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‘That little extra lift’

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Updated: September 5, 2013 6:48AM

ELGIN — Victoria Kotesky of Elgin was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.

That meant surgery in February, radiation treatments in April and May and physical therapy in June and July, Kotesky said.

That “does toll on you,” she said.

But, she said, standing outside the Meadows Cancer Care Center at Presence St. Joseph Hospital Friday, “I was coming every morning, and you feel like you are coming to visit your dear friends, which is good because it makes it easier.”

And, she gestured to the pink fire engine parked that morning in front of the center doors, “It makes me feel happy to see these things.”

That pink fire engine was one of several pink-painted emergency vehicles — and a 12-foot stainless steel “Ribbon of Hope” — Pink Heals brought this weekend to hospitals, offices and homes in the Elgin area, spreading smiles to women battling cancer and other illnesses and the organization’s message of people over causes.

“We do this because we’re trying to help someone whose having a bad time — that little extra lift. Keep fighting. We don’t know you, but we love you,” said Joel Mains, a firefighter-paramedic for the Downers Grove Fire Department who is starting a chapter of the Phoenix-based organization in DuPage County called Pink Heals Chicagoland.

The Elgin Fire Department invited Pink Heals when it learned the nationwide tour would be coming through the Chicago area this summer.

Volunteers welcomed patients at Presence and Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin to sign the engines in permanent marker Friday morning, then delivered flowers to women with cancer at Elgin City Hall and Spring Hill Gymnastics. They planned to make several visits Saturday to homes, as well as Gail Borden Public Library. And on Monday they will be in Burlington and Genoa.

“In a way, it’s healing for us, as well,” Elgin Fire Lt. Bob Bedard said,

“We unfortunately on our ambulance calls see people at their most vulnerable. We don’t often get to celebrate a success. That’s special for us.”

And because the department, too, has battled cancer: Two firefighters are cancer survivors, and another recently succumbed to the disease, Bedard said.

The department began raising money and awareness for breast cancer in particular about two years ago, when a firefighter’s wife was diagnosed with the disease, according to Joshua Soderberg, an Elgin firefighter-paramedic.

A ‘movement’

Pink Heals is a “movement” and a “heathcare program,” but it’s not a “charity,” according to its effusive founder, Dave Graybill. It sells T- shirts and collects donations only to cover its considerable fuel costs, Graybill said.

Its volunteers travel the country, asking police officers, firefighters and other leaders to collect donations instead for the people in their communities — and to start with the health issues facing women. That’s because, he said, like the Statue of Liberty or referring to America as a “she,” women always have given the country a reason to fight.

Those communities can use Pink Heals’ branding to start their own chapters to do just that, he said.

“Pink Heals is an action. Pink Heals cancer. Pink Heals politics,” Graybill said.

The organization now has 86 pink vehicles in two countries, according to its founder. He said Friday, though, he had no plans to meet with the mayor or city leaders in Elgin to discuss its program.

Soderberg said the Elgin Fire Department has no plans to start its own chapter of Pink Heals, though he said he might ask about a paint job the next time it retires a vehicle.

On Friday, whole families came to add their signatures to the engine parked outside the cancer care center at Presence. Children snacked on cookies and posed for photos with pink-suited firefighters. Others spoke with volunteers.

That included Pat Henning of Huntley, who said the bright color caught her eye as she was accompanying her husband Steve to his treatment.

It also included doctors and officials from the hospital, like Presence St. Joseph President Eugene McMahon, who said the trucks were “an encouragement” and the hospital was pleased to support building awareness for women’s health.

Kotesky was pleased with the support shown by the hospital, the fire department and Pink Heals, too, she said. She finished her treatment last month, but she wanted to come back Friday dressed in pale pink to show her own support for other women with cancer, she said.

Before she was diagnosed, she was aware of breast cancer; she even knew people who had suffered from cancer, she said.

“I tried to be supportive, but it isn’t the same until you’re affected by it,” she said.

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