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Article updated: 7/26/2013 11:07 AM

Cancer survivor brings sweet dream to Lake County Fair

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By Conor Morris

Nancy Connors is living a sweet dream these days selling homemade cinnamon rolls from a truck at fairs and festivals across the Midwest.

It's doubly sweet because the 57-year-old Bolingbrook resident is doing it after beating breast cancer.

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This is her stand's first year at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake. She and her husband, Larry McKelvey, opened Cinnamon Station in 2011, selling their own recipe of homemade cinnamon rolls.

Both are avid fans of county fairs. However, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008, the former IT specialist said she wasn't sure how many more fairs she'd be able to attend.

"When I first found out, I was sitting in a hot car with the windows up talking to the radiologist," Connors said. "Yes, I cried, but when I was done I still had breast cancer."

She went through chemotherapy in 2008, which was quickly followed by a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

"I remember being in the middle of a fair as a fair goer and I was thinking, 'I'm not going to make it to the exit' because my joints were hurting so much (from the chemo).' It's frustrating," she said.

Connors was diagnosed in the early stages of her breast cancer due to a timely mammogram. Today, she is in remission.

She and her husband, who have been married for 23 years, had been thinking about opening a fair stand for 15 years. Connors said they used to sit at fairs and watch how other stands did business, calculating their relative success. They chose cinnamon rolls because they were a constant fixture at family holiday meals.

For two years while she dealt with her breast cancer, Connors and her husband experimented to find the right recipe.

"It had to be something that we were both passionate about. We wanted it to have our own stamp on it," she said.

Now, Connors said she thinks they've hit the sweet spot. Business has steadily grown for Cinnamon Station -- from six fairs in 2011 to 18 planned fairs or festivals this year. Connors and McKelvey have taken their stand across the Midwest and intend to bring it to the Illinois State Fair this summer.

"The coolest thing is when people take the time to walk over to the stand and say, 'I've never had a cinnamon roll like that before in my life,'" she said.

Connors said her success is partly a result of the change of perspective from her battle with cancer. The other ingredient is the rock-steady support of her family.

"The care and support that I got from my loved ones is the reason I'm here," she said. "It's a journey, but you can make it."

The Cinnamon Station stand is open at the fair from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. this weekend.

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