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These two are active in combat

It took Theresa Mendez a full year after she felt a bump in her throat to find a new doctor and the ear, nose and throat specialist who ordered the ultrasound and biopsy that led to her diagnosis of stage 3 thyroid cancer in 2014.

When the lifelong Cicero resident and mother of three adult children saw her test results, “I was stunned,” she said. “Cancer never crossed my mind. I thought, ‘That won’t happen. That’s incredible.’ ”

Mendez had surgery to remove her thyroid gland on February 23, 2015 and was taking treatments with radioactive iodine in pill form. She remembered vividly the three days of treatment she spent in isolation in her room on a strict low-sodium diet while her family pushed a meal tray through the door.

The cancer returned, so on February 19, 2016, she had a second operation to remove tumors in her lymph nodes.

During and since her personal battle with cancer, Mendez – now in complete remission – has lost herself on the front lines of others in the battle against the disease and has led the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network for the 4th Congressional District of Illinois.

In her free time, she crochets “chemo hats” for people who have lost their hair during chemotherapy, including hats with princess motifs with long artificial braids and hats with Mohawk-style haircuts. She will donate the proceeds – $ 15 for simple caps and $ 20 for themed caps – to research at the American Cancer Society.

“Everyone has a different battle with cancer,” Mendez said. ” I’m scared of it [the cancer] coming back or faced with another cancer down the line. But I try very hard to “get out of my head” and see my doctor regularly. I try to stay as positive as possible. ”

Brian Mita, the owner of Bucktown Restaurant Izakaya Mita, got the shock of his life when he found out he had stage 3 colon cancer in June 2019. His only warning at the age of 41 was constipation, which he initially attributed to a stressful divorce.

The timing of his diagnosis presented Mita with additional challenges. Months later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to close his restaurant and stop his chemotherapy treatments. The cancer metastasized to his liver and reached stage 4 in six months.

Mita is now 43 years old and is on his fourth round of chemotherapy, which he calls his “penultimate option” for treatment.

But he’s trying to stay positive and remember his victories, including becoming the first person at Cook County Hospital to receive state-of-the-art treatment for his BRAF mutation in February, which doctors say increases the aggressiveness of the spread of colon cancer.

He’s also stayed active, connecting with his twin Steve and a childhood friend on bi-weekly Zoom calls during the lockdown, and updating his restaurant with a fresh paint job, a refurbished bar, and new, traditional Japanese blackboards.

Mita brought the same energy to his fight against colon cancer, joining the American Cancer Society’s virtual Taste of Hope last year to raise funds for research. Colon cancer continues to be a leading cause of death for men between the ages of 20 and 40.

“I imagined this as a war,” said Mita. “So many people go through the same thing all the time. . . . We have to find out why. ”

LEARN MORE: suntimes.com/tackle-cancer

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