Join Ilija, a mesothelioma survivor, and Jovana, an ovarian cancer survivor, a remarkable couple who found love in the midst of their cancer battles, as they share their heartwarming story this Valentine’s Day.

From a chance meeting in the hospital to navigating the challenges of illness together, they discuss the importance of confidence, body positivity, and the beauty of their unique love story. Discover how their bond has grown stronger through shared experiences, and be inspired by their resilience, love, and commitment to each other.

Happy Valentine’s Day from a couple who truly understands the power of love in the face of adversity.

Why are you doing this video? How important is it for you to share this with other AYAs cancer patients?

We wanted to share the story of how we’ve met during the hardest times of our lives and I think it’s important to bring up the topics about confidence, body positivity, dating after the treatment, and reproductive health. I once said to Ilija that I want the whole world to know our love story and I think that it’s actually manifesting – one continent at a time.

Interview Video

Can you share with us the story of how you met each other during your cancer diagnosis?

We told this story to people we’ve met about 1000 times so I hope I’ll do it justice. 😄

We met one evening in the hospital hallway of our National Oncology Institute during the last cycle of my chemo / his first cycle. We were surrounded by old people only, so I came up to him and said “Hey, you’re young as well, how old are you?” – it wasn’t your typical “love at first sight” story because we were in pajamas, swollen from chemo, tired (I was also bald), but I swear it felt like there is something special about him since the start.

The funny thing is that we already had a mutual friend who had mentioned him to me and vice versa.

What was your initial reaction when you first met each other in that challenging time?

I think we were both relieved to meet somebody around the same age because back then, we didn’t know anybody that we could relate to also since it was during covid, hospital visits were not allowed and I had to stay for 11 days per cycle (Ilija’s therapy lasted 2 days per cycle thankfully), so I felt like I was going crazy; it felt like a prison: you had certain rules that need to be followed every day, they didn’t recommend showering there because of the bacteria, food was horrible and there were a lot of sad things happening.

Ilija said that he wanted to give me a hug when we said goodnight to each other but didn’t because he was probably shy.

How did your relationship develop from friendship to dating?

It was very spontaneous and fast, it happened in just 2 weeks since we first met; we were video chatting every single day and then just confessed feelings to each other while counting down the days of our first hangout (outside of the hospital of course).

How did the medical team react to your relationship? Do they know about it? Did someone play Cupid?

The nurse in charge of my therapy was the first one to find out that we met each other there and started dating, and she told the story to Ilija’s nurse.

I also remember her one-time joking: “Look, I made your bed and folded your pajamas, the only thing left is for me to find you a boyfriend!” (little did we know that I would find him myself).

Their initial reaction was cute and they commented about the fact that they’d never seen this happen in their whole career! I think that this was God’s intention.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a couple while dealing with your cancer diagnosis?

See each other, because we live in different cities and COVID made things difficult because of how rare the (health-safe) transportation options were back then.

Also, figuring out medical and other paperwork that we needed to submit to fulfill some rights (such as sick leave documentation),  getting a proper diet that benefits both of us, also being worried more about each other than ourselves when one feels tired or has other chemo-related symptoms.

How has your journey through illness strengthened your bond as a couple?

We learned a lot about each other’s needs and habits, to the point that we sometimes communicate without words, so crazy!

We have also established a strong bond that helped both of us grow and be more open to changes in our lifestyle and trying out new things, without the diagnosis holding us back. And whenever life takes us a step back, we push through it together.


Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment or experience you’ve shared during this time?

If somebody else told me about this I would think they’re just explaining the movie scenes. Long story short: 5 days before I met Ilija I posted a drawing from an unknown artist of the couple kissing in the hospital, and the girl in the drawing has red hair.

When my first chemo cycle began, I remember waiting in line thinking “Whoah, I’ll meet a boy here, I feel it for some reason but it might be just my mind playing games because I wrote in my journal that I would love to be in the arms of somebody who would understand my silence / internal screams.” Moral of the story: TRUST your intuition and keep manifesting.

When we started dating: I remember sneaking into the hospital multiple times at 6-7 PM when most of the staff went home, to bring Ilija basic supplies and nice food, he was on chemo then still. It was super risky and security caught me once but they were polite.

