Talia Freund caught the running bug after watching her aunt and dad run. She placed first in a Wauconda race at age 9, ran under a seven-minute mile in seventh grade, and ran track all through middle school. The running led to pain thought to be a sports-related injury, but it turned out to be Ewing's sarcoma. Though statistics are stacked against the 14-year-old former Algonquin resident -- less than 30 percent of these cancer patients survive -- her family remains hopeful that a cure is out there.
"I'm going to try anything," her mother Tabitha Freeman said. "I'm not giving up."
How you can help• The First Community Bank in Mazon has established a bank account for Talia Freund. Details are available at https://www.fcbankgroup.com/mazon/index.html.
• The community of Mazon is hosting "A Wish Come True for Talia" fundraiser on Saturday, March 25. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1475344635861622/?active_tab=discussion.
• "In July, there's something else happening that is a surprise for Talia," Tabitha Freeman said. "If people are interested in knowing more, they can join her prognosis group which is #TeamTalia."
Visitors will have to find Greg Freund or Tabitha Freeman on Facebook and add them as a friend, Greg said. "They can become a part of #TeamTalia."
Talia, who now lives in Mazon, Illinois, has gone through multiple chemotherapy and proton treatments, but her cancer continues to grow. Her parents have turned to holistic healing and they're accepting wishes granted to their daughter through a number of children's cancer organizations. Talia was the highlighted story for the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month for the Cure It Foundation, and she was invited backstage with the band 21 Pilots at a concert held at the United Center earlier this year, thanks to the Do It For The Love Foundation.
"They don't give autographs, but they signed my phone, we talked for a little bit and we took pictures," Talia said, describing the VIP experience. "We watched the concert after that."
How it started
Talia was a competitive athlete who occasionally experienced pain doctors attributed to the sciatic nerve. She had visited the ER, hospitals and clinics when the pain escalated, but there were differing diagnoses. During a summer vacation in 2016, the pain became unbearable.
"She was up most of the night screaming," Freeman said. "Up north, we went to a hospital. They must have done 30 X-rays."
An orthopedic doctor there recommended an MRI as soon as possible.
"It was happening so fast," Freeman said. "She went from a little bit of pain to furious, unbearable pain in a matter of three weeks."
Ultimately, Talia ended up at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge where she received an MRI.
"Cautiously, they said to us, 'We found a mass on her pelvis,'" Freeman said. "The orthopedic doctor came in and that was the first time I heard the word oncology."
A pathology report came back on July 19, 2016 with the diagnosis.
"She didn't just have Ewing's, she had metastasized Ewing's," Freeman said.
Gifts/donations so far
In March, Talia's father Greg Freund, who lives in Algonquin, shaved his head during the 9th Annual Shamrock Shave fundraiser at St. Margaret Mary School in Algonquin, and he created #TeamTalia. With the donations, they're helping to cover living expenses and holistic medicine not covered by insurance.
"Personally, I raised just over $5,300," Greg said. "As a team, donations are still coming in."
Talia's brother, Owen, 13, has shaved his head in the past to support childhood cancer research, as well as Talia, who, ironically was supporting the cause before her diagnosis.
Back in Mazon, one of Owen's elementary school teachers organized a coin drive for the family and raised $1,700.
"Little fourth-graders with their change," Freeman said. "It's pretty incredible."
Someone donated an expensive wig to Talia, an item the family couldn't otherwise afford since Freeman quit her full-time job to be Talia's caregiver. Talia's stepdad, Joe Freeman, has been working to support the family and care for Owen while Talia and Tabitha travel for out-of-town treatments. Meanwhile, close friend Pam Mendyk, who lives in Rolling Meadows, continues to share her home with Talia and Tabitha during weeks of treatment at Lutheran General.
"However I can help, there's no limit to what I would do," Mendyk said.
Lutheran General paid some medical bills and American Airlines and Advocate provided travel and tickets, respectively, to the Chicago Cubs spring training session in Arizona. It's one trip Talia can cross off her bucket list. She also hopes to visit Washington to see where her mom grew up, and Florida to see her grandpa who also has cancer. In early April, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is sending Talia to Disney Aulani in Hawaii.
"Basically our goal is to keep her occupied with the things that make her happy," Freeman said. "Outside of that is the desire that the world is praying for her. We believe in the power of that."