I Claudia: They survived cancer so a little rain was no big deal

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Meteorologists predicted a stormy Sunday morning and that’s exactly what we got during Advocate Children's Hospital-Oak Lawn’s Running for Hope 5K run/walk race.

Most of us were finishing up when the heavy rain hit.

     Ask me if I’m faster than a sixth grader?


I ran alongside 12-year-old pediatric cancer survivor, Ayiana Hernandez of Plainfield. I’ve been her running mentor the previous eight weeks.

I don’t know what kind of turbo she had in her Saucony shoes but I got left behind when she saw that finish line. Her parents, Miguel Hernandez and Virginia Rivera cheered on the sideline with her older brother, Nathan.

There was great courage displayed at that race.

Sumaya Hussein of Bridgeview ran with her older brother, Omar, and her mentor.

“I loved every minute, even the rain,” she said.

She’s a survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, diagnosed at the age of two.

All through training Omar’s been her guide, literally. They were tethered by a hand strap.

“Cancer treatment complications have left me completely blind,’’ she said. “Omar’s been right by my side, helping me whenever I need him.” 

Ayiana and I can attest to that, we’ve crossed paths with them and many others each week. Daughter and mother duo Valerie (Val) and Charlotte Lontka of Chicago preferred to walk with their mentor, Adriana Carmona of Bridgeview.

“It’s hard for me to run.’’ Valerie said. “I have Neurofibromatosis which causes fibrous tumors to grow in and on nerve endings, among other things I had 28 rounds of radiation in 1999, in 2006, I learned of a third tumor, a meningioma behind my pituitary gland caused from radiation. But, the good news is, all of my tumors have been stable since 2009.”

    After hearing that, I applauded her for standing, let alone walking 3.2 miles.

     Ayiana is one of the youngest Pediatric Oncology Survivorship Transition(POST) Challenger’s to race this year, and also one of the most recent in remission.

“In October 2013, Ayiana leaned to kiss me good morning and I noticed a lump on her neck,’” Rivera said.

After several doctor visits, she was diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma/NHL.

“The doctor said, ‘Your daughter has Lymphoma,’’’ the mother said. “Ignorantly, I asked, ’What is Lymphoma?’ He said ‘cancer!’ I didn’t even know how to absorb news like that.”

     Ayiana’s Chemotherapy began Christmas of 2013 and went through the early 2014. Rivera said they had wished for a non-traditional Christmas that year but cancer wasn’t what they expected.

“We planned to take the family to Disney World. I guess God had other plans,” Rivera said, “Cancer has taken many lives, even though we’re believers, we thought it meant death. Seeing our daughter in pain allowed doubt to take us to a place without hope.”

     Jessica Mitchell of Bridgeview said she felt the same way at one point. “I’ve lost three of my best friends to cancer, in 2007 2008 and 2012. The friend I lost in 2012 had the exact same cancer as me. We were diagnosed one month apart to the day. She was the one person I felt really understood what I was going through. When I lost her, it broke me,” said Mitchell.


     Mitchell said her grief has been reduced by an unexpected miracle. “I was told my chances to have children were slim due to Chemotherapy. But, just 2 ½ years after treatment, I had a daughter, Anastazya. She’s five years old.”      


     Naturally so, Ayiana’s family’s concerns were normal. But Ayiana said her faith was strong.

“By March of 2014, I'd completed five rounds of chemotherapy.” she said, “Afterwards, I said – ‘that’s it, God healed me, I’m done!’”

     What Ayiana felt in her heart would later be confirmed by doctors. Rivera said Ayiana’s cancer is no longer detectable. March marked one year of being cancer free. To commemorate the occasion, Ayiana and her family finally took that trip to Disney World, compliments of Make a Wish Foundation.

“We never stopped praying for her. She was in good hands, ACH staff, are an excellent group of people, we consider them family. They treated more than cancer. They met her social and emotional needs too.” Rivera said, “When Ayiana lost her hair, she took an interest in makeup. It made her feel pretty in spite of losing her hair. While she was in the hospital, many of the nurses allowed Ayiana to do their makeup. They referred to her as ‘The Makeup Doctor.’ She even started a YouTube channel to show off her skills.’’

     Ayiana wasn’t the only one bald in her family. Members shaved their heads to support St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancer.

     I’m privileged to have mentored Ayiana, for the Running for Hope race. She’s a brave little warrior. 


