes a time in a person’s life when he or she reexamines life and looks for the things that really mean something. It is an experience that many people go through and it forces them to change their ways of living and open their minds to new opportunities.

But, when Kevin Thompson and Lisa Cunningham found out they had cancer, not only did it change their lives and open their minds, it also opened their hearts.The two lovers first met while attending the Young Adults Support Group at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute on campus while recovering from cancer. Although it was not love at first sight, their affection for each other slowly developed over the course of two years and has continued to grow over the last 10 years.

Kevin Thompson started attending the support group at Moffitt in 1989 at the age of 29 after the completion of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The symptoms associated with his type of cancer began to develop in the fall of 1988, but he wasn’t diagnosed with cancer until 1989.

“It took them a few months to diagnose me, because they didn’t think that young people got cancer,” Thompson said.

At first, Thompson was hesitant about joining the support group. But he came to realize the changes cancer had made in his life and wanted to share his stories with people who could sympathize with his plight.

Lisa Cunningham joined the same support group after her second battle with head and neck cancer in 1990 when she was only 27. After her first bout with cancer, her father suggested that she join a support group, but she was not yet ready to address her issues as a cancer patient. She realized she needed support when she was diagnosed a second time with a tumor on the lymph nodes of her neck. Cunningham was finally ready to seek help outside of her friends and family.

“There is a different life after cancer; in some ways it is very enriching,” said Cunningham.

At the time Cunningham had started to attend the support group, Thompson had been in the process of going back to work and getting his life in order so he didn’t attend the group regularly. Although they hadn’t met yet, some of Cunningham’s friends knew Thompson and thought the two should get to know one another.

“They said he was a funny guy. They used to tell me a couple of funny stories about him and they just said, ‘You know you really need to meet this guy Kevin; he’s a hoot.’ That got my interest piqued,” Cunningham said.

After a month of talking on the phone for an hour and some nights an hour and a half, the couple finally decided to go on their first date.

“It’s so emotionally supportive to talk to somebody who had already been through what I was going through and had some of the same issues,” Cunningham said.

“We were very comfortable with each other,” said Thompson.

The couple’s first date was at Selena’s in Hyde Park. The two went to listen to some jazz music, talk and get to know each other better. That date in March of 1991 was only the first of many. Over the next two years, the couple’s love began to blossom and grow for one another until Valentine’s Day Weekend in 1993.

“I surprised Lisa with the marriage proposal. I had thought that after the amount of time that we had spent together that she was expecting, at some point, that I either need to ask or that she was going to certainly find somebody else,” Thompson said.

For Valentine’s Day weekend, Thompson had made arrangements for the two to stay at the East Bay Inn, an old historic inn in downtown Savannah, Ga. Before they went away, Thompson had already bought the ring he was going to give to Cunningham.

While they both were preparing to go to dinner on Valentine’s Day, Thompson surprised Cunningham with the ring. When she saw it she was speechless. She started shaking and just stared at the ring, said Thompson.

“I thought, ‘Oh My God! I made a horrible mistake. This is not what she had wanted,'” Thompson said.

Although Thompson never got a direct answer to his question, Cunningham began what Thompson called “Donald Trump Negotiations.” Because Cunningham had been married before for a brief time, she wanted to discuss some concerns she had. Throughout the dinner, Cunningham kept asking questions about the marriage so Thompson felt that everything was going in his favor.

“On the drive back, when she started discussing the wedding plans, I knew that was pretty much it,” Thompson said.

A year and two months later, the happy couple was wed and the two spent their honeymoon in the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville. They spent lots of time walking around the mountains as well as driving on the Blue Ridge parkway and checking out the historic Biltmore Estate.

Since they got married, the couple said they couldn’t be happier. Both of their illnesses are in remission and their love is stronger then ever. They are even celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary on April 24.

“I think a lot of people sometimes think that there is some overnight change that takes place. That you suddenly wake up the next morning following treatment and everything is wonderful and great. It kind of evolves because what you’re having to do is like a mourning process that you go through over what you’ve lost,” Thompson said. “No matter how dark and how much despair that you may be in, in any given situation like this, there is always something that can come into your life if you’re open and receptive to it.”

Kevin Thompson is now involved in the real estate business and also does some consulting work with a group out in Seattle. Lisa Thompson is a freelance writer and also works with Moffitt. The two live in a house on a lake in Lutz with their pet German Shepard Jessie and enjoy traveling west to British Columbia, Canada and Seattle. The support group that they were in also serves as a launching pad for Lisa’s new career, helping young cancer survivors.

“Young people going through cancer have a different set of issues and concerns than older people and sometimes they are not totally addressed within the medical system,” she said.

After overcoming their struggles with cancer alone, they now face the future as a united front.

“Even in misery, you can find love,” said Lisa.