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At largest walk of its kind in U.S., SD 230 students target cancer cure

People fill track Sandburg High School as they arrive for Relay for Life event OrlPark Friday May 10 2013. |

People fill the track at Sandburg High School as they arrive for the Relay for Life event in Orland Park Friday, May 10, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:04AM



Anastasia Scourtes said she was determined to “take the worst thing that happened in my life and turn it into a positive.”

On March 22 of this year, her 46-year-old mother, Chris, lost her second battle against cancer, and Anastasia, a senior at Sandburg High School, vowed to help others fighting the disease.

Setting a goal to raise $1,000 in her mom’s memory for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life,” the 17-year-old far surpassed that, with her total exceeding $4,200.

Scourtes and fellow members of Sandburg’s debate team comprised one of the more than 230 teams taking part in the Relay for Life organized by students in Consolidated High School District 230. She said her team collected more than $8,000, which will go toward cancer research.

Held from Friday night into Saturday morning at Sandburg’s Seliga Field, it is the largest student-organized Relay for Life event in the country, according to the American Cancer Society.

The nearly 2,500 students from Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg who took part this year represented one-third of the district’s entire student body, Supt. James Gay said.

Since District 230 held its first Relay in 1997 — 382 students took part that year — the events have raised more than $3.7 million for cancer research, including $335,000 this year.

Scourtes said that taking part in the Relay for Life is “a very popular thing to do around our school,” and the first time she walked to raise funds for cancer research was during her sophomore year.

Around that same time, her father, John, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, so participating in the Relay “became much more personal to me,” she said.

Before cancer struck her family, “we had gotten through life fairly unscathed,” Scourtes, an Orland Park resident, told Relay participants.

Her dad underwent treatment and was eventually declared cancer-free, but then in the fall of her junior year, Scourtes’ mom was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Scourtes was chosen to talk about her family’s struggles with cancer just prior to the start of the Relay.

“Cancer decided it wasn’t done fighting my family,” she said to the students who filled the football field’s grandstand. “But we knew we weren’t going to let it win.”

She described how cancer was “trying to rip apart her (mom’s) body,” and “the only cure was a poison,” referring to the chemotherapy treatments Chris Scourtes underwent.

Her last chemotherapy session was a year ago, and during the summer of 2012 the family believed its ordeal was over.

Last fall, however, her mother’s cancer resurfaced in the form of a uterine carcinosarcoma, Anastasia said during a phone interview last week.

“They told us it was very rare and aggressive,” she said.

Still, Anastasia said in the interview, her mom “had such a vibrant optimism that really kept us going strong.”

The family traveled to Houston, to the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and in October doctors said Chris Scourtes had perhaps a year to live.

“It was scary, it was overwhelming” when the cancer resurfaced, she told students.

Her mom endured more-intensive rounds of chemotherapy that “ravaged her so unlike the ones before,” Anastasia told the participants, but that “her (mom’s) sense of optimism, just a little faded, continued.”

By the end of last fall, the cancer had infiltrated her lungs, then spread to her liver and brain.

Anastasia said she “got to say my final goodbyes,” but that as her mother became mentally weaker, Anastasia wasn’t able “to have those last conversations” with her.

Scourtes, who this fall will attend Northeastern University in Boston, said that preparing for this year’s Relay “took a lot of will power to stay focused.”

At the event itself, Scourtes said, though “the reasons everyone is walking may be sad, everyone is in very high spirits.

“We know we are doing something for such a good cause,” she said.



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