Also, one month into our relationship, we traveled to Budva, Montenegro, and stayed by the beach (it was safe because it was winter and the whole town was empty), we got a blessing to spend a few nights in the Monastery nearby, where Ilija has worked when he was younger.

How do you support each other emotionally during difficult moments related to your health?

Reacting to difficulties ASAP, talking about them, taking appropriate actions, and figuring out the next steps. We NEVER miss each other’s MRIs and oncology appointments and treat ourselves with a cup of coffee or a nice meal (sometimes shopping) right after (thankfully we both have had good results).

What role has love played in your journey through illness and recovery?

We have a saying here when somebody is on chemo treatment: “BUDI VEDAR!” (stay bright), and it does help with pushing through and maintaining a good blood image.

Honestly, it’s very hard to explain, but I know in my heart that it helped me (us) overcome heavy symptoms and even not notice some of them.

Having this most beautiful thing outshines all the negative ones. I still have negative emotions towards the cancer journey of course, but the good emotions are the ones that helped me overcome most of the sad feelings.

Do you feel a difference between this relationship and previous relationships you’ve had? In what way?

Now I am more mature age-wise and with this entire palette of the experiences I didn’t ask for but had to go through, learning that “love” is not just a purely positive emotion – but also a discipline, motivation, acceptance, sacrifice, and a lot more than that.

To me, he feels as equal as any other family member so that’s what makes it different. We also live together on-off, if work/family-related stuff allows us to. Also physically taking care of each other is what makes it extremely different.

Are there differences between what you two have and what others (like your friends) have?

Maybe just a little bit. I think we are all exposed to a lot of challenges (career, education, lifestyle, financial, political, individual, etc.) – but I think that in our position we have to work just a little bit harder in order for things to head in the direction we want them to.

I remember one person saying “Yeah, you survived cancer, everything else is easy.” and that is so incorrect!

Have you ever felt some stigma or mean comments about your relationship?

Never, ever! At least not to our faces. We only felt love from everybody that we knew.

Were you particularly worried about anything in your relationship? Did you have any concerns about getting involved, or being intimate? Were you able to discuss this with any healthcare professional (such as a sexuality specialist)?

There’s just that fear of relapse that we are afraid of and I hope that the cancer never comes back in either of our cases.

Ilija has a yearly checkup with his urologist and I appreciate him asking questions for mutual wellbeing. I have gynecological appointments every three months because of my diagnosis and I also do various tests.

I always feel free to express my concerns. I hate that I have to pay for it because our public healthcare gynecologists barely have normal, functioning conditions and they’re not as effective, lack modern education and not being very polite towards ladies.

However, not every healthcare professional is open to answering intimacy-related questions for some reason, like:

  • “Can I have an orgasm after a partial/complete hysterectomy?”;
  • “What if I feel some pain during intercourse and why is that?”;
  • “What are the risks of becoming pregnant after my particular cancer treatment?”;
  • “Can ejaculation cause ovarian cysts?”

These are pretty common questions amongst the ladies who have been treated for ovarian/uterine cancer, but the professionals would rather change the subject, and I think that Google doesn’t help with that.

What we don’t like is the fact that we don’t have follow-up care and rather have to put the puzzle pieces together ourselves; nobody spoke to us about the impact of the disease/treatment on fertility.

I became passionate about the topic of reproductive health and learned a lot throughout my experience with cancer which I think benefits other girls who need some encouragement, support, and advice for proper diagnostics, no matter if they are healthy or have some problems.

There’s a part of me that fears the sudden relapse or other reproductive health illnesses, but I managed to turn a good portion of that fear into simple curiosity for this medical knowledge and I love learning about it every day.

Were any of your fears dispelled when you got involved, like: “It wasn’t anything like I thought; it was just like it always has been?

Oh absolutely, the fear of not being able to adapt to each other and relate on the same level after going back to “normal life”, the fear of him not liking me enough because of the various body changes that I found horrible (like being bald), or the fear that I might not be able to be there for him as much as I want to because of my problems – disappeared at the moment we openly talked about it at the beginning of our relationship.

Will you make something special to celebrate your day?

Yes! Roses, wine, chocolates, and heart decorations are a must, I like that we celebrate it in the most cliché way! We might play some arcade games or go to a movie theatre since we’re both into movies.