Some more big, fat thoughts about us aging baby boomers

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineThere are more than 65 million Americans who are baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964.
This was the generation born after World War II, a war which took the lives of nearly 85 million people across the globe.
I was born right in the middle and all my baby-boomer compatriots are “coming of age” boosting the steadily rising senior citizen population estimated to be one-fifth of the American population.
We are a peculiar bunch of people, too.
Believing in our immortality.
We vote at a higher rate than any other population group.
We also have our quirks, reflected in the things we like to say.
I hear it all the time at Palos Health & Fitness Club where Baby Boomers “young and old” walk out thousands of miles on treadmills every week.
“Hey. How are you?” The answers: A – “Living the dream.” B – “I’m still alive.” C – “What did you say?”
Or, “You on Xaralto or Coumadin?”
We’re all taking one form or another of blood thinners hoping a blood clot doesn’t end our exercise routine before TV’s blond bombshell Elisabeth Hasslebeck, every senior’s idea of a “trophy wife,” finishes her mindless yapping on “Fox & Friends.”
We monitor our heart rate, and how many steps we take each day (the goal is 10,000), all for no reason. And we spend a fortune on computers, gadgets, and heart rate monitors.
We stopped enjoying meals a long time ago, cutting back on sugars, carbs, and ice creams. We think the Atkins Diet will save us, or at least help bring down our bloating guts.
We all have opinions and we talk a lot. We don’t stop talking for anything, except when those Viagra commercials come on the TV. You can hear the treadmill cycles whirring as actress Kelly King explains it’s not too late to have sex, if you would just get that prescription.
We try not to stare when a young girl walks past in yoga pants, but you can hear the treadmill speeds rising.
No one talks about Bingo.
Most men won’t be around when the age comes along when we will end up playing, and the bingo halls will be filled with widows who finally get to breathe a little now that the responsibility of pampering their baby husbands has ended.
Men just don’t live as long as women, and for good reason. Society couldn’t take a surge of old cranky men complaining about everything. Older women are just so mellow. They’ll shrug off anything, learning from years of turning away from our male egos over the years.
We love gym shoes, baggie Chicago Bears sweatpants and hats. Yes, old men still come into the gym wearing a hat.
Some things will never change. We still won’t take directions and would rather get lost than have a younger person tell us which way to go. A map is just a waste of money but the car navigation constantly saves us from ourselves.
We smoke cigars on vacation, cheat on our diets all the time, and buy our pants two sizes too small around the waist. If 60 is the new 40 in terms of age, 40 is the new 36 in terms of waistlines.
And we all want to drive a two-seater sports car, to look cool -- even if we can’t lift our fat derrieres out of the driver’s seats for the life of us.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and now President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media consulting. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Please join the fight against cancer

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorDrive down any main street in Mt. Greenwood, Evergreen Park or Oak Lawn and you’ll see trees and poles giftwrapped with purple and green ribbon signifying support for 12 year-old Mt. Greenwood resident, Emily Beazley.
She fought valiantly for four years to overcome Stage III T-cell lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but sadly on May 18 Emily passed away.
It broke my heart.
I wept.
Another child, ripped from the world, by cancer.
For those in the midst of battling this unrelenting disease, find solace in knowing there’s an army of us defiant in our faith. We will never stop praying for healing or fighting for a cure.
Come join the fight!
Next week I will toe-the-line at the Eighth AnnualPage-12-WITH-CLAUDIA-COLMissy-Doherty-Pic-3Missy Doherty, left, poses with her family after a race. Note – the man in the middle is not a family member – it’s Ronald McDonald. Submitted photo. Running for Hope 5K run/walk on June 7.
I’m privileged to be a mentor in the Pediatric Oncology Survivorship Transition (POST) Challenge, held at Advocate Children’s Hospital-Oak Lawn.
The POST Clinic offers ongoing screening for pediatric cancer survivors by scouting for late effects i.e. potential treatment complications.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle after treatment can be preventative of late effects. With that, the POST Challenge was born. It gives survivors the opportunity to train for the Running for Hope 5K run/walk with experienced runners. Grants supplied by Cure-It and Survivor Vision provide shoes, socks, race registration and the post-race party. All the survivor has to do is show up to train with their mentor.
Mary Marren,33, of Chicago has taken the POST Challenge since its inception seven years ago -- first, as a survivor and now as a mentor.
Marren’s lifestyle exemplifies the POST Clinic’s mission -- she makes physical activity a priority. Marren has run 25 5K races, one 10K, nine half-marathons and one full marathon.
“Once I completed treatment, my dad told me my next prescription was the treadmill,” said Marren. She rolled her eyes. “I hated that thing at first.”
Marren is a survivor of T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It’s said to be among the most curable cancers.
“I was diagnosed at 17, the survival rate was 80 percent then,” said Marren, a Mother McAuley graduate from the class of 2000. “I was even in the hospital the week of my senior prom. The staff went above and beyond to get me released so I could go. I got dressed for prom right in the hospital.
“I wore this big bonnet because I had lost my hair.”
Marren was able to graduate on time that year. She went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree from Illinois State University and a Master’s of Arts in Early Childhood from Saint Xavier University.
This is Marren’s fourth year being a mentor for the POST Challenge. Her mentee, 28 year-old Melissa (Missy) Doherty of Chicago has had two bouts with cancer. She said the second diagnosis came as a result of treating the first.
“It hurt to take deep breaths” said Doherty. She was reflecting on being an active 16 year-old volleyball player. “My pediatrician thought I strained a muscle in my chest. I knew that wasn’t it. I was taken to a chiropractor who discovered four dislocated ribs. He pushed them back into place.”
Doherty, a Palos Heights native, said the pain persisted. She received an X-ray that illuminated a tumor slightly smaller than a baseball behind her sternum - that’s the long bone in the center of the chest.
“My doctors were very positive,” she said. “After treatment, life resumed. I finished high school and started college at the University of Illinois as planned but, later that fall I started feeling bad again.”
A case of pneumonia was the culprit and it led to further exploration exposing Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Trying to treat both the pneumonia and cancer simultaneously proved difficult for Doherty. “They needed to drain my lungs but there was a complication with the procedure. I ended up in surgery. I woke up with a scar from the middle of my chest to below my bellybutton,” she said.
Most in need of a transplant acknowledge the difficultly involved with finding a match. Doherty however, didn’t look far.
“My little 10 year old brother Bobby was a perfect match.” she said. “It was a surprise because siblings only have a 25 percent chance of being a match. One of the top children’s hospitals for bone marrow transplants was in Milwaukee so we temporarily relocated there.”
Doherty celebrated her 10-year remission date by running a half-marathon in Disney World surrounded by 10 of her friends.
“Having the support of positive people means everything. I’ve learned to ignore little things in life. I focus on the big picture.” Doherty said, “When I was sick, my family, the community and hospital staff really rallied around me. I felt like I would survive.”
Today, she’s an accounting manager in a manufacturing company.
I’ll have one more column to this Running for Hope series. Stay tuned and keep the Beazley family in your prayers as they celebrate the life and mourn the loss of their beloved, Emily!
And for more information on Running For Hope, visit

