At least once a week, Jennifer Dunlap, 20, and Nikolas Flothower, 19, drive into Colorado Springs together from their homes in Ellicott and Calhan. Their destination is a medical clinic on Fontanero Street where they have blood drawn and receive chemotherapy treatments.
"It makes it a lot easier for me," said Dunlap. "Nik knows exactly what I'm going through and I know exactly what he's going through.
"My parents and my friends, they can say they're sorry and all that, but they just don't have any idea what it's like to have cancer and to go through this."
Nik and Jennifer met when he was in fourth grade and she, in fifth grade. They were neighbors in the Black Forest until 1997 when Nik's family moved to Calhan. In 2002, Jennifer's family moved out to Ellicott and Nik invited her to his prom.
"We've been together ever since," said Jennifer. "He's my best friend.
In October of 2000, Jennifer was diagnosed with PNET sarcoma, a cancer that started in her pelvis and invaded her lungs. Since then, she has had four lung biopsies and has had half of her left lung removed. In March 2003, she relapsed on the same day that Nik was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that spreads through the lymph nodes. Since then, they have arranged to have checkups, appointments and chemo sessions together.
"We make chemo dates," said Dunlap, "at least once a week."
It's hard to just be a normal boyfriend and girlfriend, to forget about the cancer and the treatments, says Dunlap.
"We went to Florida on a trip, and I guess we forgot about it for a little while," she said. "It's just hard to forget, because you don't have hair and stuff."
For now, both Jennifer and Nik have clear scans showing no cancer. Jennifer will complete this round of chemo in two weeks and Nik will be done with treatments in March. They will require monthly checkups for the first year, and they'll continue to do it together.
"When I first started with all this, I didn't know anybody. I was scared," said Dunlap. "When Nik got sick, I was there to help him. "
-- By Kathryn Eastburn
photo by Jane McBee