Through 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 www.ClaudiaParker.net and click the Facebook and/or Twitter links.
For information on registration or volunteerism visithttp://runningforhope.net