CHICAGO (WLS) — Santa Claus made an early stop in Evergreen Park on Saturday to help deliver the gift of a loving community.
More than 1,200 people walked and ran as one in the Ninth Annual Christmas Without Cancer 5K.
“You have to go to the race, and then, you get medals when you get to the end,” said Jack Rohan, a race participant
The event raises upwards of $100,000 for families fighting cancer.
“Oh, my God! I’m just so happy we’ll be able to help many more families,” said Christmas Without Cancer founder Gerri Neylon. “This is the greatest community, honest to God. They are our biggest supporters.”
Christmas Without Cancer has been there on some of the most difficult days for loved ones on a cancer journey. They provide Christmas gifts for families, finance basic necessities and even make mortgage payments for families struggling financially.
Tonia Rizzo-Bellik was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer four years ago, but she’s not letting cancer keep her down.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God’. I just didn’t believe it,” Rizzo-Bellik said. “I live life like there’s no tomorrow. Like, I don’t sit at home.”
The mother of three said Christmas Without Cancer provided holiday magic for her children after her diagnosis.
“They sat there and gave me so many Christmas gifts that I couldn’t go buy for my kids. They gave each of my kids something. They gave me wreaths with gift cards. They were just absolutely amazing,” Rizzo-Bellik said.
Adam Deutsch, now 15 years old, was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma when he was just 13.
“‘What is going on?’ I just kind of sat there for a minute. I cried a little,” Deutsch said.
The honors student is now in remission with dreams of becoming a nurse and giving back to those who helped him.
“Any time I can help people in a similar situation, I do,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch said Christmas Without Cancer got him a teenage boy’s dream gift: an Xbox.
“There was a knock on the door, and they just walk in, started talking to me, and there it was,” Deutsch said.
Christmas might be months away, but its spirit is alive and well in the community.