This tune is getting old — would Chicago just stop whining already?

  • Written by Ray Hanania


Hanania-Grapevine I’m so tired of listening to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel whine about how he can’t pay Chicago’s bills.
That’s his problem, not mine. No one forced him to be mayor of one of the worst managed cities in America. He wanted that job.
So man up, mayor!
Make Chicago taxpayers pay for the city’s mistakes, not the suburbs.
 Emanuel is doing what every Chicago mayor has done over the years when faced with a major a financial crisis of their own making. They whine and expect the state to bail them out.
I say forget about it.
I live in a suburb that pays all its bills. In fact most suburban governments pay their bills, and when they can’t the citizens cough it up in taxes. Our pension funds are nearly fully funded.
And that’s the difference between Chicago and the suburbs. When the suburbs have a problem, we come together and solve them. When Chicago has a problem, they whine and demand handouts from everyone else.
The Chicago public schools are a disaster with a $1.1 billion deficit. They spend $5.8 billion a year to do what? The overall education of the students is poor. No one wants to go to a city school, in a large part because of the bad education there but mostly because the city is infested with crime.
The city’s pension funds are barely 33-percent funded. They need $900 million to cover their problems for bloated pensions for police, fire and municipal employees, most of whom are overpaid. And a lot of them secretly live in the suburbs, too.
The Chicago crisis is dragging the rest of the state down because Chicagoans don’t want to bite the bullet. And their leadership isn’t helping either. The Chicago pension system is a disaster and two Chicago legislators, Ira Silverstein and Sara Feigenholtz, want to use the state’s $80 billion pension fund investments to shore up their political ties to Israel. What are they doing for Chicago?
 When push comes to shove, they know they can ask the state to bail Chicago out, again. They are dipping their hands into the back pockets of hardworking suburban and downstate families to cover their financial mess.

Every year, the Chicago politicians do the same song and dance. They should have their own parade down State Street called “The Chicago Deficit Parade” with “We Can’t Pay Our Bills” floats and bands banging out old tunes about handouts, alms and charity.
The Chicago news media is no help. They make it worse because they have a greater stake in Chicago than they do in the suburbs.
What’s the solution?
It’s simple.
Make Chicago taxpayers pay their own bills.
If each of the nearly 3 million Chicago residents coughed up $1,000 a person, their financial crisis would go away. But you know they’d be upset and maybe angry enough to toss out their leadership. Who knows? Maybe Chicagoans will one day wake up and demand better governance.
When my family can’t pay its bills, I cut back on spending, vacations, nights out and I work more. That’s common sense.
But apparently, it’s not much sense to Chicagoans who are too used to having other people bail them out of their own self-made money problems.
Don’t blame the suburbs or punish us. Blame yourselves and punish your mayor and politicians who waste their time on issues that have nothing to do with Chicago.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and media consultant. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 


I Claudia: These survivors don't run from a challenge

  • Written by Claudia Parker


Claudia Mug Shot-ColorThrough Advocate Children’s Hospital Oak Lawn, I’ve been privileged to meet many pediatric cancer survivors who are taking part in the Pediatric Oncology Survivorship Transition Challenge.

