When Don Stranathan opened his heart to Penny Blume, he had a pretty good idea that he would love her forever but they wouldn't be together long.
Don was at home in Santa Rosa and Penny in rural, southeastern New York State when they "met" in fall 2011 on a health-and-wellness website.
Both struggled against advanced-stage lung cancer. Of the two, Penny had the worse diagnosis.
Their initial online exchange turned into a conversation and then a flirtation, despite the fact neither was looking to be in a relationship again. Don was 59 and Penny 49. They'd both been married and each had two grown children; both were fighting for their lives.
They fell in love anyway. The virtual relationship turned real when Penny, long a beloved waitress at the former Blanche's Cafe on Route 17B in Sullivan County, flew to Santa Rosa to really meet Don, then a valued employee of Scott Technology copier repair service.
Since that first face-to-face in January 2012, they've taken turns flying across the country. Don has come to feel at home in Sullivan County and he loved showing Penny his state.
"She had never been to California," he said. "I took her to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the Mendocino Coast, the desert, Los Angeles. I took her all over the place."
When both were at their respective homes, they kept close by phone as they underwent their treatments.
"We spoke every day for 2-1/2 years," said Don. "We never missed a day."
In recent months, as Penny became seriously debilitated, Don cared for her at his home with the indispensable help of people from Memorial Hospice.