By Tara May
Pioneer Press Staff Writer
Anna Roeser knows the ugliness of cancer.
She knows it as a mother, carrying her son's dehydrated 3-year-old body in and out of hospitals as leukemia ravaged his blood cells.
She knows it as a diagnosis, vividly recalling the conversation that changed her life — the doctor calling to tell her the lump in her breast was malignant, and she would need aggressive treatment and surgery.
She knows it as a lifestyle, first watching the chemotherapy tear through her son's body and then, only months later, looking in the mirror at her own bald head, devoid of eyelashes and eyebrows.
And she knows it as a survivor, a woman who will stand with her now 8-year-old son Gus during Relay for Life's survivor ceremony, both of them in remission from the disease that entered their life six years ago.
"When you first hear the word cancer, you think it's a death sentence," the Libertyville resident said. "That's what I thought. But I want people to know that's not how it has to be. There is hope.
"In everything, there is hope."
Roeser and her son are the honorary chairpersons for the 13th annual Green Oaks-Libertyville-Mundelein-Vernon Hills Relay for Life, which will take place from 6 p.m. June 2 to 6 a.m. June 3 at Mundelein High School.
She said she wanted to give back to the community that helped her so much — friends and family and church members who helped her arrange childcare and cook meals and grocery shop during her hard times.
"They were there by the grace of God," Roeser said. "Even those day-to-day activities, just getting dinner on the table, was a challenge, and they helped me through that."
But Roeser said she also wanted to participate in Relay for the first time this year to help raise money to look for a cure for a disease inflicted on both her and her son.
And, she said, the event will also be a chance to stand up with her community, others whose lives have been affected by cancer.
"We're all members of the same club— one we didn't ask to join," she said. "Cancer doesn't discriminate."
The Green Oaks-Libertyville-Mundelein-Vernon Hills Chamber of Commerce, which partners with the American Cancer Society for the event, has strongly supported the Relay for Life since 1999, chamber President Dwight Houchins said.
"We view cancer as a business issue," he said. "There's loss of productivity, increase in insurance and health care costs, not to mention pain and suffering. It's a stressful thing."
The event has garnered more than $3.5 million since it began taking place in Lake County, Houchins added.
That money goes to research, advocacy, education and service, said Kelli Burke, an American Cancer Society spokesperson.
Last year, the Relay brought in $422,000, she said. This year, the organization is aiming to raise more than $438,000.
For more information, a complete schedule of events or to register, visit the event website.
The June Relay for Life is open to the entire community. The GLMV-area high schools are also holding a youth Relay for Life, which will take place April 14-15 at the Libertyville Sports Complex. That event is for high school students only.
The June community event will include the Luminaria, an evening candlelight ceremony in honor of those still fighting against cancer and in memory of those who lost the battle, a survivor reception and an opening lap walked by cancer survivors.
When Roeser thinks about her life for the past six years, she has to blink back tears. She smiles at her son Gus, who was born with down syndrome and was in and out of hospitals for so many years, as he comes off the bus from school, grinning back at his mom. Telling her story now, she says, is therapeutic.
"Going through this has been cathartic," she said. "Life is good. We've come so far. It really makes you appreciate everything – your life, your family, everything."
But it is that walk she looks forward to most — June 2, when she will grasp hands with Gus and show the world they are survivors.
That will be her victory.