The POST Challenge supplies pediatric survivors with a running mentor, like me, and training gear to help ensure their successful completion of the 8th Annual Running for Hope 5K run/walk in Oak Lawn, Saturday, June 7.

     There’s a myth that says the laws of aerodynamics prove the bumblebee should be incapable of flying; apparently its wing size is too small to hold the weight of its body. While these scientific calculations may be accurate, they don’t coincide with reality, defying the odds, they fly.  

Heather Worden, 34, of Joliet is also a testament to defying odds. At the age of 12, she was diagnosed with AML Leukemia with a 10 percent chance to survive.

Worden said her diagnosis came in January, 1993, and she started chemotherapy right away. By May, she had a full bone marrow transplant.

“I was my own donor, which was radical at the time,’’ she said. “They removed my bone marrow, treated it with chemo and put it back in me.”

     Some people fear death after being diagnosed with cancer. But not Worden, she said, “I never thought I was going to die.”

The Leukemia was detected following a visit to her pediatrician.

“I had flu like symptoms,” Worden said. “I went to the doctor after passing out in the shower. My doctor was concerned about how pale I was and ordered a blood test.”

Worden said the power of prayer from her friends, family, and church are the reason she’s here today.

“My attitude was always, ‘What do I need to do to go home?’ I wasn’t told until many years later that I had a 10 percent survival rate. Had I known that number, I don’t know if I would have had such a positive attitude.”

June 21st will mark her 22nd year cancer free!

Worden and her husband Terry, have one son named Max. He turned three, May 8th.

“I didn’t think I’d have children because chemo ruined my eggs but God worked miraculous, not only to save my life but to allow me to have a son,” said Worden. “With the help of my sister, Heidi Stachulak-Varela and Chicago IVF, I was able to give birth to a beautiful baby boy. My sister made a big sacrifice and became my egg donor. She gave me and Terry a very special gift.”

I’d say! Let’s break out the sister-of-the-year award for Varela, who lives in Round Lake Beach with her husband, Joel. And that support continued, Varela participated in the POST Challenge with Worden the first time she ran the Running for Hope race. “She trained with me and my mentor, Marie Fuesel,” said Worden.

Fuesel lives in Orland Park and has been paired with Worden again. “This time, Terry is taking the challenge with us.” Worden said. “Terry and I are also training for a 10-mile race, at the end of this month.”

Worden’s life story has played out like a touching Hallmark movie. She describes herself as a happily married mom, teaching 6th grade at Bentley Elementary in New Lenox, who lives in an old Victorian house in nearby Joliet. 

She and Terry celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary July 24th.


Nawal Hasan, 26, was born and raised in Oak Lawn until 15 years ago when she and her family moved to Orland Park.

Her cancer was discovered during a basketball game that her parents told her NOT to play in.

Talk about having a good excuse for being disobedient!

“I had been having pain in my knee for several months. But, I was playing sports; my parents thought it was just growing pains.” Hasan said. “To be sure, they sent me for an X-ray. Nothing was found.”

That X-ray might have given Hasan peace of mind but her parents, Al and Dina, were alarmed.

“I had a basketball game the following day, my parents told me to stay out of the game,’’ she said “I didn't listen. During the game, I got hit in the knee and a lump popped out. The next day, an MRI and biopsy confirmed a cancerous tumor.”

She was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer most prevalent in children and young adults.

But, Hasan is still in the game, she’s got the rebound and she’s playing to win.

“I've been cancer-free for 12 strong, long, healthy years. Thank God!” Hasan said, “I was in a wheelchair for a few years after treatment so it was very rewarding. It took me a while but when I crossed that finish line (at last year’s POST race), it was the best feeling ever.”

This year she’ll be crossing that line with her mentor, Noora Diab of Chicago.

Hasan said she feels her life is meant to bring awareness to the impact of cancer.

“Cancer effects all ages, genders and races. It’s a challenge to overcome. It’s okay to be sad, scared, and confused,” said Hasan.  

Hasan’s love for sports hasn’t waned. She’s unable to play hoops due to the titanium rod in her knee but she’s living vicariously through the kids she coaches in junior high basketball and youth sport camps.

“I live a normal life,’’ she said. “I’m a college graduate, a substitute teacher and an investor in a pharmaceutical company. “I thank God for the blessing of having a second chance at life.”

More POST Clinic Challengers have agreed to share their stories. Stay tuned. You can read all of them through my social media, visit and click the Facebook and/or Twitter links. 

For information on registration or volunteerism visit